This article was written by Jeff Findley
When Duane Pillette took the mound for the woeful St. Louis Browns against the Chicago White Sox for the final game of the 1953 season there was little to cheer about for the home team’s fans. The Browns already had 99 losses and were reported to be leaving St. Louis for a new home in Baltimore. Only 3,174 attended what The Sporting News described as a “wake.”1
Pillette was opposed by All-Star southpaw Billy Pierce, who was concluding a solid season, with 17 wins and an ERA of 2.80 at game time, although he had failed to post a win in his previous five starts.
With the White Sox sitting solidly in third place in the American League, the game had little impact on the season’s outcome, and other than nostalgia for longtime Browns fans — some of whom had hanged majority owner Bill Veeck in effigy a few nights earlier2 — the contest was insignificant. Veeck, in fact, wasn’t there.3
The game started slowly. Each team posted a hit in the first two innings, but neither pushed a runner past second base. After the White Sox were retired in order in the top of the third, the Browns’ Johnny Groth doubled to left field with one out in the bottom of the inning, and Ed Mickelson singled to give the Browns and Pillette a 1-0 lead.
Pillette, who labored hard for some terrible teams and would win only 38 games in his eight-year career, is associated with several historical baseball moments. The son of former major-league pitcher Herman Pillette, he not only started the Browns’ final game, but he was the winning pitcher in the first victory by the Baltimore Orioles in 1954, as well as the starter in the Orioles’ initial home win. He was also the starting pitcher for the Browns the day 3-foot-7 Eddie Gaedel appeared as a pinch-hitter against the Detroit Tigers in 1951.
Pitching with a lead, Pillette charged on. He gave up a single to Minnie Miñoso, a former American League Rookie of the Year and future All-Star, in the fourth, but left him stranded at third when he struck out Tom Wright to end the inning.
Over the next three innings the White Sox mustered just a harmless single off Pillette. Pierce was just as efficient, allowing just two sixth-inning hits, and the score remained 1-0 into the eighth inning.
With one out in the White Sox’ eighth, Pillette served up the tying run when Jim Rivera homered. Pierce also singled in the inning, his second hit of the game, but he was stranded at first when Pillette struck out Fred Marsh to end the inning. The Browns failed to answer in the bottom of the inning, and the score was tied, 1-1.
Minnie Miñoso singled with one out in the top of the ninth. Miñoso, who had stolen 25 bases so far in the season, tried for number 26, but was cut down by Browns catcher Les Moss. Wright followed with an infield single to second, but Bob Boyd flied out to center to end the inning.
The Browns were equally ineffective in the bottom of the inning, and the game moved to extra innings.
Pillette and Pierce remained in the game, having allowed one run and seven hits apiece. Both sides were retired in order in the 10th. But the 11th was a different story. After Pierce struck out to lead off, Marsh singled, his first hit of the day. Nellie Fox’s fly to center was the second out. Then Miñoso doubled to right field and drove in Marsh with the go-ahead run. Wright stranded Miñoso at second when he popped to third, but the White Sox led, 2-1.
Pierce struck out Groth and Mickelson and got Jim Dyck to fly to center to end the game, and the season, with his 18th win. It was the Browns’ 100th loss of the season and, as it turned out, their final game in Sportsman’s Park.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch ran a page of photos the next day showing departing players, umpires, and grounds-crew members shaking hands, along with a photo of four fans who saw the first Browns game in St. Louis in 1902.4 No one seemed to believe the Browns would be in St. Louis the next season.
Manager Marty Marion had his own analysis. “It’s sad — sure,” he said of the prospect of St. Louis losing the American League franchise it had held for 52 years. “When the attendance is down, the money is down, and it takes money to build a ball club.”5
The St. Louis Browns’ attendance for the 1953 season was a dismal 306,728.6 But despite the miserable season, the 1953 Browns had some notable players on their roster.
Bob Elliott was named the National League Most Valuable Player by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America as a member of the Boston Braves in 1947. Marion was the National League MVP in 1944. The 1953 season was his first as manager of the Browns, and despite being under contract, he did not manage the team in 1954, the franchise’s first as the Baltimore Orioles.
Rookie Bob Turley went on to win the Cy Young Award and World Series MVP honors in 1958 as a member of the New York Yankees. He pitched in 15 games during five World Series with the Yankees, posting a 4-3 record.
Don Larsen, in his rookie season, started 22 games for the Browns in 1953, registering a 7-12 record in 192⅔ innings. As an Oriole the next season he went 3-21, but better days also awaited him in New York. After being traded to the Yankees in November 1954, he pitched a perfect game against the Brooklyn Dodgers in Game Five of the 1956 World Series, and was named the World Series MVP.
Satchel Paige, the ageless former Negro League star, pitched in 57 games for the 1953 Browns with 11 saves and an earned-run average of 3.53. Paige had posted his final big-league win just five days earlier, starting against the Detroit Tigers and allowing three runs in seven innings in a 7-3 victory, the final win ever for the Browns franchise. (Larsen worked two innings in relief and earned a retroactive save.)
Neither Elliott, Turley, Larsen, nor Paige played in the final Browns game.
An item in The Sporting News after the season summarized the Browns’ plight: “With their working capital reduced to practically nothing, the Browns came close to being unable to finish their last game of the American League season. Unknown to the fans in the stands, September 27, the baseballs supplied by the home club ran completely out after the game with the White Sox passed the ninth inning and went into overtime.
“When Plate Umpire Art Passarella called for a new supply of baseballs, Bernie Ebert, who handled the baseballs for the Browns, informed him that the supply was exhausted and that the team had no more left. With that, the umpire looked over the scuffed up balls that had been tossed out of the game earlier and put several of them back into play — enough to finish up the game.”7
The ball that White Sox center fielder Bill Wilson caught to end the game, and the season, was turned over to Browns publicist Bob Fishel. It had a large cut down the middle.
This article appears in “Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis: Home of the Browns and Cardinals at Grand and Dodier” (SABR, 2017), edited by Gregory H. Wolf. Click here to read more articles from this book online.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author also accessed Retrosheet.org and Baseball-Reference.com.
1 Ray Gillespie, “3,174 at ‘Wake’ as Browns Bow Out at St. Louis,” The Sporting News, October 7, 1953. Club owner Bill Veeck’s attempt to move the Browns to Baltimore himself was thwarted by hostile American League owners. The desperate Veeck then sold the club to a Baltimore-based syndicate which transformed the team into the Baltimore Orioles.
2 “Necktie Party for Sport Shirt,” The Sporting News, October 7, 1953.
4 Was It “Goodby Browns” or Just “So Long ’Til ’54?” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 28, 1953.
5 “Marion Predicts Big Rebuilding Job; Browns Wind Up With 100 Losses,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 28, 1953.
7 “Brownies Ran Out of Balls When Finale Went Overtime,” The Sporting News, October 7, 1953: 5.