the 1910s Promise and Peril
by Jo Allison
The 1910s were promising and perilous years in America and across the world. Many pages on this site deal with St. Louis, Missouri, a city representative of all the 1910s had to offer—and the setting of many of my novels.
Baseball & Beer
The St. Louis Cardinals played at what was first called New Sportsman’s Park, on the southeast corner of Vandeventer and Natural Bridge. Home plate was in the northwest corner of the lot. Prairie Avenue bordered the left field line, and Lexington Avenue the right field line. Chris Von der Ahe had built it in 1893 to get a trolley line to come to the park. While the Robisons, Frank and Stanley owned the team, it was simply called League Park, up through 1910. In the 1911 season, it was called Robison Field to honor the brothers. Stanley had died and Frank’s daughter, Helene Britton inherited the team.
The St. Louis Browns were still playing at what was the old Sportman’s Park at Grand and Dodier.
The Cardinals had started as the Browns as part of the American Association. The Brown Stockings were the original professional baseball team in St. Louis, formed, according to legend, because the amateur St. Louis teams kept losing to the professional teams from Chicago. Baseball itself was introduced in St. Louis in the early 1850s, according to this source: The Spirit of St. Louis: A History of the St. Louis Cardinals and Browns, by Peter Golenbock. (HarperCollins, 2000) The history is a dizzy tale of teams, all apparently living on the edge of bankruptcy, changing leagues and stealing players. The Browns were in and out of the early National League. The American Association was formed in 1882 and part of its founding had to do with beer. According to Golenbock, Al Spalding, owner of the Chicago White Sox, ran the National League, and he was a temperance man. He insisted that teams in the National League allow no gambling and no beer drinking at their parks. Players had to sign temperance pledges. And, in a world where most people worked Monday to Saturday, there were no Sunday games. When Spalding threw four teams out of the League in 1881, they got together to form their own league and asked others to join, including Chris Von der Ahe. Von der Ahe had just bought the St. Louis team as a way to promote his beer garden at Grand and Vandeventer. Golenbock says the National League became the province of English (nativist) temperance types, while the American Association drew German and Irish immigrant types. National League games were only about baseball. American Association games were about spectacle. Von der Ahe excelled at that, which was good because he knew little about baseball. He not only sold beer, but his Sportsman’s Park featured horse racing, lawn bowling, and fireworks. (Golenbock, page 16)
One can see why it was called Sportsman’s Park. Men who considered themselves “sports” must have loved it. Fewer women attended then than now. One can also see the antecedents of today’s spectacles, including the routine sale of beer at ball games. The American Association lasted about ten years and the St. Louis Brown Stockings won four championships, putting St. Louis on the baseball map. As maps go, St. Louis was expected to be a wild baseball town by Easterners. St. Louis was the team town furthest west and furthest south, the only team west of the Mississippi—by a mile or so.
Von der Ahe began selling off good players and the team declined. The American Association folded and merged with the old National League, apparently with the right to sell beer intact. At some point, the team changed names and uniforms, and fans approved of the Cardinal red. The new nickname stuck. Between 1899 and 1902, there were no St. Louis Browns. When the new American League was organized in 1902, the St. Louis Browns were revived. Sportsman’s Park was rebuilt on the same location, one of the frequent fires having destroyed the wooden structure in 1901. The new park was also a wooden construction. The newer concrete and steel construction (and a new orientation for the playing field) came along in 1909.
So, in 1910, I have the St. Louis Cardinals playing at League Park at Vandeventer and Natural Bridge. The name changes to Robison Field in 1911. I have the St. Louis Browns playing at a refurbished Sportsman’s Park at Grand and Dodier. If you know your St. Louis geography, you’ll know these locations aren’t far apart, maybe three blocks or so. In 1920, Robison Field was abandoned and both teams played out of Sportsman’s Park. Neither team was very good in that era, but the St. Louis newspapers covered both extensively.
(In case, you want an update, Beaumont High School was built on the site of the old Robison Field. The Browns and the Cards shared Sportsman’s Park until the end of the 1953 season when the Browns franchise was sold and moved to Baltimore where it became the Orioles. At that point, the Cardinals franchise was bought by Augustus Busch, who renovated Sportsman’s Park. That park was torn down in 1966 when the Cardinals moved downtown to the first Busch Stadium. The Herbert Hoover Club [of the Boys and Girls Club organization] is on the Sportsman’s site now, and its ball field lies on the site of the old field. Beaumont High School had an interesting history, being involved in the school desegregation and resegregation periods. According to what I can find, it very recently closed as a high school, perhaps within the last year of this writing.)
I also have used a nicely illustrated book, The St. Louis Cardinals: An Illustrated History, by Donald Honig. It has great pictures of ball players and of Helene Britton, who was the only woman team owner in 1911.