"Beer and Whiskey League"
Commodifying Leisure | Elysian Fields | Wright and the Reds | National Association | William Hulbert
"Middle-Class Paradise" | "Beer and Whiskey League" | A. G. Spalding | The Brotherhood | Unimagined Baseball

Chris Von der AheIn the fall of 1878, the National League voted to expel teams that didn't rid themselves of anyone playing in, umpiring, or scoring any game played on a Sunday -- a resolution directed against Cincinnati, which rented its grounds on Sundays and sold beer. The franchise was vacated when it refused to sign the pledge.

With Cincinnati league-less, and a majority of the population unable to attend any games not played on Sunday, the American Association was formed in 1881. Termed the "Beer and Whiskey League" by National League detractors, four of its owners were in fact brewmasters. With franchises in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, the AA had the advantage of a wider population base than the NL. But more significantly, the AA scheduled games on Sundays, sold beer, and charged only a 25-cent admission -- thus opening the specter of professional baseball to the working classes.

St. Louis Browns owner Christopher Von der Ahe, known as the "Millionaire Sportsman," understood baseball's ability to increase beer sales. In 1880 he bought Sportsman's Park, which was then given a covered grandstand. Of this capital improvement, sportswriter J. Roy Stockton wrote,

Chris kicked like a mule about that project. He argued that the fans wouldn't get as thirsty in the covered stands. But he finally compromised. . . with the understanding that Sportsman's Parkthere would be sizeable bleachers where the sun could get in its thirst-producing licks.1

Von der Ahe was famous for his malapropisms and promotional persistence. After the original park burned in 1891, he purchased a National League franchise. Seeking to augment his income, he put in a honky-tonk, amusement park rides, a racetrack, hired an all-female cornet band, and renamed the park "the Coney Island of the West." He later offered a 50-cent double-header of baseball and Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, including Sitting Bull.2

Other owners did not resort to such extremes, but additional revenue streams were certainly pursued (and sometimes at the expense of the public -- "As baseball is no longer a sport. . .," New York Times, April 23, 19913). Telegraph rights, scorecard concessions, refreshment concessions, and parking rights were all directly linked to the ballpark. Owners were often in peripheral industries, such as brewing, transit, or hotels, which were augmented by the baseball industry. O.P. Caylor lauded baseball's impact on the economy in Harper's Weekly on May 3, 1890.4

Sportsman's Park

1 Michael Gershman, Diamonds: The Evolution of the Ballpark (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1993) 22.
2 Gershman, Diamonds 23.
3 "As baseball is no longer a sport," New York Times 23 April 1991: 4.
4 O.P. Caylor, "Baseball's Contribution to the Economy," Harper's Weekly 3 May 1890, qtd. in Dean A. Sullivan, ed., Early Innings: A Documentary History of Baseball, 1825-1909 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1995) 204-5.

Ben Lisle -- American Studies at the University of Virginia -- December 2000