Few baseball fans today know how close the St. Louis Cardinals came to moving to Milwaukee in January of 1953. Had such a move occurred, and had Major League Baseball attempted to block it, organized baseball’s vaunted antitrust exemption might have ended decades ago.Personally, I had never heard this story. I love baseball and baseball history but this whole episode completely slipped by me somehow. Definitely go read the whole thing, it really is a great story.
While St. Louis had been the fourth-largest city in the United States in 1902 when the American League’s Milwaukee Brewers moved there to compete with the National League’s Cardinals under the new name of the Browns, St. Louis’ growth had not kept pace with that of other cities in the first half of the twentieth century. Many observers questioned the wisdom of continuing to have two teams in the Gateway city. On September 23, 1952, the New York Times reported that the St. Louis Cardinals might be Milwaukee bound because of disagreements regarding their lease of Sportsman Park which was owned by their American League counterparts, the Browns. (Milwaukee’s new Milwaukee County Stadium made the city a particularly attractive destination for a baseball team needing a new home.) A December 23, 1952, story in the Washington Post predicted that it would be the St. Louis Browns, not the Cardinals, that would be moving to Milwaukee within the next two or three years. (The Browns were then owned by Bill Veeck, the former owner of Milwaukee’s minor league team, the Brewers.)
The situation came to a head dramatically on January 28, 1952, when Cardinal owner Fred Saigh pled “no contest” to charges of income tax evasion in federal court in St. Louis and was sentenced to 15 months in prison. Fearing that his fellow owners would strip him of his franchise, Saigh immediately agreed to give up control of the Cardinals and to sell his 90% ownership stake in the team. At that point several Milwaukeeans, anxious to have major league baseball return to their city, undertook to bring the Cardinals to Wisconsin.