Five months after the 1934 Cardinals won the World Series title in seven games against the Tigers, owner Sam Breadon expressed a desire to move the franchise from St. Louis to Detroit.
Disheartened by attendance figures for a franchise that won five National League pennants and three World Series championships from 1926-34, Breadon was willing to relocate the Cardinals after a bid to sell them collapsed.
The Cardinals’ regular-season home attendance in 1926, when they won the pennant and World Series title for the first time, was 681,575. It increased to 778,147 in 1928, when they again won the pennant.
After the Great Depression began soon after the stock market crash of October 1929, Cardinals attendance spiraled, even though the team was successful.
The Cardinals, who shared Sportsman’s Park with the American League Browns, drew 519,647 during the regular season in 1930, when they won their third pennant. Their attendance was 623,960 in 1931, when they won the pennant and World Series title.
After regular-season attendance totals of 290,370 in 1932 and 268,404 in 1933, the Cardinals drew 334,863 in 1934, when the colorful Gashouse Gang team of Dizzy Dean, Joe Medwick, Pepper Martin and Frankie Frisch won the pennant and World Series crown.
Fearing for the long-term financial prospects and figuring the value of his World Series championship club was at a premium, Breadon instructed general manager Branch Rickey to negotiate a sale with Lew Wentz, an Oklahoma oil baron who offered to buy the Cardinals.
Wentz, though, withdrew because of the asking price. Breadon wanted $1.1 million, according to the Murray Polner book “Branch Rickey: A Biography.”
With no prospects of a sale, Breadon explored relocation as an option.
Motor City madness
On March 28, 1935, during spring training in Bradenton, Fla., Breadon told reporters he would move the Cardinals to Detroit if Tigers owner Frank Navin approved.
The 1934 Tigers had a regular-season attendance of 919,161 _ nearly three times the Cardinals’ total _ and Breadon saw the job-generating Motor City as a town better suited than St. Louis to support two major-league franchises.
Sid Keener, sports editor of the St. Louis Star-Times, reported, “Breadon intimated that he would make overtures to the two major leagues during the coming season to rearrange the current setups of the National and American leagues. He said he believed baseball would profit by changing St. Louis to a one-club major league city, leaving the Browns as the sole representative in the Missouri city and by moving his own National League franchise to Detroit.”
Said Breadon to Keener: “We can put this over if Frank Navin … will take a sensible view of conditions. I can swing the deal from the National League angle. By that, I mean I have received the consent of the National League club owners to transfer the Cardinals to Detroit. However, we must convince Mr. Navin that it would be a good thing for everyone concerned in baseball before we can put it over.”
Profit over loyalty
According to the Associated Press, Breadon said, “Detroit has enough high-salaried fans to attend ballgames every day and it would help the Tigers. Think of the profit of a spring series alone.”
The Sporting News, the St. Louis-based weekly, quoted Breadon as saying, “I think Detroit would be an ideal spot for the Cardinals and I would go there in a minute if Navin opened the way to come in. But I doubt that he would want us.”
On March 29, 1935, the day after his stunning remarks, Breadon backpedaled. When asked by the Associated Press whether there was an immediate plan for a move, Breadon replied, “Not at all.”
In its April 4, 1935, edition, The Sporting News claimed Breadon “was merely doing a little off-the-record wishing” when he expressed interest in relocating the Cardinals to Detroit. Navin had no interest in sharing his market with the Cardinals, The Sporting News reported.
Still, the magazine left open the possibility of a Cardinals move.
“The meager draw (in 1934) caused Breadon to do a lot of thinking and the club would have shown a loss on the year’s operations had not the team smashed its way into the World Series,” The Sporting News opined. “While Detroit is out of the question as a stamping ground for the Redbirds, there are other possible future landing places for the Cardinals … The time may not be far distant when the Redbirds will be flying away to some other community.”
The Cardinals’ regular-season attendance improved to 517,805 in 1935, when the team finished in second place. Still from 1935 through 1945, the Cardinals never drew more than 642,496 for a regular season.
In 1946, the first regular season after World War II, the Cardinals totaled an attendance of more than a million for the first time since the franchise began in 1892.