The Browns never won a World Series in their 52 seasons in St. Louis, most of which were spent wallowing at or near the bottom of the American League standings. But the team’s fan club is stronger than ever despite the passage of more than 6½ decades since they last played, in 1953.
Now they’re the subject of a second film made about them in as many years, and the latest comes at an appropriate time — 2019 is the 75th anniversary of the “Streetcar Series,” the 1944 Cardinals-Browns World Series.
“This is the pinnacle of St. Louis baseball,” Browns fan club president Ed Wheatley said.
Last year’s well-received and acclaimed presentation, “The Saint Louis Browns: The Team Baseball Forgot,” mostly chronicled the club’s history and the corresponding American way of life then. This year’s offering, “A Baseball Legacy — Fans Remember the St. Louis Browns,” also has some of that. But it concentrates more on the team’s fans and specifically the team’ stronger-than-ever group that keeps the memories alive, the St. Louis Browns Historical Society & Fan Club. The group, which draws overflow crowds to some of its presentations, is gearing up for a celebration of the only all-St. Louis World Series.
The new film, which is narrated by Cardinals television broadcaster Dan McLaughlin, debuts at 7 p.m. Saturday on KETC (Channel 9). Although there is a bit of overlap from the first one, there is plenty of new and interesting material.
Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr., whose father, Bill DeWitt, was the Browns’ general manager and later owner, tells an interesting tale of what could have been. A scout brought Mickey Mantle to St. Louis for a tryout (presumably in the late 1940s), but it rained the day he was in town. Mantle returned to Oklahoma without getting a look.
“As my father always said, ‘Can you imagine if we’d seen him take BP and throw in the outfield and shag flag balls?’” DeWitt Jr. asks. “Of course we would have signed him right on the spot. Talk about the course of baseball history changing.”
(Well, maybe not for long. I told my 91-year-old dad, who grew up a huge Browns fan, about this. His quick response: “They would have sold him to the Yankees anyway after a few years,” referring to the financially strapped club often moving its better players.)
Mantle, of course, went on to a Hall of Fame career in the outfield for the Yankees, was on seven World Series champions and was the American League MVP three times.
Most baseball fans know that Jackie Robinson was the first African-American player in the majors, but few know that it was the Browns who first started two black players in the same game. Hank Thompson and Willard Brown did so in 1947.
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“My father was always looking to get the best players,” Dewitt Jr. says. “I think part of it was he felt two would have maybe had an easier time as well rather than one. It’s a great legacy for the Browns to have done that.”
That is interesting because things were much different just three years earlier. McLaughlin points out that “Sportsman’s Park was one of the last ballparks to have segregated sections,” which lasted until May 1944.
“We could not go into the grandstand,” says Nate Crump, an African-American who is a member of the fan club. “The only place we could sit is center-field bleachers or the right-field pavilion. Ladies day, they were not recognized as ladies.”
Another tidbit in the film is that the 1944 World Series, the last to have been played entirely on the same field, almost never happened. The film says the Browns were set to sign paperwork to move to Los Angeles. The deal was to be finalized on Dec. 8, 1941. But Japan’s attack the day before on Pearl Harbor, which thrust the U.S. into World War II, ended that.
Of course there was maverick Browns owner Bill Veeck, who ultimately sold the team to Baltimore and it became the Orioles — who eschewed historical references to their St. Louis heritage.
The Browns are long gone, but not the memories. The team and “Streetcar Series” will be celebrated with a reunion luncheon starting at 11:30 a.m. Aug. 21 at Holiday Inn Southwest, in Sunset Hills.
Among those scheduled to be on hand are several former Browns players, including Don Larsen, who while with the Yankees threw the only perfect game in World Series history; Ed Mickelson and Tom Jordan, along with DeWitt Jr., who was a bat boy for the Browns, and all the team’s living bat boys. Jordan, who turns 100 on Sept. 5, is the oldest living major-leaguer.
Also to be recognized is the 50th anniversary of the 1969 “Amazin’ Mets” winning the World Series. St. Louisan Art Shamsky, a member of that team, is to be on hand.
Tickets for the event cost $37 for fan club members and $47 for others and can be ordered by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 314-608-9977.