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.
This edition of the Follies concerns Gus Busch and the fallout from his purchase of the St. Louis Cardinals.
August Busch was not the least bit confused. Angry perhaps, but not confused. He fielded his own team at the hearings: an Anheuser-Busch vice-president plus the company’s legal counsel and its advertising manager, the corporation’s tax attorney, and an extra lawyer for good measure.
Perhaps the numbers provided comfort as Senator Johnson seized the opportunity to attack Busch face to face. August Busch and Anheuser-Busch, Johnson said, constituted a “selfish” interest that had “openly and without shame . . . prostituted and exploited” the national pastime by making it the “handmaiden and adjunct of the brewing business.” (*18) The “Anheuser-Busch-Cardinal combination” posed a “great menace” to the “minor leagues,” and a “very grave menace to the small brewing industry . . . .”(*19)
“Stop using the Cardinals as a prop and a stunt to popularize and advertise one specific brand of beer,” demanded the senator. (*20)
To his credit, Gus Busch stashed his temper in his hip pocket and stuck to the facts. “Gentleman, I am not a lawyer,” he told the senators, but even his untrained eye recognized that Johnson’s bill had “all the appearance and the intent of a discriminatory and punitive law.” (*21)
Moreover, Busch added, the Senator was “in error” when he accused Gus Busch and Anheuser-Busch of trying to evade, avoid, or hide tax liabilities and his charges “completely distort[ed]” the legal and tax relationship between Anheuser-Busch and the St. Louis Cardinals. (*22)
With that introduction, Gus handed the proceedings over to the tax attorney, who systematically demolished Johnson’s charges of tax irregularities. Then Gus took the witness seat again, this time to dismantle Johnson’s claim that Anheuser-Busch was destroying minor league baseball and monopolizing the nation’s beer business. In the year since Anheuser-Busch had purchased the team, Busch explained, the Cardinals had signed agreements with five minor league teams and “revived” a sixth that had shut down for lack of money. (*23)
More to the point, Busch argued, if minor league baseball was in trouble, it could hardly be the fault of Anheuser-Busch, which had only begun buying radio time a few weeks earlier at the start of the 1954 baseball season. For the previous eight years, another brewery (Griesedieck Brothers) had broadcast the team’s games on seventy-seven different radio stations, nineteen of them located in cities with minor league teams.
And, Busch added, when Johnson and minor league club owners protested the Cardinals’ purchase of radio air time, the Cardinals organization had promptly canceled all its radio contracts, a move that had provoked an angry uproar and the threat of lawsuits from the affected station managers.
Last but not least, Busch told the committee, Anheuser-Busch sold a grand total of 7.8% of the nation’s beer. “So much,” he concluded, “for the charge about so-called beer monopoly.” (*24) And so much for Edwin Johnson’s attempts to embarrass August A. Busch, Jr..
The day after Busch’s testimony, Senator Johnson announced that he was abandoning his attempt to apply the antitrust laws to the St. Louis Cardinals.
But Johnson was no doubt pleased to see that even the hated Commie pinkos joined him in denouncing Gus Busch. [The magazine] Soviet Sport denounced Busch’s ownership of the Cardinals and his decision to trade Enos Slaughter to the New York Yankees. “This,” pronounced the Communist commentator, “is a typical example of beer and beizbol. The baseball bosses care nothing about sport or their athletes, but only about their profits.” (*25)
SOURCES: *18: Senate Subcommittee on the Judiciary, Subjecting Professional Baseball Clubs to the Antitrust Laws, 83d Cong., 2d sess., 1954, 71.
*19: Ibid., 73.
*20: Ibid., 74.
*21: Ibid., 96.
*23: Ibid., 105.
*24: Ibid., 11.
*25: “Moscow Paper Critical of ‘Beer and Beizbol,’” New York Times, May 25, 1954, p. 30.