Some of the younger readers of this website have only known professional baseball in St. Louis at one stadium. I’ve seen it at two. Some of you have seen it at three. There are some living people who have seen and remember baseball at four, but anything beyond that goes past living memory of St. Louisans.
But ten different stadiums have hosted major professional baseball in St. Louis. All ten are in the city of St. Louis—I am excluded GCS Ballpark and the former T.R. Hughes Ballpark, not because they are located in Sauget, Illinois or O’Fallon, Missouri but because the Gateway Grizzlies and River City Rascals are not considered members of a major professional baseball league.
Most of the ten stadiums were short-lived as hosts, which makes them easier for modern fans to forget, but this makes the history surrounding the teams even more intriguing. This is a list of the ten players who most dominated baseball at the St. Louis professional ballparks.
Red Stocking Base-Ball Park (a.k.a. Compton Avenue Baseball Park)—Charlie Hautz: For one season, in 1875, a team called the St. Louis Red Stockings played in the National Association at a stadium located at Compton, Gratiot, Atlantic, Theresa, and Scott. The records are sporadic and the team is largely forgotten—the league’s other St. Louis team, the Brown Stockings, later went on to the National League, so it has more of a historical footprint. But from the statistics we do have, the 1875 club’s best hitter was Charlie Hautz, a first baseman whose OPS+ was 30 points higher than the league average. Hautz was born and raised in St. Louis and played in one additional season of professional baseball, per Baseball Reference, for the 1884 Pittsburgh Alleghenys of the American Association. Following his death in 1929, Charlie Hautz was buried at St. Peter & Paul Cemetery on Gravois Avenue.
Union Base Ball Park (a.k.a. Union Grounds, a.k.a. Lucas Park)—Fred Dunlap: From 1884 through 1886, the St. Louis Maroons played (in the Union Association in 1884; in the National League in 1885 and 1886) played at the northeast corner of Cass and Jefferson. The team struggled mightily in the National League but were league champions of the Union Association in 1884—the club’s best player was Fred Dunlap, a dominant offensive second baseman. With 13 home runs, he more than tripled the next best player on the 1884 team, and his OPS+ of 256 is utterly inconceivable by modern standards. Although Dunlap was less dominant in the National League, he was the team’s top position player in 1885 and was productive again in the first half of 1886, before he was traded to the Detroit Wolverines. The Philadelphian had a transient professional baseball career but he had his strongest seasons in St. Louis.
Sportsman’s Park (a.k.a. Grand Avenue Ball Grounds)—Bob Caruthers: The first team to occupy the first iteration of Sportsman’s Park were the original St. Louis Brown Stockings, which existed from 1875 through 1877. But the greatest player came from the next occupants, the St. Louis Browns, who played at the park from 1882 through 1891 (for the first season, they too were known as the Brown Stockings). That player was “Parisian Bob” Caruthers, a two-way player who spent only four seasons (one of which was partial) in St. Louis, but who was as dominant as any player in franchise history. In 1885, Caruthers posted a 40-13 record with a 2.07 ERA, but his best overall season came in 1886, when on the mound, Caruthers went 30-14 with a 2.32 ERA and at the plate, while also playing in the outfield on days off, Caruthers led the American Association with a .448 on-base percentage, .974 OPS, and 201 OPS+.
Handlan’s Park (a.k.a. Laclede Park, a.k.a. Market and Grand Park, a.k.a. Grand and Market Park)—Dave Davenport: For two seasons, the Federal League operated as a third major league of sorts, allowing players to circumvent the prohibitive reserve clause. St. Louis’s team, which existed in both 1914 and 1915, was the St. Louis Terriers, and while the team struggled in 1914, the 1915 team finished in second place, thanks in large part to Dave Davenport. Although the more famous Terriers pitcher was the legendary Eddie Plank, in his age 39 season in 1915, Davenport won 22 games and posted a 2.20 ERA in 392 2/3 innings pitched. While he was less prodigious in 1914, Davenport still had a 3.46 ERA in 215 2/3 innings. The next season, Dave Davenport took his talents to Sportsman’s Park when he joined the St. Louis Browns of the American League for the next four seasons.
