In 2009 I visited Busch Stadium in St. Louis as part of a multi-city road trip that took me through Pittsburgh, the Pro Football Hall of Fame (Canton, OH), Milwaukee, the Field of Dreams (Dyersville, IA), Kansas City, St. Louis and Chicago.
Busch Stadium is the third St. Louis baseball venue to carry the name. The classic Sportsman’s Park was renamed “Busch Stadium” when the beer magnate bought the Cardinals franchise in 1953. Its cookie cutter successor was constructed in the 60′s and housed the team (and, for a time, the St. Louis football Cardinals) into this century. In 2006, the city of St. Louis got the new baseball facility it deserved. The third iteration of Busch Stadium is a real gem.
My visit to the city and ballpark was punctuated by nice St. Louis touches: a trip to the Arch (and the fantastic Museum of Westward Expansion), some BBQ food, the Budweiser Clydesdales on the field before the game and bleacher seats in the outfield inhabited by friendly folks with whom I engaged in baseball discourse throughout the contest.
We’ve jumped the shark on national pundits declaring St. Louis the Best Baseball City in America. But they’ve got as good a case as anybody and it’s at least nice to hear some white noise about St. Louis after decades of media fawning over the Yankees, coincidentally the only team with more World Series wins than the Cards. Think about the St. Louis sports scene: the other teams are the Rams and the Blues. New York has…well, what doesn’t New York have? St. Louis is a baseball town.
The city’s rich (but decidedly non-ostentatious) baseball history is embodied in franchise icon Stan “The Man” Musial. Even the nickname was understated: a simple rhyming couplet designed to imply greatness.
Musial’s legacy of consistency is hard to top: he played for the Cardinals all of his 22 seasons, over 3,000 games. He amassed seven batting titles, is second all-time in total bases and third all-time in doubles. In contrast to New York’s Joe DiMaggio or Boston’s Ted Williams, whom Allen Barra once referred to as “baseball’s John Wayne,” Musial set a quiet example and nobody ever had a bad word to say about him.
One of my favorite descriptions of a ballplayer was penned by Howard Bryant, who once wrote of Hank Aaron: “The greatest virtue of authenticity is that it never loses value, even if its most important qualities at times go unnoticed. Eventually, craftsmanship, and the sweat that goes into it, will be respected.” That sort of sums up Musial too, as well as St. Louis the baseball town. Sometimes the city gets overlooked, but the legacy of excellence speaks for itself.