The Yankees and the St. Louis Browns

The Yankees and the St. Louis Browns
(Photo by Chicago Sun-Times/Chicago Daily News collection/Chicago History Museum/Getty Images)

St. Louis wasn’t always a one-team town. Even in baseball, the St. Louis Cardinals shared the city for half a century. The Cardinals are the team most associated with the city, understandably so as they have 11 World Series titles. However, the St. Louis Browns were once rivals with them, and even rented out their stadium, Sportsman’s Park, to them.

This brief history nugget feels random and out of the ordinary. However, the Browns’ history is something the New York Yankees can and should take note of. Let’s dive into their history and how they unraveled. The Browns’ struggles ultimately resulted in them relocating to Baltimore to become the Orioles, so we’ll find out why they did and tie it all together with the Yankees, a team that has seen nothing but success.

The Browns & Cardinals Sharing St. Louis

When the Browns moved to St. Louis to become an American League team in 1902, they finished in second place that season. Interestingly, both the Browns and the Cardinals were on equal footing during the early years. Both teams were struggling franchises in the westernmost city in baseball at the time, decades before the New York teams would consider moving to Los Angeles or the like.

In fact, the Browns had the upper hand in this rivalry. In the first 25 years, they not only hosted the lowly Cardinals, but often had a better record. The Cardinals never finished in second place or better in those years while the Browns did so twice. Additionally, the redbirds were often cellar dwellers, finishing in last place four times in ten years (from 1903-1913).

Along with looking like a more respectable ball club most of the time, the Browns were more marketable. They had their star player in George Sisler, a Hall of Fame first baseman who was a part of the team for 12 years. Sisler would end up the best player in Browns’ history, but was the face of baseball for the city as the rival Cardinals waited for their stars to arrive. The city wasn’t dominated by them, but it was theirs until things went south.

When Things Changed

Branch Rickey is known by most baseball fans for being the executive that helped break the color barrier. He signed Jackie Robinson with the Brooklyn Dodgers to pave the way for the integration of the national past time. However, before Rickey made his mark in Brooklyn he was making an impact in St. Louis.

Initially, he was a manager and talent evaluator for the Browns (a general manager before the position officially existed). When the Browns were sold in 1917, they parted from Rickey so he joined the Cardinals with a mission to make them regret their decision. Ultimately, he changed the fortune of two teams and the history of baseball for that matter.

Rickey started the Cardinals’ turnaround, and rise to dominance. He created the modern-day farm system as the club bought out small teams across the country, allowing them first dibs on future stars. The pipeline of talent gave them Rogers Hornsby, Dizzy Dean, and many other future Hall of Famers. The Cardinals won their first World Series in 1926 and won it again in 1931 and 1934. Known as the “Gashouse Gang” they became a dynasty.

The Browns, meanwhile, fell apart. Their attendance dropped and the talent declined as a result. It was difficult to retain good players without money, and the catch-22 was that they could sell seats without talented players (creating a loop that many teams suffer from to this day). By the time they reached the 1944 World Series against the Cardinals, ironically enough, they were the undisputed underdog. The Cardinals won the series 4-2 to win their fifth title in their franchise history.

The Browns Ultimately Leave

The Browns never recovered after 1944. That year would be the only year they’d win the pennant, a year sandwiched between multiple Cardinals championships. However, the Browns as a second-tier team could have thrived, especially once Bill Veeck took over as owner. The charismatic Veeck didn’t make the team competitive, but he made them entertaining, attracting fans to the ballpark.

Ultimately, the Browns’ undoing was in the purchase of the Cardinals, who were bought in 1953 by the Anheuser-Busch brewing company (you might have heard of their beer). The company wanted to buy the top team in St. Louis, and that wasn’t the Browns. Once the Cardinals were bought out, they had the money and assets to move out of Sportsman’s Park. They built the first rendition of Busch Stadium while the Browns were left in the dust and a rundown old ballpark.

The sale left the Browns with no place in St. Louis. The city that was once theirs wasn’t giving them any attention, especially with the Cardinals outpacing them in every way. So, the Browns moved east to Baltimore to start from scratch. The brown and orange uniforms were the only things they kept from their previous team.

What This Has to do with the Yankees?

The Yankees have owned New York, and are the most successful franchise in baseball history. They have 27 World Series titles, and the legendary names that have made the sport as popular as it is. New York City in particular was a city that had three team at one point, but the Yankees outlasted the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants and ultimately forced them to relocate to Los Angeles and San Francisco respectively. The Mets have been in the city since 1962, but have been a second-rate team, and an afterthought.

That won’t change but the new ownership of the New York Mets has to raise a few eyebrows. Steve Cohen purchased the Mets in 2020, and has already turned them into a contender. He’s been willing to spend, and make the team a contender at all costs. Cohen is making an aggressive push to make them a contender but also a dominant team in the city, a dynasty if possible.

The Yankees don’t have a spending advantage anymore. They can’t outbid their rivals, especially the Mets. Their advantage however is in the front office. Despite the obstacles, general manager Brian Cashman has kept the Yankees competitive every year. Cashman hasn’t had a losing season as an executive, and has made the team a constant World Series contender, often one piece away from winning it all.

However, even the advantage in the front office is something to monitor. The Yankees have owned New York but there’s no guarantee that it will remain their city. Moreover, if they are overconfident, the Yankees, like the Browns can be left in the dust.

 

 

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Mike Fink

Mike Fink

Mike Fink joined Sport Relay in December 2022 and covers the New York Yankees. In addition to covering the Yankees, Fink has also covered the New York Islanders since 2020 for The Hockey Writers and has been writing about sports at large. Mike also likes to travel but has found Baltimore and Chicago are the only two cities that come close to New York City.

One thought on “The Yankees and the St. Louis Browns”

  1. Very nice work. To add another interesting sidelight the Browns indeed moved to Baltimore and became the Orioles. The Baltimore Orioles played in the AL in 1901 and 1902 and moved to become … the New York Yankees!

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