Baseball Parks

A private recreational facility in the area is the Herbert Hoover Boy's Club at Grand and Dodier, opened in 1967. It was the site of old Busch Stadium, formerly Sportsman's Park, which was donated for use as the Boy's Club site by Anheuser-Busch and August A. Busch, Jr. in early 1966. The Club was built after a spirited fund raising campaign and features a gynmasium and swimming pool in a club building on the southeast corner of the eight acre site. Balance of the site is used for outdoor recreation activities.

Old Sportsman's Park and its predecessors had been the site of baseball grounds for over a century. It was first used as such soon after the Civil War and only a few years after the game was introduced in St. Louis by Jere Fruin in 1860. The first ball park there was built by August Solari in 1871 as the Grand Avenue Ball Grounds. By 1875, it was known as the St. Louis Baseball Park and featured a fenced field and a small grandstand seating 800 persons. Its name was changed to Sportsman's Park in 1876 when it became the home of the charter member National League Club known as the Browns. The team, headed by John R. Lucas, was socalled from the color of their stockings. This club was a short lived venture, dropping out of the league after the 1878 season. For several years the park was used for German shooting meets and for cycle racing.

In 1882, the park was taken over by Chris Von der Ahe, a northside politician who ran a saloon at Grand and St. Louis Avenues. At first, he ran the ball park as a sideline, an outlet for beer sales from his nearby saloon. Von der Ahe sponsored his club in the American Association, then a major league, with the assistance of Al Spink, co-founder of the Sporting News. His team, called the Browns, had as its manager, Charles Comiskey, later founder of the Chicago White Sox. Under "der Poss President", as Von her Ahe was known, and Comiskey, the Browns won four pennants in a row from 1885 to 1888. When the American Association disbanded in 1892, Von der Ahe acquired a franchise in the expanded twelve team National League and moved the team from Sportsman's Park to a new ball park at Natural Bridge and Vandeventer Avenues. This was a good location across the street from the Fairgrounds race track. Here, the colorful Von der Ahe operated an amusement park in conjunction with the ball park, attracting public attention with parades and fire works. The nineties proved to be declining years for Von der Ahe's fortune as fire destroyed part of the ball park and in 1898 he was forced out as president of the ball club. The team was sold to the Robison brothers of Cleveland, who brought jtheir team here and re-named it the Cardinals, dropping the Browns name. Renamed Robison Field, the Vandeventer Avenue ball park remained the home of the Cardinals until 1920, When, after another fire, they moved to Sportsman's Park as tenants of the Browns. This site became the location of Beaumont High School in 1925.

Meanwhile, Sportsman's Park was used for cycle races other sports until 1902, when it became the home of the St. Louis Browns of the new American League. Robert Lee Hedges, owner of the new team, operated it successfully and a few years later he built a new grandstand at the park, enlarging its seating capacity to 18,000. In 1925, under owner Phil Ball, the park was again enlarged with a double deck stadium and a new pavilion to reach a capacity of about 32,000. The enlarged park proved to be more beneficial to its tenants, the Cardinals, than to its owners, the Browns, as in 1926 the Red Birds won their first pennant and World Series. Under various owners, the Browns continued to occupy Sportsman's Park until 1953, when the franchise was moved to Baltimore. The team had nearly won the pennant in 1922 and were successful in 1944, only to lose the "trolley car series" to the Cardinals, who won many pennants in the old ball park. Anheuser-Busch acquired both the Cardinals and Sportsman's Park in 1953 and then changed its name to Busch Stadium. The Cardinals occupied old Busch Stadium until 1966, when they moved to the new downtown stadium of the same name. After demolition of the old ball park, only memories remained of the scene of the exploits of the famous Gas House Gang and the Stan Musial.

Image - Grandstand and infield at Sportsman's Park
Image - St. Louis Browns baseball team in the 1880s