E. C. Becker's Cardinal Legacy
1897 National League Owners Meeting. Back row, left-to-right, Edward Becker, Chris Von der Ahe, and fourth from the left is Frank De Hass Robison.
At the 1897 National League Owners meeting, Edward C. Becker is pictured with St. Louis Browns’ owner Chris Von der Ahe. Becker had loaned Von der Ahe money for the baseball team and was often referred to as his angel.
Becker was named a director of the St Louis Browns Club in 1894 and became a partner with Von der Ahe and Commiski in 1898.
In March 1899, Becker purchased shares of the team’s corporation at auction and later that month bought the team outright amid a court battle over Von Der Ahe’s bankruptcy. Becker assured the courts he would be accepted by National League owners.
Shortly after his purchase, Becker struck a partnership deal with the Robison brothers of Ohio. The Becker-Robison deal included equal share of the St Louis team. “The statement already made that Mr. Robison holds a slight excess of stock, just enough to give him control, is not correct. Mr. Becker and Mr. Robison hold share and share alike in the new corporation,” as reported by Sporting Life on April 8, 1899.
The deal included a team exchange between St Louis Browns and Cleveland Spiders. St. Louis had great fans and a dismal team (the Browns) while the Cleveland team had a smaller fan-base but a solid team. For the next two years, St. Louis fielded Hall of Famers Jessie Burkett, Bobby Wallace and baseball’s number one all-time pitcher, Cy Young.
Becker’s ownership of the team made the front page of Sporting Life magazine as well as the front page of the sports section of the St Louis Post Dispatch where Becker is drawn holding a platter of players he is serving up to the St Louis fans.
Drawing from April 15, 1898, edition of the St Louis Daily Globe Democrat
St Louis Post Dispatch, March 17, 1889
The newly transplanted Cleveland players refused to play under the name “Browns” because they did not want to be associated with the former players’ reputations as mean-spirited and obnoxious. Management started the season as “the Saint Louis” but the team was dubbed the Perfectos within the first few weeks. Those weeks entertained the St Louis fans starting the season with 7 straight wins and going 19-6 in their first 25 games. Until 2015, that Cardinal record had not been matched.
During the 1899 season, with the Perfectos dressed in bright red stockings and letters of “ST. LOUIS” across their chest, a female fan was heard stating, “What a lovely shade of Cardinal [red] they are wearing” and the moniker “Cardinals” was born. The following year, 1900, the team stepped out of the dugout on opening day as the St Louis Cardinals.
There is not a clear line of when Becker no longer was bought out of his shares, it was sometime between 1905 and 1917. Though news reports suggest he was no longer an owner in 1908 and a "former owner" in 1914, one historian has shared with Becker's family that Becker maintained silent-ownership until the corporation was dissolved in 1917.
St Louis Post Dispatch, March 17, 1889
Sporting Life, March 25, 1899
Photo of 1899 Perfectos Discovered
Back: Ed McKean, Cy Young (HOF), Chief Zimmer, Cowboy Jones, Jack Powell
Middle: Ossie Schreckengost, Nig Cuppy, Cupid Childs, Manager Patsy Teabeau, Emmit Heidrick, Bobby Wallace (HOF), Zeke Wilson, Jake Stenzel
Front: Jack (Peach Pie) O’Connor, Herry Blake, Jessie Burkett (HOF), Frank Bates, Lou Criger
This is the only known photo of Cy Young and the entire 1899 Perfectos team in their St Louis uniform. The photo was discovered in a Becker family home in the 1990s. A copy was submitted to the St Louis Cardinals Museum and is on display in the Perfectos section.
A number of indicators in the photo allow for dating and historical information.
Photo was taken on or before opening day. Zimmer never played in a St Louis uniform because he was shipped back to Cleveland shortly after opening day.
Team uniforms are no longer speculation. This was the first, accurate view of the uniforms worn by the team so the historical record of uniforms can now be corrected. Prior to this photo, assumptions of the jersey lettering and hat-style had been incorrect.
A good resource online regarding early days of St Louis Baseball is the This Game of Games blog.
E.C. Becker is shown on page 22 of Gary and Oliver Kodner’s New Book, St Louis Cardinals Uniforms and Logos 1882 - 2016
In 2017 a book written by Oliver and Gary Kodner accentuated E.C. Becker’s involvement in the early years of St Louis professional baseball. The book is entitled St Louis Cardinals Uniforms and Logos 1882-2016.
The book is available exclusively from the Cardinals Museum.
Sporting Life Magazine – March 25, 1899 cover
St Louis Post Dispatch – various issues from 1894-1899
Baseball Almanac – 1899 Perfectos
Family email dialog with Cardinals’ historian Jerry Vickery