Thursday, February 20, 2014

February 20, 1953: Gussie Buys The Birds

     On February 20, 1953, beer baron August A. Busch Jr. purchased the St. Louis Cardinals from Fred Saigh for $3.75 million. By today's standards that would be nearly $33 million. Saigh was forced to sell after being sentenced to 15 months in prison for tax evasion. The sale of the team to Busch has great historical significance as he stepped in during the 11th hour to prevent a sale of the team to a group out of Milwaukee. Busch guaranteed that the team would remain in St. Louis, which led to the Browns packing their bags and heading to Baltimore.

     Saigh along with his business partner Robert Hannegan purchased the club from Sam Breadon in '47. Their ownership is not as celebrated as other owners, as Hannegan was forced to sell his shares to Saigh due to declining health, and Saigh's legal issues that had forced him to sell the team just six years after he had celebrated the purchase. Saigh did not want to sell, but the powers that be in baseball insisted he do so in order to keep from giving the national pastime a proverbial black eye. A group out of Houston along with the group out of Milwaukee made significantly higher offers than Busch, but the longtime St. Louisan chose Busch knowing that he would not be shifting the club to another city. While the ownership of Hannegan and Saigh isn't as celebrated as others, it was an albeit short but very important era in the history of the organization. If Saigh would have chose greed over what his heart told him was right there is a very good possibility that the Cardinals would resided elsewhere.

     Busch, the President of the Anheuser-Busch saved the day for the fans in St. Louis with his 11th hour offer, In his official statement Busch said "We hope to make the Cardinals one of the greatest baseball teams of all time, and we propose to further develop our farm clubs." He promised to take an active role in the front office and would usher in a new era in Cardinal baseball. He owned the team  until he passed away in 1989. During his 36 years as the owner of the Cardinals, Busch saw the club win the National League Pennant six times which included three World Series titles. While he was already ingrained into the fabric of the City of St. Louis, his ownership of the team elevated him into legendary status. The team retired the number 85 in 1984 to honor the owner who was 85 years old at the time, and this year he was enshrined into new Cardinals Hall of Fame and Museum at Ballpark Village. He did have his fair share of ups and downs, but the Gussie Busch era will always be remembered for great success, and for him being an owner that endeared himself to the fans and the city that he called home since the day he was born in 1899.

This is an article that was published in the New York Times after Mr. Busch passed away. It includes a short bio that will give you great insight into the life and times of the former Cardinals patriarch: