Paper Proposal: “A Tale of Two Owners: The Parallel but Asymmetrical Careers of Gussie Busch and Ewing Kauffman”

I have put in to undertake this paper for the 29th Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture, to be held at the MLB Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, on May 31-June 2, 2017. Comments are welcome.

A Tale of Two Owners: The Parallel but Asymmetrical Careers of Gussie Busch and Ewing Kauffman

August Anheuser “Gussie” Busch Jr. and Ewing Kauffman were two of the most interesting, original, and accomplished owners in Major League Baseball. Both had adept skills, presided over excellent baseball teams in the period between the 1960s and the 1980s, and left unique legacies both to their franchises and Major League Baseball (MLB) as a whole. Busch, as owner of the St. Louis Cardinals between 1953 and his death in 1989, acquired the team after owner Fred Saigh was convicted of tax evasion and faced banishment from the MLB ownership club he moved to purchase the team, in no small measure as a means of promoting his large and growing brewery business. Busch succeeded in making Anheuser-Busch into one of the most powerful companies in America. The Cardinals were not the principal reason for that success, but they served well as marketing tool. Busch also presided over the Cardinals team that began to rise within a few years of his purchase, and he owned a team that won six National League pennants (1964, 1967, 1968, 1982, 1985, and 1987) and three World Series titles (1964, 1967, and 1982) under his leadership.

Gussie Busch with Red Schoendienst.

Gussie Busch with Red Schoendienst.

Busch hired effective front office leaders such as Bing Devine and field managers, especially Red Schoendienst and Whitey Herzog, and after a long dry spell in St. Louis in the latter 1940s and 1950s the team returned to dominance in the National League in the 1960s. Busch also effectively supported the integration of the team in St. Louis, taking action to ensure that African American players were treated equitably. But he was a hard liner on player free agency and fought all efforts to eliminate the Reserve Clause. He was one of the stalwarts in not giving in to the Players Association in the first standoff in 1972, and thereafter as well.

Busch has been characterized as a positive force in St. Louis Cardinals baseball operations. His longevity of ownership, his team’s success, and his centerplace in sports in Missouri led the team to induct him into its Hall of Fame in its inaugural class in 2014.

Contrast Busch’s career with his cross-state colleague, Ewing Kauffman, owner of the Kansas City Royals. He had a career equally significant but certainly less caustic. Kaufman purchased the expansion franchise in Kansas City and the Royals began operations in 1969. After the constant turmoil of Charlie Finley, owner of the Kansas City A’s, which had departed for Oakland, Kauffman provided a stable and moderate hand for the Royals. A local businessman, Kauffman seems to have been motivated more by civic pride then wealth of fame. The team progressed quickly from expansion to contender. It made the playoffs seven times between 1976 and 1985, played in two World Series (1980, 1985), and won the 1985 championship over the St. Louis Cardinals. Along the way George Brett, Amos Otis, Hal McRae, John Mayberry, Frank White, Willie Wilson, and Bret Saberhagen became stars. Less staunch in terms of interactions with the Players Association, Kauffman was praised for his generosity and his effective leadership. His patient approach to building a winner from ground up led to success and ultimately a championship.

Ewing Kauffman with bats.

Ewing Kauffman with bats.

Whitey Herzog was central to the success of both the Royals and the Cardinals. He helped to create the quality baseball played in Kansas City in the latter 1970s but did not like Kauffman, complaining that he had a home attendance clause in his contract with the Royals, as if Herzog could affect attendance. When fired in 1979 he left Kansas City for St. Louis to take over the Cardinals.

The teams owned by Busch and Kauffman battled in the 1985 World Series, one of the more memorable of the era, with the Royals defeating the Cards in seven games. Both owners died within four years of each other, Busch in 1989 and Kauffman in 1993, still exercising some oversight of their teams.

This paper will reappraise the legacies of both Busch and Kauffman, exploring the historiographical position the two owners enjoy, assessing their impact on MLB, and offering a revisionist interpretation of their careers. This paper will rely on primary sources held at various collections of personal and corporate papers containing material on the subject.

Any thoughts?

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