Wednesday, April 9, 2014

April 9, 1953: Busch Buys The Ballpark

     On April 9, 1953, it was announced that August A. Busch had purchased Sportsman's Park from the Browns for an estimated $800,000. By today's standards that would equate to more than $7 million. The Browns who were already trying to shift their club to Baltimore were financially strapped and it was reported that they were forced to sell the ballpark just to keep operating. After the purchase, Busch gave the ballpark a facelift. Under the Browns ownership the park had fell into disrepair. In his official statement Busch said "The park was not maintained on a scale we regard as meeting major league standards." The facelift included a name change, wider seats, and a huge neon Anheuser Busch Eagle over the scoreboard in left field that would flap its wings when a player hit a home run.
     The day the deal was announced Busch made it be known  that the name of the old ballpark would be changing to Budweiser Stadium. However, the name change was met with great disdain by a number of groups, as well as National League owners who did not want a park named after an alcoholic beverage, so the Cardinals owner then changed the name to Busch Stadium instead.  Less than a year after he decided to go with Busch Stadium, Busch Bavarian Beer was born (pretty slick move by Gussie).

     Along with the wider seats and the eagle over the scoreboard, Busch added new restrooms, concession stands, drinking fountains, turnstiles, ticket offices gate entrances, and improved the dugouts as well. One of the biggest improvements in the eyes of the players was a state-of-the-art drainage system. While the club was renting from the Browns the field was regarded as one of the worst playing fields in all of baseball. It was said that the Browns even let the tarp fall into such disarray that there were holes in it that would leave puddles on the field after a rain delay. The ballpark was also painted red, green, jade, and metallic blue, which were selected by a color specialist who proclaimed that the color scheme would enhance the atmosphere for the fans. Over a two-year period Busch invested an estimated $1.5 million into the park. It truly was a complete renovation.

     The Cardinals called Sportsman's Park home until 1966 when Busch Stadium II opened. The team had called the site home from 1882 to 1892, then again from 1920 until the day that it closed. It was the original Baseball Heaven. While I might be too young to remember the old ballpark, through pictures, and old films, it is easy for me to close my eyes and dream of the days when the boys played their ball at Grand and Dodier.

Check this out for a glimpse into baseball's past:

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