Archive for December, 2016
Busch Memorial Stadium became the home of both the St. Louis football and baseball Cardinals in 1966 and was designed by Sverdrup & Parcel and built by Grün & Bilfinger. Noted American Architect Edward Durell Stone designed the roof of the Stadium, a 96-arch “Crown of Arches”. The Crown echoed the nearby Gateway Arch, which had been completed only a year before Busch Stadium opened. It was one of the first multipurpose “cookie-cutter” facilities built in the United States.
Originally, the Stadium had grass, but converted to AstroTurf in 1970. From 1970-1978, the baseball configuration had a traditional dirt infield. In 1979, to cut down costs, the dirt infield was replaced by sliding pits. It was also at this time the Cardinals were about to return to prominence in Major League Baseball. Thanks to manager Whitey Herzog, the Cards used Whiteyball to dominate the National League in the 1980s. Whiteyball is a strategy that
used baserunning, solid pitching, excellent defense, and line drive base hits to produce runs without the aid of a slugger/power hitter. Whiteyball lead the Cardinals to two World Series appearances in 1982 and 1987, which included a Championship in 1982.
In 1988, the Football Cardinals departed to Arizona because Busch Stadium was considered small by owner Bill Bidwill. Pro football would not be played there for another seven years until the Los Angeles Rams moved east in 1995. The Rams played at Busch until 1996, when the Dome at America’s Center opened. After the Rams left, Busch Stadium was transformed to a baseball-only facility, removing 10,000 seats in the upper deck, installing a manual-operated scoreboard where the seats were removed, and removing the artificial turf with natural grass and a dirt infield. During the last 10 years of its life, Busch Stadium witnessed the Great Home Run Race of 1998, when Mark McGwire passed Roger Maris to set a new Major League record for most home runs hit in a season. Six years later, Busch Stadium was the site of the Boston Red Sox’ first World Series Championship since 1918. The final game at Busch Stadium happened on October 19, 2095, when the Houston Astros defeated the Cardinals 5-1 to win the National League Championship Series in six games.
Demolition of Busch Memorial Stadium was supposed to be done by implosion, but due to concerns of the protection of the Stadium Metro Station, and the fact that the current Busch Stadium was built on the site of Busch Memorial Stadium, it was decided that demolition of the stadium had to be done via wrecking ball. Demolition of the Stadium took 32 days to complete.
For four decades, the sound of the organ at Busch Stadium during Cardinal games came from the fingertips of Ernie Hays. From 1971-2010, Hays was the soundtrack to Cardinals games, and anything associated with St. Louis sports.
Hays was born on New Year’s Day, 1935. His father played the banjo and worked for the Chevrolet. His mother was a seamstress who played guitar and sang in the church choir. He was 7 when his parents bought him a piano. His teacher charged $1 a lesson and was surprised at how quickly he learned to play by ear. The piano lessons ended when his father retired and moved the family to Houston, Mo. At Drury College in Springfield, Mo., he got jobs through the musicians’ union and played at parties and dances. He transferred to Southwest Missouri State and married Loreta Heriford in 1954. He worked as a disc jockey and news announcer and supported his growing family on 95 cents an hour. He enlisted in the Navy, where he played piano at the Officers Club and served on a minesweeper off Libya. He retired from the Navy in 1960 and spent three years at Southwest Missouri State and the University of Missouri at Rolla, earning a degree in electrical engineering. He worked at McDonnell Aircraft and Western Electric Co. Until 1977, he worked days as an engineering supervisor at the old Bell System, while also playing at Cardinals games.
He became a full-time musician and teacher. He played for seven teams: the football Cardinals, the Blues, the Steamers and Stars soccer teams, the Spirits of St. Louis basketball team and St. Louis University. At Busch Stadium, he asked players what songs they wanted during their introductions. For Hall-of-Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith, he played tunes from “The Wizard of Oz.” He was known for his trove of jokes, many of which couldn’t be published in a newspaper. He explained that his job was to “play rah-rah stuff for the good guys, raspberries for the bad guys, and pass no judgment on the officials.” However, the most memorable legacy of Hays was his rendition of the classic Budweiser jingle “Here Comes The King”:
Hearing the sound of “Here Comes The King” made a Cardinal game feel like a Cardinal game. This tradition continues under current Blues/Cardinals organist and Hays student Jeremy Boyer. This is him performing the exact same song at Hays’ studio:
Hays was the recipient of the Jack Buck Award for his dedication to the sports landscape in 2010. He died of a heart attack on October 31, 2012 at the age of 77. He leaves behind his wife, three children, Pamela, Roger, Bob, and five grandchildren.
In Part One, I talked about the original Sportsman’s Park. This Sportsman’s Park would be the home for both the St. Louis Cardinals and the St. Louis Browns from 1920-1953.
The new ballpark made of steel was built in 1909 on the corner of Grand Boulevard and Dodier Avenue. It was originally the home of the St. Louis Browns of the American League. In 1920, businessman Sam Breadon bought the St. Louis Cardinals from Helene Britton and the Robison family. He, along with team president Branch Rickey, turned the Cardinals into a National League powerhouse. On the other side, St. Louis Browns owner Phil Ball knew that the ballpark could be an attraction after the Browns finished one game behind the New York Yankees in the race for the American League pennant in 1922. The next year, the ballpark’s capacity nearly doubled from 18,000 to 30,000 by adding an upper deck.
It would be the Cardinals that would bring a World Series Championship to St. Louis in 1926. After winning again in 1931, 1934, and 1942, there would be an Intercity World Series in 1944 — the only time the Browns and the Cardinals would meet in the Fall Classic. The Cards beat the Browns in the 1944 World Series in 6 games, and two years later, the Cards would win their sixth World Series Championship, punctuated by Enos Slaughter’s mad dash to home plate in Game 7. One year later, the Cardinals were sold to Fred Saigh.
