In the days before towns like Detroit and Los Angeles and Houston mattered very much, St. Louis was one of the great cities of the U.S., along with New York, Philadelphia, Boston and Chicago. Size and importance, not the luck of the draw, made St. Louis for half a century one of the five cities in the country with teams in both major leagues. But even as it assumed its double major league status, St. Louis was moribund, or at least going backward. When the Browns finally moved out after the 1953 season, it seemed right that they should, symptomatic of the way things were and would continue to be.
Now, however, St. Louis is in a renaissance, humming with vitality. Deadly old buildings that choked the downtown area have been swept away, and new construction—controlled by a master plan with taste and imagination—is rising in their place. The stumps of Eero Saarinen's magnificent stainless steel arch, a symbolic gateway to the West that will rise higher than the Eiffel Tower, have started to grow near the waterfront. And, literally within the shadow that splendid arch will cast, work has begun on Busch Memorial Stadium, a $23,000,000 civic enterprise to which Anheuser-Busch Inc. has subscribed $5,000,000 and in which the St. Louis Cardinals will play, beginning with the 1966 season.
All this is fine and good, a worthy thing to be happening to a city as friendly and pleasant as St. Louis. The only sad thought is: There goes another old ball park. There goes Sportsman's Park.
Baseball has been played since 1866 on the site of Sportsman's Park (all right, then, Busch Stadium, as it was renamed a decade ago, though it is about as easy to call Sportsman's Park Busch Stadium as it is to remember that Philadelphia's Shibe Park is now Connie Mack Stadium). It is the oldest living major league field, but the ancient grandstand, with bleachers and pavilion and hanging roof boxes, has a capacity, jam-packed, of only 30,500 (in the 1931 season a mob of 45,770 allegedly shoe-horned its way in to see the Cardinals play the Chicago Cubs, but those were depression days, and people may have been thinner). This painfully small crowd limit (only Cincinnati's Crosley Field, with a capacity of 30,273, is smaller) is the one reason why the Cardinals will be happy to move out. Sentimentally, they hate the idea.
Gussie Busch, head of the Anheuser-Busch brewery and president of the Cardinals, is distressed by the thought of Sportsman's—oops—Busch Stadium being torn down, and he is said to be trying to give it away. So far he has had about as much luck as a man trying to palm off a pregnant cat. The board of education does not want it—it already has the big Public Schools Stadium, where the National AAU track and field championships were held a couple of weekends ago. The city does not want it—it would lose the tax revenue from the property and have to assume the maintenance costs. It is sad to contemplate, but almost certainly a housing project or an industrial plant will rise where Hornsby batted, Dean pitched, Slaughter scored from first on a single and Eddie Gaedel, the midget, came in to pinch-hit.
But then, Ebbets Field is gone, too, and Braves Field and Baker Bowl and Griffith Stadium. The Polo Grounds is very near the end. Forbes Field, Fenway Park, Crosley Field—all are too small or too decrepit or have too many posts or not enough parking space.
What the old ball parks do have to their credit is personality. Think of Ebbets Field's right field wall, the high green barrier in left at Fenway, the too-short foul lines and too-long center field in the Polo Grounds, the jury-box bleachers in Braves field, the outfield hill in Crosley Field. The new stadiums have none of these idiosyncrasies. They are all shining and pretty and perfectly proportioned, like the girls in the cigarette ads, and, like the girls in the cigarette ads, they all look exactly alike: 330 feet down the foul lines, 410 feet to center. In a few years a visiting player won't know what park he is in, unless he first stops to check the schedule. Everything will be neutral and fair and antiseptic. Maybe even boring.
Stan Musial says no. He says that the new fields, generally larger than the ones they are replacing, are changing the game, and that inevitably the hit-and-run and the stolen base and the other implements of tight baseball will take over from all-out slugging. Musial says he thinks this will give the game better balance and make it more exciting, and that the player of the future will have to have all the baseball skills and not just raw power.
Just twist a dial
Perhaps so. Change that leads to a more exciting game is all to the good, and with the coverage that baseball gets from television and radio nowadays, the fan is more aware of such subtleties in play, more aware of the particular skills and potentialities of the individual players. Fiddle with a radio dial, especially at night, and you can pick up play-by-play broadcasts of games from all over. Bing Devine, general manager of the Cardinals, sits on the roof at Busch Stadium with his transistor and hunts up out-of-town games even as he watches his Cardinals play on the field down below. Bing gets Cub and White Sox games from Chicago, Athletic games from Kansas City, Cincinnati games via a Louisville station, Houston games from New Orleans. He can get Pittsburgh most nights and occasionally even picks up New York Met games on a Schenectady station. "You learn things about players that you wouldn't otherwise," Devine said last week. "How they react in certain situations, for example. You pick up a lot of information."
But if science giveth, it also taketh away. Like so many fans, Bing Devine likes the old-fashioned scoreboard that posts out-of-town games in line score, inning by inning. Sixteen big white zeroes strung two by two across a scoreboard to show a scoreless game after eight innings is infinitely more exciting than a cryptic "8 0-0" in lights. But the modern electric scoreboard in the new St. Louis stadium will use the short form and will not carry line scores. "They say they can't do it," Devine said ruefully. "It isn't feasible."
Progress is not to be sneered at, but, just for a moment there, nostalgia for things old and unfeasible—and maybe even decrepit—made the new stadium seem like a monster.