Friday, March 14, 2014

March 14, 1899: SOLD!!! The St. Louis Browns Hit The Auction Block

     On March 14, 1899, the club that would become known as the Cardinals were auctioned off at the Old Courthouse in downtown St. Louis. The club, then known as the Browns had been owned by Chris Von der Ahe who had been losing money for many years. The winning bidder was a longtime St. Louis lumber dealer by the name of G.A. Gruner who purchased the club for $33,000. By today's standards that would be nearly $900,000. Three days after winning the auction, Gruner sold the club to Edward C. Becker, a prominent St. Louis attorney who was working for  Frank and Stanley Robison who owned the Cleveland Spiders and would take ownership of the team in St. Louis. The Robison brothers changed the team's name to the Perfectos. Along with the name change the two brothers decided to change the uniforms as well, as they had decided a red with white trim was a good look for the club. After hearing a woman remark that the new uniforms were a lovely shade of cardinal, a new nickname was born for that ballclub who called St. Louis home. (The cartoon was printed in the Sporting News on March 18, 1899)

     At the time of the purchase there were no rules against owning more than one team. The Robison brothers had built a pretty decent club in Cleveland. Throughout the 1890's, the Spiders were always considered a contender, although, they never did win a pennant. Despite being a contender the Spiders didn't draw the crowds needed to support the club. The Browns in St. Louis were far from contenders, yet they outdrew the Spiders in every season from 1892 to 1898. When the Robison's took control in St. Louis they brought eight players from the Spiders with them. This included Hall of Famers: Cy Young, Jesse Burkett, and Bobby Wallace. The revamped club in St. Louis went from bottom dwellers who had posted a 39-111 in 1898 to 84-67 in 1899. Meanwhile, the Spiders had the worst season in baseball history as they watched their best players shift to St. Louis. They had posted an 81-68 record in 1898, then in 1899 they only won 20 games while losing 134. Most of the fans in Cleveland refused to watch the club play, because of that they played 112 of  their 154 games on the road. This spelled the end for Cleveland organization who disbanded in 1900.

     Von der Ahe, who was once estimated to be worth more than $1 million had lived well beyond his means. After his days as an owner of a Major League ballclub he worked as a bartender. Von der Ahe had a drinking problem that caused him many problems. He went bankrupt in 1908. The Cardinals and the newly christened American League St. Louis Browns played a benefit game to help him out. They raised $5,000 for the former owner who lived a few more years before passing away in 1913.

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