Robison Field (a.k.a. New Sportsman’s Park, a.k.a. Union Park, a.k.a. League Park, a.k.a. Cardinal Field)—Theodore Breitenstein: Breitenstein was born and died in St. Louis and spent the majority of his playing career in St. Louis, playing for the St. Louis Browns, and later, in 1901, starting three games for the renamed St. Louis Cardinals. Although Breitenstein had a losing record, this was more a reflection on the awful teams on which he pitched than his actual abilities—in 1893, he led the National League with a 3.18 ERA, and the next season, he led the league in innings pitched with a staggering 447 1/3 of them. A very close honorable mention goes to Rogers Hornsby, whose career did not overlap with Breitenstein’s but who is the only other legitimate contender for this title—Hornsby played at Robison Field from 1915 through its closing in 1920; Hornsby was just 24 when the park closed but is still nearly the stadium’s all-time Wins Above Replacement leader.
Giants Park (a.k.a. Kuebler’s Park)—Oscar Charleston: For two seasons, the St. Louis Giants played in the Negro National League, and for those two seasons, the Giants had one of the most acclaimed players in baseball history to never have played Major League Baseball—Oscar Charleston. Although a relatively small percentage of Charleston’s career took place in St. Louis, the center fielder had arguably the finest season of his career in 1921, when he had a .434 batting average and led the league in doubles, triples, and home runs. The center fielder ranked second on David Schoenfield’s 2015 ranking of the top Negro Leagues players on ESPN.com, behind only the legendary Satchel paige.
Stars Park—Cool Papa Bell: Located at the southeast corner of Compton and Laclede Avenues, Stars Park played host to the St. Louis Stars of the Negro National League for ten seasons, and during that time, James “Cool Papa” Bell patrolled center field and built one of the most energetic legends in the history of the sport. Folklore, courtesy of Satchel Paige, suggested that Bell was so fast that he could turn out the lights in the hotel and be in bed by the time the room got dark, and while that particular story is true only in the literal sense (there was a delay for the light to actually turn off), nobody disputed Bell’s legend. Sporting News ranked him as the 66th greatest baseball player of all-time in 1999. Bell was originally from Mississippi and spent an additional eleven years in pro baseball after his time in St. Louis, but he returned to St. Louis and remained in the city for the remainder of his life. Like Ted Breitenstein, Bell was buried in St. Peters Cemetery in nearby Normandy.
Sportsman’s Park (a.k.a. Busch Stadium)—Stan Musial: Many great players played their home games at Sportsman’s Park, which played host to the entire existence of the American League’s St. Louis Browns and 46 years of the St. Louis Cardinals. And while George Sisler or Enos Slaughter would be formidable all-time greatest players at a baseball stadium, everybody takes a back seat to Stan Musial. Musial spent his entire career at Sportsman’s Park, where he was a 24-time All-Star, a seven-time NL batting champion, and a three-time NL MVP. Just yesterday, Joe Posnanski ranked him the ninth greatest player of all-time on his recurring list on The Athletic—while one could make a case for him being slightly lower, one could also make a case for him being higher. Stan Musial is truly one of the greatest players in the history of the sport and certainly in the history of St. Louis.
Busch Stadium (a.k.a. Civic Center Busch Memorial Stadium)—Ozzie Smith: Like Rogers Hornsby before him, Bob Gibson is hurt by having his career with the Cardinals almost evenly split between two stadiums. But Ozzie Smith is the beneficiary of having played his entire Cardinals career at the first stadium to be referred to as some variant of Busch Stadium for its entire existence. From 1982 through 1996, Ozzie Smith patrolled the shortstop position for the Cardinals, over 30% of the existence of the stadium, and his all-time elite defense carried him to legendary heights.
Busch Stadium—Albert Pujols: Although his time at the stadium was relatively brief—just six seasons—Albert Pujols routinely asserted his dominance at the current stadium. In six seasons, he was NL MVP twice (and should have been at least once and arguably three more times) and won two World Series titles. To date, he is the stadium’s leader in home runs and is in third in hits, just one hit behind Matt Carpenter for second place. In his six seasons at the new Busch Stadium, Pujols had a batting average of .325, an on-base percentage of .424, and a slugging percentage of .613.
This group of players represents generations upon generations of baseball players, and a wide swath of people. Some American, some foreign-born. Some natives to St. Louis, some transplants. Some white, some black. But all of them played a role in forming the unique history of baseball in St. Louis.