Wednesday, January 28, 2015

January 28, 1953: Cardinals Owner Fred Saigh Gets Sentenced To Prison

     On January 28, 1953, the owner of the Cardinals, Fred Saigh was convicted of tax evasion, and sentenced to 15 monthes in a Federal Penitentiary. The embattled owner became the talk of baseball. He soon realized that he would have to sell his stock in the team, and men with deep pockets stepped up in both Milwaukee and Houston with thoughts of moving the club. However, Saigh made a last minute deal with August Busch III to purchase the club. While Saigh made some bad choices, which led to the prison sentence, he was also a man who wanted to keep the Cardinals in the City of St. Louis. His time with the team was short, yet significant, and even today it has a continued impact on the club that calls St. Louis home.

     Saigh made a fortune as a lawyer, an investor, and an owner of commercial property as well. In 1947, Saigh along with a well established businessman by the name of Robert Hannegan purchased the club from long time owner Sam Breadon whose health was in decline. Just two years later Hannegan suffered health issues of his own, which led to Saigh purchasing the team outright. Then came the tax trouble. In April of 1952, the 47-year-old Saigh was indicted on five counts of tax evasion. The indictment accused him of avoiding $49,620 between 1946 and 1949. Less than a year later the charges had been reduced to two charges that totaled nearly $20,000. At that point Saigh gave up the idea of fighting it anymore, so he plead no contest.

     The wheels were in motion immediately as Saigh had a short period of time to get his affairs in order. The sale would happen with haste. Two days after the conviction Saigh stood in front of Ford C. Frick where he made it be known that he would not embarrass baseball by fighting to keep his club. Busch purchased the club on February 20, 1953. Just two weeks before the announcement that Busch would be the new owner, the team employees had been told that if they wished to move with the club to Milwaukee the organization would pay the expenses. That is how close they were to a deal. Two weeks later the beer baron had saved the day. Fred Saigh had saved the day as well. If Saigh would have taken the higher offer Stan Musial would have had another city's name across his chest. The impact on the history of the club cannot be overstated when it comes to that decision. Just think of all the great games, accomplishments  , milestones, and Game 6 in 2011 moments that have happened since.

      Bill Veeck and the Browns organization had to see this legal battle as a way to take claim of sole proprietorship when it came to baseball in St. Louis. The fact of the matter is the city was not big enough for both teams and one of them would be heading for another city before too long. Once Gussie Busch stepped into the picture Veeck knew he was no match for the money that the brewery owner brought to the table. In 1954, Veeck decided to shift his club to Baltimore and sell the old ballpark to Busch. A new era had begun.

     While the pages were being turned to that next era in Cardinals ownership Saigh served five months of his 15 month sentence before being released. After several years of legal wrangling Saigh settled on some civil suit, and moved on from the tax issues. He was able to gain wealth once again with wise investments, which included a large portion of stock in Anhueser Busch. Saigh had his sites set on purchasing the Washington Senators in 1971 before pulling his name out of the hat due to his past. However, Saigh would go onto amass nearly $500 million before passing away in 1999 at the age of 94. He was one of the wealthiest people in St. Louis at the time. He donated a substantial amount of money to charity in his will, and established The Fred Saigh Foundation. To this day his contributions to his fellow man still go on. When mentioned among those who know their baseball history the first thing that may come up might be the tax case. It may have helped define his legacy, but in this fan's opinion it was unfortunate bump in the road of life. A life that turned out to be great. His character stood tall even after he heard a judgement come down against him in a court of law. If he were here today I would shake his hand before thanking him for helping keep the Birds right where they belong.

You can read a short bio about Saigh's life on here:   

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