Death of a Fan Club Followers of the St. Louis Browns reminisce for perhaps the last time about their inglorious history

May 26, 2002

Watching a baseball team die is no more fun than sitting at the
deathbed of an old friend. It's no different with the demise of
the fan club of a long-dead baseball team. Last Thursday life
was draining out of the St. Louis Browns Historical Society.

The 21st annual and supposedly final meeting of the Brownies fan
club was held at Joe Hanon's restaurant in a St. Louis suburb to
commemorate the 100th anniversary of the woebegone team's
arrival from Milwaukee. If the organizers had waited a year,
they could have celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Browns'
deportation from St. Louis. After the 1953 season, as if in a
witness protection program, the players on a pitiful 54-100 team
were moved to a new town (Baltimore) and given new identities

The banquet was billed as the "final" meeting, "because we've
done it all," said Erv Fischer, who has organized all of the 21
get-togethers, and though he's threatened to call it quits
before, he insists this time he's serious. "I'm 77 years old,
and I'm kind of worn-out myself."

The dinner drew 197 loyal Browns fans, which would have been
considered a good crowd at Sportsman's Park. "Sometimes the
players outnumbered the fans," said Don Gutteridge, a Browns
second baseman from 1942 to '45. He wasn't kidding: Thirty-four
fans showed up for a '33 game. "Some days I knew everybody in
the ballpark on a first-name basis. You could have fired a
shotgun into the stands and not hit anyone."

Almost every speech was like a dispatch from some emergency room
describing the decline of a failing monarch. The Browns were not
quite a monarchy among franchises; in 52 inglorious seasons they
finished in the cellar or a floor above 22 times, prompting the
famous St. Louis slogan: First in booze, first in shoes and last
in the American League.

The Browns are better known for their one-armed outfielder (Pete
Gray, in 1945) and midget pinch hitter (Eddie Gaedel, in '51)
than their Hall of Fame first baseman (George Sisler, who hit
.407 in '20 and .420 in '22) and lone pennant, in 1944, when the
majors were overrun by players as unfit to play ball as they
were for the armed services. (A record 18 members of the team
were classified 4-F and thus deferred from the draft.)

Last Thursday each old Brownie got to say a few departing words.
In the case of Jim Delsing, the outfielder who pinch-ran for
Gaedel, a few small words. "Jimmy ran for the midget," chuckled
Ned Garver, the Browns' ace from 1948 to '52. "What a
distinction!" Garver's own claim to fame is being the only
pitcher ever to win 20 games for a last place team that lost 100
or more.

The 92-year-old Bob Poser reminisced about getting signed by
manager Rogers Hornsby while on a break from medical school.
"All the Browns could afford to give me was $200," said Poser.
"I would have paid $200 to play."

In his four-game career with the Browns, Poser faced nine future
Hall of Famers. "How'd you pitch to Lou Gehrig?" asked the great
Stan Musial, whose Cardinals beat their crosstown rivals in the
1944 Series.

"Carefully," said Poser, using a line almost as old as he is.
"When I was young, I never imagined I'd be in this position."
When you grow old, you find people's memories grow short. These
days no one much remembers the Browns.

But they're still more than just nostalgia to Arthur Richman, a
senior adviser to the New York Yankees, who was sometimes
invited by the Browns to travel with the team to Boston and
Philadelphia during the summers. The fan club's greatest
fan--Richman was given a plaque that says so at the
banquet--still has his old Browns cap. "When I'm buried, I want
the cap placed on my chest," he said. "My wife has strict
instructions: Let no collector swipe it before the casket is

B/W PHOTO: HY PESKIN/TIMEPIX GETTING NOSTALGIC Gaedel, here pinch-hitting in 1951, Gutteridge and the one-armed Gray left fans with fond memories. B/W PHOTO: THE SPORTING NEWS [See caption above] B/W PHOTO: AP [See caption above]