First-Draft Follies: Budweiser, Baseball and . . . Communism. Part 2 of 4

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Welcome to First Draft Follies, an ongoing series here at the blog. The material is presented “as is” from the first draft of the manuscript that became the book Ambitious Brew. In a few places I added one or two words in brackets — [like this] — for clarification. The excerpt is long, so I’m breaking it into manageable bits and posting those bits over the next few days.

The edition of the Follies concerns Gus Busch and the fallout from his purchase of the St. Louis Cardinals.

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Gus Busch was all smiles and good humor then–and a good deal less cheerful ten months later, when Senator Edwin C. Johnson, Democrat from Colorado, rose on the Senate floor to engage in that time-honored profession: Busch-bashing.

“Mr. August A. Busch,” Johnson informed his colleagues, “is using the St. Louis Cardinals to promote the monopoly of Anheuser-Busch over his competitors in the brewing industry” and “ruthlessly and deliberately annihilating minor-league baseball in a large area of the Midwest.”(*3) Baseball, “America’s great national game” and symbol of “everything that is clean and wholesome,” meant nothing to Gus Busch except as it provided him with a “cold-blooded, beer-peddling” “opportunity to sell” more Budweiser. (*4) Until and unless Busch was stopped, baseball would be ruined.

Johnson then introduced Senate Joint Resolution 133, which would subject any baseball club “affiliated with the alcoholic beverages industry” to antitrust laws, legislation from which baseball was otherwise exempt. (*5) And in case anyone misunderstood his intent, Johnson added that S.J.R. 133 “was aimed specifically at” August A. Busch and his “beer-baseball combination in St. Louis.” (*6)

Johnson’s timing was no coincidence. Baseball’s antitrust exemption had been affirmed just three months earlier in a Supreme Court ruling. Johnson seized on that as a way to leverage Busch out of baseball: if the Cards lost their exemption from antitrust laws, they would also lose access to the reserve clause, which prevented players from jumping ship the minute their contracts expired. Johnson regarded the reserve clause as the “very cornerstone of organized baseball,” without which it could not exist, and so believed that the threat of an antitrust suit would be enough to persuade Gus Busch to sell the Cards. (*7)

Nor was Johnson’s motive hard to understand. When he was not serving as senator from Colorado, Johnson presided over the Western Baseball League (WBL), an organization of midwestern and western minor league clubs. In 1953, WBL member Wichita had earned six thousand dollars from radio broadcasts of its games. In 1954, however, it stood to earn zero dollars because the airtime had been purchased by the St. Louis Cardinals.

“Six thousand dollars may seem like peanuts to some,” Johnson observed, “but it is the difference between local baseball or no local baseball in Wichita.” Because of the Anheuser-Busch “invasion,” Johnson added, “it is my considered judgment that the Western League will not operate in 1954.” And he, Edwin C. Johnson, would be out of a job. (*8)

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Sources:

*3: Congressional Record, 83d Congress, 2d sess., 1954, 100, pt. 2: 2116, 2119.

*4: Ibid., 2115, 2117.

*5: Ibid., 2115.

*6: Ibid, 2116.

*7: Senate Subcommittee on the Judiciary, Subjecting Professional Baseball Clubs to the Antitrust Laws, 83d Cong., 2d sess., 1954, 8.

*8: E. C. Johnson to August A. Busch, Jr., February 9, 1954, quoted in Senate Subcommittee, Subjecting Professional Baseball Clubs, 103.