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Detailed Book Review
   
   
   
Chris Von der Ahe and the St. Louis Browns         
Chris Von der Ahe and the St. Louis Browns
By J. Thomas Hetrick
ISBN: 978-1-929763-49-8
Price: $21.95
Shipping: $4.00
        
Bearing uncanny similarity to the iron-willed personas of contemporary baseball owners such as Marge Schott and George Steinbrenner, Von der Ahe was embroiled in legal battles and baseball disputes throughout the 1880s that culminated in his own kidnapping and his stadium being burned to the ground. Such a financial disaster is only one of the many bizarre events discussed in this insightful and evocative biography of one of America’s early baseball owners.

Chris Von der Ahe emigrated from Germany to the United States in 1867 and settled in St. Louis, Missouri. Starting out as a clerk in a grocery store, he soon succeeded in buying the grocery store and establishing a saloon in the back. Although Von der Ahe had no special interest in sports, he did notice that fans liked to drop by after a ball game and have a beer. Seeing a natural link between baseball and his saloon, Von der Ahe sponsored an American Association baseball team called the St. Louis Browns, the head of a lineage that includes the present day St. Louis Cardinals. Although the American Association lasted for only ten years, Von der Ahe’s Browns captured the pennant four years in a row. This roller-coaster ride through early American baseball makes for a story of luck, pluck, and bravado.

Chris Von der Ahe and the St. Louis Browns is also available as an e-book for Amazon Kindle.

        
Book Review Details:
        
Reviewed Appeared In: (Amazon)
Reviewed By: Roger D. Launius
Text Of Review: This is a fine book telling the story of the first genuine \"character\" to own a major league baseball team. Chris Von der Ahe owned a beer garden and boardinghouse in St. Louis near the Grand Avenue baseball park where teams played their games. He realized that his bar always picked up before and after baseball games, and he decided to merge is primary business with a secondary one, baseball. He soon owned the American Association\'s St. Louis Browns. Mustachioed, Roman nosed, and speaking with the Dutch accent that betrayed his birth in an obscure Germanic province in 1851, Von der Ahe became the prototypical spotlight grabbing major league baseball team owner. He referred to himself, in his thick accent as \"der poss bresident,\" and the fans loved it. He spent freely, indulged his players, and built the Browns into a baseball dynasty in the 1880s. Von der Ahe loved the celebrity his ownership brought him, for now he was not just a prosperous businessman but both a prosperous businessman and a public figure. It was an unbeatable combination, perhaps the real attraction for baseball ownership up to the present, and something repeated many times by many different owners since. In a city rich in baseball history, no one has been more significant in shaping the game in early St. Louis than Chris Von der Ahe.

Von der Ahe adored publicity for his baseball exploits, even going out of his way to garner it. He made every detail of running the team as a media event. For instance, immediately after each game the departing fans could watch Von der Ahe, flanked by armed guards, trundle a wheelbarrow containing bags with the day\'s receipts from the team\'s office to the bank. When the team\'s new press agent, Harry B. Martin, tried to persuade Von der Ahe that the fans should really hear more about the players in the daily newspapers, the Dutchman responded, \"Martin, you was a good press agent but [predecessor George] Munson was the best press agent. Now you make the mistake of thinking that the people wish to read about them ball players. Martin they don\'t. What the American people like to read is about me.\"

Von der Ahe\'s Browns were an excellent team and dominated the American Association throughout the 1880s. Indeed, the Browns ran away with the pennant in 1885 and it won the championship each year between 1885 and 1888 under the leadership of manager-first baseman Charles Comiskey, later the owner of the American League\'s Chicago White Sox. When he first came to St. Louis from the Dubuque Rabbits minor league team, Von der Ahe paid Comiskey a measly $90 a month. Comiskey worked wonders with the team then demanded, and received, top pay of $5,000 per year. But Von der Ahe thought this a small price to pay for Comiskey\'s services since the team made him some $75,000 a year during its glory years.

The St. Louis franchise did not fare well in the 1890s, in part due to poor management by Von der Ahe. It was not entirely his fault, however. The combination of poor investing and economic depression as a result of the Panic of 1893 sent his resources into a downward spiral. This led to his drinking excessively and that, coupled with a succession of mistresses that infuriated his wife, prompted her to sue for divorce. By 1898 Von der Ahe was a hollow shell of what he had been a decade earlier. The final blow, and the other owners enjoyed levying it because of the animosity they had for both Von der Ahe\'s lifestyle and showmanship, happened when the league forced him to sell the club to more stable owners.> \"Chris Von der Ahe and the St. Louis Browns\" is an excellent baseball biography of a significant figure in the development of nineteenth century baseball. Enjoy!

Date Reviewed: 6/2/2007
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