SABR

Federal League Park (St. Louis)

This article was written by Joan M. Thomas.

While the American League Browns played at old Sportsman's Park, and the National League Cardinals still called Robison Field home, St. Louis baseball fans got yet another choice of parks to witness big league play. When eight cities organized clubs to compete in the new Federal League of 1914, St. Louis built a ballpark for its entry, the Federal League Terriers.

The site chosen for the new park was in a residential area near St. Louis University, south of Sportsman's Park, and even further south of Robison Field. Surrounded by Grand Avenue on the west, Laclede Avenue on the north, Theresa Avenue to the east, and Clark Avenue to the south, the space used for the park was owned by Alexander H. Handlan. The head of an international railway supply house, Handlan-Buck Manufacturing, Handlan operated a private park at the site aptly named Handlan's Park.

Before the land came under his ownership, Wesleyan Cemetery occupied much of the property - the cemetery then moved, and purportedly so did the bodies. According to Handlan's grandson, Edward Handlan (now deceased), his grandfather first used the site as a gravel pit, and then charged locals to use it as a dumping grounds. After he suited it up for a park, he rented it for various amusements, such as the Barnum & Bailey Circus, which played there in 1913.

Once considered as a site for the American League Browns park, it did not serve big league baseball until 1914. When the Federal League formed, Edward A. Steininger, president of the St. Louis club, negotiated a deal for the use the land at Handlan's Park. The agreement provided a three-year lease at $10,000 per annum, with quarterly installments of $2500. It provided a purchase option of $250,000 at any time during the term, but that was never exercised. The property remained under the Handlan name until 1961, when it passed to St. Louis University. But in January of 1914, high hopes abounded. St. Louis Globe-Democrat reporter Willis E. Johnson then commented on the new club's choice of spots:

"It is the one location in this city for a ballpark, accessible to all car lines and within fifteen minutes of any place in town."

A building contractor, whose construction company did much of the work on Tyrolean Alps exhibit at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair, Steininger submitted his plans for a single deck steel and wood grandstand. Initially rejected, owing to the city's strict fire code then (no doubt due to two earlier fires at Robison Field), the revised submission calling it a "temporary" grandstand finally passed. With an estimated cost of $32,000, the materials specified in the document (replacing the scratched-out words "steel and wood") included concrete footings for the walls and reinforced concrete for piers and columns.

A drop of 15 feet in about 150 feet from north to south on the property along Grand, the western side of the property, required the dumping of over 2500 loads of soil on the grounds before work on the stands could begin. With that, and the delay on the plan's approval, only two months remained before the scheduled season opener when construction finally commenced. Yet the park was ready for the home opener of April 16, 1914.

The seating capacity of 15,000 comprised the grandstand at the southeast corner of Laclede and Grand, the pavilion situated near Grand and Clark, and bleachers stretching behind center field between two rows of houses, which were barricaded by tall wooden fences. Home plate was centered in front of the grandstand at Grand and Laclede. Most sources give the playing field's dimensions as 325' for left, 375' for center and 300' for right field.

The inaugural game was ushered in by a "parade of automobiles and two bands." ("Federal Brand." 1914) Missouri Governor Elliott W. Major delivered the ceremonial first pitch, and St. Louis Mayor Henry Kiel caught. The press estimated the attendance, including standing room, as 18,000. The Terriers lost that first game to the Indianapolis Hoosiers 7 - 3. Two home runs, one by each team, found their way over the "short right field fence," as one report stated. An article appearing in the April 17 St. Louis Post-Dispatch suggested that a "livelier ball" could be responsible. ("Livelier Ball," 1914)

The Terriers finished last in the Federal League that first year, and local interest dwindled. The following season the club improved remarkably, falling short of first place by a .001 percentage point, the Chicago Whales capturing first.

