If you’ve read my recent posts concerning the Gypsy Queen box breaks I took part in with Kidder Cards then you’ll know I purchased two team ‘slots’ as part of the break – the Orioles and the Cardinals!
And obviously you’ll already know that I did pretty well out of them 🙂
However there was one particular card that I particularly enjoyed getting my hands on, and that was of the old St Louis Browns catcher (and SP), Rick Ferrell!
However there was something that struck me as a bit odd about the card, and that something is only apparent when you look at the back –
You see, Topps has lumped Ferrell in as part of the St Louis Cardinals team set, which on the surface doesn’t seem that unreasonable. However if you take a look at the history of the St Louis Browns (particularly the Browns team that Rick Ferrell played for between 1929-33 and again from 1941-43) then things start to look a bit different.
The St Louis Brown Stockings began life in 1875 in the old National Association and then became a charter member of the National League in 1876. However they were expelled from the NL after the 1877 season due to a game-fixing scandal and the team went bankrupt. They continued as a barnstorming team until 1882 when they joined the newly formed American Association, a league set up to rival the NL.
The team shortened their name to the Browns and became the most dominant team in the AA over the following years until 1891, when the AA went bankrupt and the Browns rejoined the NL. What followed were several years of abject mediocrity culminating in a ballpark fire in 1898. The lawsuits following the fire saw the sale of the club and in 1899 the NL Board of Directors announced the expulsion and disorganization of the old St Louis club and the acceptance of a new St Louis ball club which had previously played as the St Louis Perfectos in 1899. They then changed their name in 1900 to the St Louis Cardinals (whom you might have heard of) and no connection to the old St Louis Browns existed anymore.
Now here’s where it gets interesting.
In 1902 an American League team, the Milwaukee Brewers, moved to St Louis and changed its name to the St Louis Browns, filling the vacuum left by the old Browns, and even building a new ballpark on the site of the old Browns’ former home. In their first two decades they were an incredibly popular team, even beating the Cardinals in terms of attendance at the gate.
During this period it should be noted that a certain Branch Rickey (better known these days as Harrison Ford) made his MLB debut for the Browns in 1905. Although he struggled as a ballplayer Rickey went back to college where he learned about administration, returning to the majors (and the Browns) in 1913 where he started a successful career as a manager and an executive.
After the First World War Rickey joined the cross-town Cardinals and history reminds us of the success that the Cardinals franchise was to become over the following decades, dominating baseball in St Louis, while the Browns slipped towards the cellar!
Rick Ferrell joined the Browns in 1929 and became their full-time catcher the following year. He became one of the best hitting catchers in the league and was purchased by the Red Sox in 1933 during a period of financial difficulty for the Browns. He played for the Red Sox and then the Washington Senators before finding himself back in a Browns uniform between 1941 and 1943. He ended his career in 1947, once more a member of the Washington Senators!
OK, I hear you all ask! What’s the big deal about Rick Ferrell and his GQ card?
Well, as I mentioned earlier, Ferrell has been grouped as part of the St Louis team set in this year’s Gypsy Queen set. And since his card depicts him in a Browns uniform it would be hard to argue with this. However in 1951 the Browns were purchased by the former Cleveland Indians owner, Bill Veeck.
Infamous for his notorious stunts and gift for self-promotion, Veeck famously sent Eddie Gaedel, a 3-foot 7-inch, 65-pound midget, to bat as a pinch hitter in August, 1951. When Gaedel stepped to the plate he was wearing a Browns uniform with the number 1/8, and with no strike zone to speak of, Gaedel walked on four straight pitches, as he was ordered not to swing at any pitch.
Veeck intended to drive the Cardinals from St Louis but after an influx of cash from St Louis-based brewery Anheuser-Busch it became apparent to Veeck that the Cardinals weren’t going anywhere, so he decided to uproot the Browns, firstly attempting to return them to Milwaukee, only to have the move blocked by the rest of the league. He then settled on Baltimore and finally moved the team in 1953.
However, unlike other clubs that relocated in the 1950s, retaining their nickname and a sense of continuity with their past (such as the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers, New York/San Francisco Giants, Boston/Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves, and Philadelphia/Kansas City/Oakland Athletics), the St. Louis Browns were renamed the Baltimore Orioles upon their move, implicitly distancing themselves at least somewhat from their history. Even to this day the Orioles rarely make mention of their past as the St Louis Browns.
Yet the continuity is there, which is why I firmly believe that the 2013 Gypsy Queen Rick Ferrell SP actually belongs as part of the Baltimore Orioles team set rather than the St Louis Cardinals team set.
In the grand scheme of things I don’t necessarily think it’s that big of a deal, although it’s always nice to trot out a Baseball history lesson for those of you who weren’t aware of the history of the two teams in question.
Have I made a convincing enough argument to win you over into accepting that Ferrell’s cards in his Browns uniform belong with the Orioles rather than the Cardinals? I know its way too late for the 2013 Gypsy Queen release but maybe it’s something that Topps might consider for any future Ferrell cards!