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Author pens “St. Louis Browns: The Story of a Beloved Team” to highlight region’s other baseball franchise

By: Warren Mayes


Ed Wheatley loves baseball. He also is a man on a mission; he wants some loving for the St. Louis Browns.

Wheatley, along with Bill Borst and Bill Rogers, have written a book titled “St. Louis Browns: The Story of a Beloved Team.”

“I grew up with the Browns,” Wheatley said. “You know what? This is is a sad story nobody remembers. For 52 years here, there was a major league baseball team in St. Louis that everyone has forgotten.”

The coffee-table tome is designed to tell the team’s story, not only to the members of the nationwide Browns Fan Club but also to the fans who remember them and saw them play. And, hopefully, this book will introduce the history of this unique team to future generations, thus ensuring that the Browns will not be forgotten.

The three men are members of the St. Louis Browns Historical Society. The group was founded in 1984 to promote and preserve the legacy and memorabilia of the St. Louis Browns American League baseball club.

The history book on the Browns, an American League team, covers the 52 seasons played in St. Louis.

The book, published by Reedy Press, leads off with a foreword from Bob Costas. It features hundreds of rare images and colorful stories about a beloved baseball franchise and we are getting great reviews from people who have such fond memories of the team and enjoy this trip back into the golden ages of baseball.

In the interesting book, one can find several what-ifs pointing out that, if things had changed, the Browns may have been the dominant team in St. Louis and not the Cardinals.

St. Louis has the reputation as the best baseball town in America.

However, the city’s major league history is not confined to the Cardinals. For several decades, until the middle of the 20th century, St. Louis fielded a second professional team.

While the Browns were mostly a losing team, it once featured a first baseman who hit .400, a legendary Negro League star, and a pitcher who would go on to throw a perfect game in the World Series.

They were the St. Louis Browns – the forerunners of the current Baltimore Orioles.

The Browns certainly are a part of St. Louis’ rich baseball history.

“When the Browns left in 1953 and went to Baltimore, Baltimore wanted nothing to do with the Browns,” Wheatley said. “They are buried in St. Louis. As a result, all the Browns’ history and players and one Hall of Famer don’t have a home.”

Wheatley wants the book to kindle a relationship with the team.

The authors of “St. Louis Browns: The Story of a Beloved Team” [left to right]: Bill Borst, Ed Wheatley and Bill Rogers.

Some of the book’s highlights include:

• The 1944 Streetcar Series played against the Cardinals.

• The antics of Bill Veeck, the team owner who once sent a 3-foot-7-inch pinch hitter to the plate and also let the fans collectively manage a game.

• The underappreciated teams and players of the 1920s that rank among the best in baseball history.

There are many other entertaining moments that fill the book, which Wheatley described as a labor of love.

“When people think of the Browns, they think of Eddie Gaedel pinch hitting,” Wheatley said. “There’s so much more. There were times when they were a good team and, of course, a losing team.

“Don’t just remember Eddie Gaedel and Bill Veeck. That was just three years in the history of the franchise.”

In the 1920s, the Browns were good. Unfortunately for the team, the Yankees were a little better.

In their first St. Louis season, the Browns finished second. From 1902 to 1922, the Browns had only four winning seasons.

But, the team was popular at the gate during its first two decades in St. Louis. In fact, the Browns outdrew the Cardinals in attendance.

The Browns owned Sportsman’s Park and the Cardinals were tenants.

“It was a battle for the city,” Wheatley said. “Who would win it? It was the same in Boston with the Red Sox and Braves and in Philadelphia with the A’s and the Phillies. Some cities wouldn’t have two teams.”

New Browns owner Phillip Ball, however, made some big mistakes.

First, he fired Branch Rickey after buying the club and the Cardinals hired him.

“Rickey wanted to build a farm system for the Browns,” Wheatley said. “Rickey goes over to the Cardinals and he does two things. He gets Robinson Stadium condemned. He goes to the Browns and signs a deal to be a long-term tenant at Sportsman’s Park.

“He sold the property on Natural Bridge that was the old stadium and used the proceeds to start a farm system. That property became the site for Beaumont High School.”

The 1922 Browns almost beat the New York Yankees to a pennant. The Browns boasted the best players in franchise history, including future Hall of Famer George Sisler and an outfield trio of Ken Williams, Baby Doll Jacobson, and Jack Tobin that batted .300 or better from 1919–23 and in 1925.

But Sisler hurt his shoulder on Sept. 12 and missed almost three weeks. He missed a key series against the Yankees. New York won the pennant by a game.

“Would they have been the darlings of St. Louis if they had made it to the World Series first?” Wheatley asked. “The Cardinals won the Series in 1926 and 1928 and the city shifted from the Browns to the Cardinals in allegiance.”

The Browns fell into the AL cellar. The team only had two winning records from 1927 to 1943, including a 43-111 mark in 1939 that is still the worst in franchise history.

“George Sisler’s grandson said his family feels he’s a forgotten Hall of Famer,” Wheatley said. “There are no statues of him. The Orioles do nothing for the history of the team.”

The Browns only AL pennant came in 1944 and they played the Cardinals.

Again, the Browns had a chance to win the Series

When Veeck owned the team, Wheatley said he thought he “could run the Cardinals out of town.”

The Cardinals were looking at moving to Houston because of ownership problems.

“Fred Saigh, the owner then, was heading to jail for tax evasion,” Wheatley said. “Veeck was going to break the Cardinals’ lease. But he didn’t have good enough players to win.

“He started circus acts to attract attention like Eddie Gaedel and the grandstand manager situation.”

Wheatley simply wants to people to know about the team. Moreover, he wants some appreciation for the franchise, too.

“The main thing is the Browns are a forgotten team,” Wheatley said. “In Los Angels, they remember the Brooklyn Dodgers. In Atlanta, they remember Hank Aaron and count Warren Spahn’s wins in Boston and Milwaukee.

“Baltimore does nothing for the Browns. I just feel the Browns’ story is worth telling.”

In December, Wheatley is giving talks about his book at many venues.

“I think our book fills a void in the world of sports,” Wheatley said. “There has never been such a definitive book on the Browns that tells the history in the way we have.”

For more information about when Wheatley will give a presentation, you can contact him at edjan@swbell.net.

 

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