During that second season, it became increasingly obvious that the nation would not support an overabundance of baseball clubs. In August of 1915, the Federal League made a last ditch effort to draw business in by slashing ticket prices. It reduced the price of bleacher seats from 25 to 10 cents, pavilion seats from 50 to 25 cents, and grandstand seats from 75 to 50 cents. A local sports writer, J. B. Sheridan, considered that move the "Dawn of a New Era in (the) National Game." His comments in the September 13, 1915 St. Louis Globe-Democrat have a familiar ring, as he submits:
"Salaries are out of all reason. Traveling is too luxurious and expensive. Clubs carry too many players, assistant managers, coaches, trainers, etc... The clever energetic man who works hard six days a week...becomes disgusted and disgruntled when he sees some great lazy, hulking fellow whose sole asset is his ability to hit a baseball harder and oftener or to throw a baseball faster and more accurately...getting $1000 to $3000 a month for playing a few hours a day."

The new era did not materialize, and the new league folded at the end of the 1915 season. But for that short period, the Mound City hosted three big league teams at as many parks. As for the Terriers' park, it was sometimes referred to as Steininger Field, and often Handlan's Park for its earlier name. Yet, as it was listed in the city directory, it was most often called Federal League Park while the Terriers played there.

After the Federals' demise, the ball field at Grand and Laclede was used as the St. Louis University Athletic Field, and was also known as High School Field in the 1920s. During that period, the local Sumner High School and Lincoln University baseball clubs held an annual Decoration Day contest there. The St. Louis Negro National League Giants played some games there in 1920 and 21, although that club had its own park on North Broadway, far north of Robison Field. In 1922, the same club renamed the Stars used the old Federal League Park for some games, as its new park on Compton and Market did not open until July of that year. Edward Handlan recalled that traveling carnivals rented the space at Grand and Laclede during his boyhood in the late 1920s and early 1930s. He related a tale about a circus being stranded there for three months during the war years. During the 1950s, a carnival called the Royal American Shows set up business there.

Edward Handlan claimed that his grandfather once owned the property where the long-gone downtown St. Louis Cupples Station (a huge railroad terminal) was built. An early nineteenth century biography of A. H. Handlan supports his claim. Significantly, Civic Center Busch Memorial Stadium, the first downtown Busch Stadium, stood on part of those grounds. In St. Louis today, the name Handlan is practically unknown, as is knowledge of the major league baseball club called the Terriers. Marchetti Towers, a St. Louis University student housing facility, now stands on the grounds where baseball fans once rooted for that ephemeral enterprise. Chicago, the quintessential St. Louis adversary, still uses the ballpark built for the Whales. It is now called Wrigley Field.

Sources

Atlas of the City of St. Louis. Folio 912 Vol 1. 1893. St. Louis Plat & Record Co.

Department of Public Buildings. City of St. Louis. Application for Building Permit. 1913.

Gould's City Directory. Public Parks. St. Louis. 1916.

Handlan, Edward. Interview by Joan M. Thomas. January, 1996.

History of St. Louis. Stevens, W. B. 1848. Vol II p 797-98. A. H. Handlan biography.

St. Louis Globe-Democrat. Dec 28, 1913 p 13 col 6. December 31, 1913 p 10 col 4&5. Jan 10, 1914. P 6 col 7. January 14, 1914. P 10 col 1 -3. August 28, 1915. P 6 col 6& 7. September 13, 1915 p 7.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Feb 6, 1914 p 16 col 1. Feb 10, 1914. P 11 col 7. Feb 26, 1914. P 11 col 3. April 16, 1914. P1 col 6. April 17, 1914. P 18 col 3&4. April 24, 1914. P 18.

Works Cited

Johnson, Willis E. "Federal League Springs Surprise." St. Louis Globe-Democrat. 14 January 1914. P10, col 1-3.

Sheridan, J. B. "Dawn of a New Era in National Game." St. Louis Globe-Democrat. 13 September 1915. P7 col 4 - 6.

"Federal Brand of Baseball Bears Major League Stamp." St. Louis Post-Dispatch. 17 April 1914. P18 col 6.

"Livelier Ball, Not Short Field Responsible for Feds' Home Run." St. Louis Post-Dispatch. 17 April 1914. P18 col 3&4.

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