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Ferguson: How the Cardinals almost left St. Louis

Scott Ferguson
10/28/2013 2:53:07 PM
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Whether they end up winning or losing the World Series, the St. Louis Cardinals are one of Major League Baseball's model franchises. They have an outstanding farm system that keeps grinding out prospects year after year and the fan base is one of the most rabid and loyal in all of baseball.

It wasn't always so, though. In the late 40's and early 50's, the team went through a financial crisis that almost resulted in the team moving out of town.

Though successful on the field in the 40's (four World Series appearances and three victories), Cards owner Sam Breadon was determined to build his own ballpark. Since 1920, the Redbirds had been renting Sportsman's Park from St. Louis's other team, the Browns. Breadon had set aside $5 million to construct his own facility. However, there was a five year limit for him to get this done before he would be facing some severe tax ramifications.

Unable to find the land for a new ballpark, he wound up selling the Cardinals to Fred Saigh and his partner Robert Hannegan.

Things continued to deteriorate under this duo, though, and by 1949 and in poor health; Hannegan was forced to sell his share of the team back to Saigh.

The Cardinals' slide on field went on unabated and by 1953, Saigh had to put the club up for sale. There were no local buyers stepping forward to purchase the club, so Saigh listened to offers from Houston and Milwaukee interests. He ultimately struck a deal with a Milwaukee group for $4 million to buy the team.

That wasn't the end of it, though. A group of owners got together and vetoed the Milwaukee deal, instead pressuring Saigh to sell the club to beer baron "Gussie" Busch of Anheuser-Busch fame who vowed to keep the team in St. Louis. Saigh's take was $3.75 million - less than he would have made had the team gone to Milwaukee.

The Busch owned Cardinals ended up buying Sportsman's Park from the cash strapped Browns and they ended up moving themselves to Baltimore in 1954. After winning the World Series in 1946, the Cards did not win again until 1964, when they defeated the Yankees.

As for Fred Saigh, he wound up going to prison for five months of a15 months sentence for Federal income tax evasion.

After he was released from prison, Saigh went back into private business and  amassed a large block of Anheuser-Busch stock. In fact, he became the second-largest stock holder in the company next to the Busch family itself.

By the time he passed away at age 94, Fred Saigh was worth $500 million. He left $70 million of that to charity, establishing the Fred Saigh Foundation. 

Though Fred Saigh may have been the Cardinals' worst owner, in a way he helped ensure the Cardinals would win the battle for the fans affections with the Browns and helped make St. Louis a one team town by selling the team even if somewhat reluctantly to Gussie Busch.
 
A few weeks ago, I wrote about next year being the 100th anniversary of Wrigley Field.  I wondered if anyone was still alive from the last time the Cubs appeared in the World Series. It turns out there is one player left. That man's name is Lenny Merullo. He is 96 years old and played in three of the games of 45 Series.

Lenny Merullo went on to become head scout with the Cubs from 1950 to 1972 and one of his grandsons Matt played for six years in the Majors, mainly with the White Sox. Here's hoping he's still around for the Cubs' big celebration next year and is well enough to make an appearance at Wrigley.

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