As Spring Training hits its stride, I thought you might enjoy reading a bit about how two of America’s summertime favorites came together. Originally published in my Folio Weekly column Pint-Sized last summer, this piece explains the magical marriage of beer and baseball.
Baseball is a game steeped in nostalgia. Every crack of the bat hitting a ball evokes memories of sluggers from the past like Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and Lou Gehrig. The cheer of the crowd mingles with the smell of popcorn and hot dogs. And, perhaps the most important part of the experience is the shout of vendors announcing, “Cold beer here!”
Beer and baseball are a given today. The beverage is so entrenched in the game that its absence would seem odd. But, the love affair of beer and baseball was not always so fervent. In the beginning the National League did not want beer in its ballparks when it debuted in 1876. It took the American Association’s entry to bring beer to the game.
In 1882, the AA came to the realization that baseball should appeal to blue collar workers as well as the upper crust. To draw more of the working class to games, the AA lowered ticket prices, scheduled games on Sundays and offered alcohol for sale at the games. This approach appealed to the marketing gurus at breweries so much that many of the teams were backed by them. But, the AA could not sustain operations and folded after the 1891 season. Players were absorbed by the NL and, because of its popularity, alcohol sales became the norm in NL ballparks.
One of the earliest instances of a team embracing beer in the ballpark is the case of the St. Louis Brown Stockings. The team, later to be known as the Cardinals, was owned by Christian Friedrich Wilhelm Von Der Ahe a saloon owner who noticed that business in his bar increased on game days. With this information, Van Der Ahe surmised that spectators would likely enjoy a few brews during a game and he installed a beer garden at the team’s home, Sportsman’s Park. The idea was a hit.
Over the years, beer has grown to be inextricably associated with the game. Breweries took notice of the popularity of baseball and began to formulate marketing campaigns. In 1941, Falstaff began sponsoring Dizzy Dean’s radio broadcasts of Browns games and 30 years later sponsored Harry Carey’s “Holy cow!” punctuated broadcasts.
Brewers began positioning themselves with local baseball teams and formed relationships to be the official beers of teams and stadiums. In New York, the Yankees became associated with Ballantine and the Mets sidled up to Rheingold. Beer was so popular in baseball that Milwaukee, a bastion of German beer production, named their team the Brewers. The big beer producers became almost synonymous with baseball with advertising in stadiums, sponsorship of broadcasts – both radio and television – and stadiums named for brands.
Today, with the craft beer revolution in full swing, ballparks are adding locally-brewed beers to their lineup. In Jacksonville, our minor league team the Suns, serve several local brews from Intuition Ale Works, Bold City and more as well as a selection of craft beers from brewers outside the area.
As an experience, sitting in the stands of a stadium, watching the heroes of the diamond gracefully make plays would just not feel complete without a hot dog in one hand and a cold beer in the other. It’s perhaps the most perfect way to spend a balmy summer evening – and perhaps the most American.