The Browns at the time of the Cardinals sixth World Series Championship were owned by Richard Muckerman. Just a few years later, Bill DeWitt Sr. became the new owner of the Browns. By 1951, Bill Veeck purchased the Browns from DeWitt. It was around this time that Sportsman’s Park would only be home for one team. After Saigh was forced to sell the Cardinals, Veeck sold the Browns and the team departed to Baltimore to become the Orioles. As for the Cardinals being sold, the buyer was August Augustus Busch Jr. Gussie Busch was the third-generation leader of his family that ran the world’s largest brewery, Anheuser-Busch. And it was that purchase that the history of the Busch family and the St. Louis Cardinals began. Sportsman’s Park was originally going to be renamed Budweiser Stadium, but because of fears from Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick have a ballpark named after a brand of beer, the stadium was renamed Busch Stadium from 1953 until its closing in 1966. As part of the new ownership, an electronic sign of the Anheuser-Busch eagle atop the left field scoreboard would flap its wings every time the Cardinals hit a home run.
After the Cardinals moved to downtown St. Louis, Busch donated the land to become the Herbert Hoover Boys & Girls Club. A sign at the club marks the location of where Sportsman Park once stood.
This is the first part of a six-part series counting down to the 2017 NHL Winter Classic. These are tidbits you might not know about the game site (Busch Stadium), the culture of its primary tenant (St. Louis Cardinals), or the Blackhawks-Blues rivalry itself.
The modern-day history of the St. Louis Cardinals began in 1882, when businessman Chris Von see Ahe bought the St. Louis Brown Stockings for $1,800. The Cards’ first home was a wooden ballpark built ahead of its time. Sportsman’s Park was built in 1893, and was located near an amusement park, beer garden, a racetrack, and an artificial lake. It was the home of the Browns until 1898, when a lit cigar burned down the ballpark. When it was rebuilt, Von der Ahe sold the team to Frank and Stanley Robison, who previously owned the Cleveland Spiders. The new wooden ballpark was named League Park and was open until 1910. When Helene Britton took over the team from her father, Stanley Robison, the ballpark was renamed Robison Field. Robison Feed would be the home of the Cardinals until 1920, when a new owner built a new ballpark made of steel in a different part of town.
To be continued…
As you might have noticed, tomorrow is the last day in the NHL before a mandated three-day Christmas break. Now most of the teams will be playing tomorrow, but there is one game that is intriguing on the schedule. The Los Angeles Kings are playing the Dallas Stars on that night, but it is intriguing not because of the matchup, but because of who’s calling the game for the Kings on FOX Sports West. Because of the quadruple bypass surgery legendary “Voice of the LA Kings” Bob Miller underwent back in April, he decided to reduce his workload calling all but 17 road games this season. Those 17 road games were split by four veteran announcers with NHL experience — current MASN Orioles television play-by-play announcer Gary Thorne, TSN/NBCSN play-by-play announcer Chris Cuthbert, the first voice of the LA Kings, Jiggs McDonald, and former Dallas Stars play-by-play announcer Ralph Strangis. Tomorrow night will be the first time Strangis will call a game from the visiting side in Dallas, where he was “The Voice of the Stars” from 1990-2015.
Back when the team was the Minnesota North Stars, Strangis was a color analyst alongside the Voice of the North Stars, Al Shaver. When the Stars moved to Dallas in 1993, Strangis was still a color analyst alongside play-by-play announcer Mike Fornes. In 1996, Strangis transitioned himself from analyst to play-by-play and with new color analyst Daryl “Razor” Reaugh, they were the soundtrack to the Stars franchise for the next two decades. Those two were so beloved by Stars fans, when the Stars moved to the American Airlines Center in 2002, the arena was built to keep simulcasting Stars games both on television and on radio.
Ralph and Razor practically called nearly every goal in Mike Modano’s career in Dallas, which included his epic farewell in Dallas in 2010 where he assisted on the first goal, scored the game-tying goal on a tip in the waning seconds of regulation, and scored the shootout winner against the Anaheim Ducks. They also called every moment of the Stars run to the Stanley Cup in 1999, where before the phrase “YES! YES! YES!” was used in the mainstream, that phrase was used to describe Brett Hull’s overtime winner that gave the Stars its first championship in its fifth year since relocating from the Twin Cities. The last game Strangis called as The Voice of the Stars occurred in 2015. Stars captain Jamie Benn was in the middle of the race to win the Art Ross Trophy. Against the Nashville Predators, Benn scored a hat trick to tie Islanders forward John Tavares for the league lead in points. Needing one more point to win the Ross in dramatic fashion, Jamie Benn was credited with an assist on Cody Eakin’s goal that gave him 87 points for the season, good enough to make him the first Stars player ever to win the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL’s leading points-scorer.
During the 2015 offseason, Strangis decided to leave the team that he as worked for a quarter of a century to pursue other opportunities. He wrote an op-ed for the Dallas Morning News talking about how he befriended a kid on a plane. He recently tweeted a picture of himself participating in the University of North Texas’ Fall Commencement. But tomorrow night WILL be different. There’s an old saying of “Who says you can’t go home?” For Ralph Strangis, it all comes full circle. It will look surreal, and it’ll sound surreal, but I want you to close your eyes for just one second, and just imagine your favorite moment called by Ralph and Razor. You’ll truly appreciate it during the game tomorrow night.
Well, Christmas is almost here, and this is the last Coach’s Corner before the NHL’s Christmas Break. Enjoy!