Twenty-five years ago, the NFL approved the move of the St. Louis football Cardinals to Arizona, leaving the St. Louis baseball Cardinals as the sole tenant of Busch Stadium II for the first time since it opened in 1966.
In April 1988, when the defending National League champion Cardinals opened their baseball season a month after the football Cardinals left St. Louis, 1,000 seats and 10 luxury suites were added to Busch Stadium II, increasing seating capacity for baseball to 54,224.
A year later, among the upgrades made to the stadium for the 1989 Cardinals baseball season were a 65,000-watt sound system, seven new concession areas and remodeling of 11 others.
In 1992, the baseball Cardinals installed a spongier and darker artificial playing surface. Four years later, they went to a natural grass surface at Busch Stadium II for the first time since 1969.
Bill Bidwill, owner of the football Cardinals, had asked the NFL on Jan. 15, 1988, for permission to move to Phoenix because he believed Busch Stadium II limited his revenue opportunities and he didn’t have hope a football stadium would be built in St. Louis. The NFL wanted Bidwill to relocate the football Cardinals to Baltimore because it intended to place an expansion franchise in Phoenix.
Bidwill preferred Arizona. Sun Devil Stadium in Phoenix offered 73,000 seats (20,000 more than Busch Stadium II did for football). Bidwill stood to gain $2.5 million from luxury suite seats. He also was optimistic of having a domed stadium built in downtown Phoenix.
On March 15, 1988, NFL owners voted 26-0, with two abstentions, to approve the move. The two abstaining were Raiders owner Al Davis and Dolphins owner Joe Robbie.
(Davis, in a legal battle with the league, told the New York Times, “It’s all a sham. They vote any way they want and allow anyone they want to move.” Robbie told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch he abstained out of loyalty to his friend Joe Foss, who headed a group seeking an expansion franchise in Phoenix. “A man who forgets his friends doesn’t deserve friends,” Robbie said.)
Cardinals defensive lineman Curtis Greer said Bidwill had given St. Louis the chance to build a stadium and keep the team.
”I would think that you’ve got to appreciate Mr. Bidwill’s patience in trying to give the city of St. Louis time to get a new stadium,” Greer said to the Post-Dispatch. ”I think it was about 3 1/2 years since he first talked of moving. He took the route of being courteous and following the guidelines of the league. I think you’ve got to admire a guy like that.”
St. Louis mayor Vincent Schoemehl ripped the NFL for permitting the move. Schoemehl told the Post-Dispatch that “communities have a right to be treated better” by the NFL.
“This is a reflection on them (the NFL) and not us,” Schoemehl said. “I think our code of conduct in this city is frankly superior to theirs.”
Regarding the NFL commissioner, Schoemehl added, “I find it hard to hold Pete Rozelle in high regard.”
Seven years later, St. Louis regained a NFL franchise when the Rams moved there from Los Angeles. The Rams played their first four home games of the 1995 season at Busch Stadium II before relocating to a domed stadium built for the franchise in downtown St. Louis.