Sportsman's Park

1953 sale

By the early 1950s, it was clear that the city could not support both teams. Bill Veeck, owner of the Browns (who at one point lived with his family in an apartment under the park's stands), fancied that he could drive the Cardinals out of town through his promotional skills, and caught an unlucky break when the Cardinals' owner, Fred Saigh, pleaded no contest to tax evasion. Faced with certain banishment from baseball, Saigh sold the Cardinals to Anheuser-Busch in February 1953. Veeck soon realized that the Cardinals now had more resources at their disposal than he could ever hope to match: reluctantly, he concluded he was finished in St. Louis, and had no other option but to move the Browns.

As a first step, he sold Sportsman's Park to the Cardinals for \$800,000. Busch immediately renovated the stadium, which had not been well maintained in some time: even with the rent from the Cardinals, the Browns had not been bringing in nearly enough revenue to bring the park up to code, with city officials even threatening to have the park condemned. Before the start of the next season, the Browns relocated to Baltimore and were rebranded as the Orioles.

The brewery originally wanted to name the ballpark Budweiser Stadium. Commissioner Ford Frick vetoed the name because of public relations concerns over naming a ballpark after a brand of beer. However, the commissioner could not stop Anheuser-Busch president August Busch, Jr. from renaming it after himself, so the park was renamed Busch Stadium. However, many fans still called it by the old name. The Anheuser-Busch "eagle" model that sat atop the left field scoreboard flapped its wings after a Cardinal home run. The next year, Anheuser-Busch introduced a new economy lager branded as "Busch Bavarian Beer", thus gaming Frick's ruling and allowing the ballpark's name to be branded by what would eventually be Anheuser-Busch's second most popular beer brand.

The park's site is now occupied by a Boys and Girls Club, including an athletic field at the same location of the original playing field (top). A sign at Grand & Dodier marks the stadium's site (bottom).

Sportsman's Park / Busch Stadium was the site of a number of World Series contests, first way back in the mid-1880s, and then in the modern era. The 1964 Series was particularly memorable, the park's last, and featured brother against brother, Ken Boyer of the Cardinals and Clete Boyer of the Yankees. The Cardinals' triumph in seven games led to Yankees management replacing Yogi Berra with the Cardinals' ex-manager Johnny Keane (he had resigned after winning the Series), an arrangement which lasted only to early 1966. Both Series managers were St. Louis natives, but neither had ever played for the Cardinals. The stadium also hosted Major League Baseball All-Star Games in 1940, 1948, and 1957.

Replacement

Despite Busch's extensive renovations, it soon became apparent that Sportsman's Park was at the end of its useful life.

Parking at the stadium was almost non-existent, since its concrete-and-steel incarnation had been built only a year after the Model T was introduced, and the park had been designed in an era when fans took the trolley to games, meaning it was ill-suited to automobile access, while the neighborhood around the park had gone to seed in the late 1940s: in 1964, a Cardinals fan making his way to the home opener was shot and killed during an armed robbery.

Sportsman's Park/Busch Stadium was replaced early in the 1966 season by Busch Memorial Stadium, during which time much was made of baseball having been played on the old site for more than a century. A helicopter carried home plate to Busch Memorial Stadium after the final game at Sportsman's Park on May 8, 1966. The 1966 stadium was replaced forty years later by the new Busch Stadium in April 2006.

Donated by August Busch, the Sportsman's Park site became home to the Herbert Hoover Boys Club, which is now Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater St. Louis. While the grandstand was torn down 56 years ago, the diamond was still intact at the time the structures were cleared, and the field is now used for other sports.

Dimensions

For a small park, there were plenty of posted distance markers. The final major remodeling was done in 1926. Distance markers had appeared by the 1940s:

Dimension Distance Notes
Left Field Line 351 ft (107 m)
Medium Left Center 358 ft (109 m)
True Left Center 379 ft (116 m)
Deep Left Center 400 ft (122 m)
Deep Left Center Field Corner 426 ft (130 m) The distance usually given for center field (sign later painted over)
Just to right of Deep Left Center Field Corner 425 ft (130 m)
True Center Field 422 ft (129 m) Just to left of Deep Right Center Field Corner
Deep Right Center Field Corner Also 422 ft (129 m) Almost true center field (sign later painted over)
Deep Right Center 405 ft (123 m)
True Right Center 354 ft (108 m)
Medium Right Center 322 ft (98 m)
Right Field Line 310 ft (94 m)
Backstop 68 ft (21 m)

The following links provide images of the field's markers.

The diamond was conventionally aligned east-northeast (home plate to center field), and the elevation of the field was approximately 500 feet (150 m) above sea level.

Layout

The left field and right field walls ran toward center, roughly perpendicular to the foul lines or at right angles to each other. The center field area was a short diagonal segment connecting the two longer walls. When distance markers were first posted, there was a 426 marker at the left corner of that segment, and a 422 marker at the right corner of it. There was another 422 marker a few feet to the left of the other one, and that marked "true" center field. For symmetry, a corresponding marker (425) was set a few feet to the right of the 426. The two corner markers were eventually painted over, leaving just the 425 and the true centerfield 422. [1]