Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Gussie Became Friend to Fan in the Stand

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Gussie Became Friend to Fan in the Stand

Article excerpt

From that cold gray dawn in February 1953, St. Louis has had a unique, relaxed situation - hometown ownership of its baseball team.

Anheuser-Busch's acquisition of the Cardinals meant more stability to the franchise's location than to its place in the annual standings.

As one who sat in on that early a.m. press conference at a downtown bank 43 years ago, I remember most the joy of relief that the Redbirds wouldn't be sacrificed. Milwaukee just had accomplished an "if-coming coup" that would signal what would lead to alarming musical chairs in franchise movements.

Milwaukee had built its Field of Dreams, one that would attract a team, most likely the Cardinals. Redbirds owner Fred Saigh was in an embarrassing personal situation that prompted him to sell.

The Cardinals, not the rival Browns, were the prize. Saigh would take less money for local ownership, but then, as it was when no St. Louis money was available at a time Ralston Purina was about to sell the hockey Blues to Saskatoon, sportsmen here had short pockets.

Bankers finally convinced August A. Busch Jr. that ownership of the ballclub by the brewery would solve a problem. Saigh, selling, recognized more the value of the Cardinals as a public-relations gesture than did the beer men on Pestalozzi Street. As part of his sale prize, Saigh bought a bloc of stock, 28,000 shares. Without another purchase, stock splits and success brought that total now to 1,089,000 shares, representing probably a $60 million return for a $600,000 investment.

Overnight, distantly remote from the man on the street, Gussie Busch became the friend of the fan in the stands here and a celebrity nationally. His brewery-ball club trips were most remunerative in news conferences and with distributors.

Almost overnight, second nationally to Schlitz in sales, Anheuser-Busch celebrated a 5 million-barrel plateau. Now, it's 80 million annually and growing.

So even though the Cardinals are a financial liability now, they're really what advertising would label a "loss leader," one that probably could be justified indefinitely if the bottom line hadn't become the answer.

Make no mistake about it, friends. …

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