By Roger Schlueter
“The Answer Man”
Reprinted with permission from the Belleville News-Democrat, March 25, 2002
Imagine the St. Louis Cardinals coming to Belleville to play a rookie local team on a rare day off in the middle of a pennant race.
Dream on, right? Well, that’s exactly what happened Aug. 22, 1934, when Joe Medwick, Frankie Frisch and the rest of the Gas House Gang battled the Belleville Griesedieck Stags at the brand new Belleville Athletic Field. And, nobody remembers that day better now than 91-year-old George Goodall of Belleville.
Goodall was 23 in 1934 when Clarence “Red” Hoffman and Buddy Meyer decided to put together the best baseball team Belleville had ever seen. With the help of Stag Brewery, they built Belleville Athletic Field at South Illinois and Cleveland Avenue.
“It will have an infield which will compare with any in baseball,” the Belleville Daily Advocate article gushed about the park, which also would be familiarly known as Stag Field. It had a grandstand that seated 1,500 and bleachers that held hundreds more. And, it had lights, bringing nighttime baseball to Belleville for the first time.
To christen the new stadium, the Stags (also called the Stag Beers) pummeled the St. Louis Negro All-Stars, 18-2, a team that had posted a 58-6 record the year before. An estimated 2,500 fans turned out to see their new team in its uniforms of deep blue with white monograms and trimming.
In that first year, Hoffman, a veteran of the Pacific Coast League, would lead the squad to a 43-8 record. But his proudest moment may have come Aug. 22 when his squad fought the big-league Cardinals to a near draw.
“We had a hell of a game, I tell you,” Goodall said.
Trailing 4-2 in the sixth, the Stags loaded the bases on southpaw Jim Mooney with a double, walk and error. Then with one out, Goodall, who had been called up to the Stags to replace an ailing Ferdy Seiler, ripped a single to left to tie the score.
But after both teams notched a single run in the eighth, the Cardinals’ Pat Crawford avenged his earlier error by hammering a game-winning home run in the 11th. Final score: 6-5 despite the Stags outhitting the Cardinals 16-11 and going errorless.
Goodall still remembers the kibitzing in the outfield with Joe Medwick when Terry Moore smashed on off the left field fence.
“Joe kidded him, ‘Terry, you’d better stay here – you’ve finally found a park you can hit in!’” Goodall remembers Medwick teasing the young Moore, who would start a stellar 11-year career with the Birds the following year.
The victory seemed to ignite the Cardinals. Mired in fourth place when they came to Belleville, the Cardinals would ride the arms of Dizzy and Daffy Dean into the World Series, where they beat the Detroit Tigers on the Deans’ four wins.
The Cardinals game wasn’t Belleville’s only brush with fame, either. In October 1934, a National League All-Star team led by batting champion Paul Waner would nipt the Stags 8-7.
Then, in 1937, the Stags would fall to the St. Louis Browns 4-1 before being massacred by the Cardinals 17-4 in a game that drew an estimated 5,000 fans. Paul “Daffy” Dean used the second Stags-Cardinals meeting to test out his “newly repaired” right arm, that had been operated on early in the season. Dean pitched two innings of hitless ball, but he would only pitch eight more games with the Cardinals and never again registered a decision. And Terry Moore? His home run was one of 20 Redbird hits.
The Stags also played numerous American Association and Negro League teams that came through town.
The team was an affiliate of the St. Louis Browns as members of the Illinois State League in 1947-48; and of the New York Yankees as members of the Mississippi-Ohio Valley League in 1949. The Stags lasted into the 50s as an independent team, though the year of their demise isn’t certain.