In St. Louis, the iconic question is “Where did you go to high school?” But if you played baseball – regardless of whether you played as a child, in high school, or on a college team – the question that really matters is “Where did you play ball?”
In his new book, “Baseball in St. Louis,” sports historian Ed Wheatley shares memories of teams and players who turned diamonds of all sizes into fields of dreams.
“Most people recognize St. Louis as the best baseball town in the country. But why? It’s about our roots, how baseball evolved in our town but it wasn’t always just about the pro teams – the Cardinals and the Browns. Some of the best high school
“I have pictures of baseball in Manchester and Ballwin in the book from the 1912, ’13, ’15 seasons all the way up to the ’50s and ’60s. The thing about these teams [in the ’50s] is that they won so many titles. They were the St. Louis County League champions in ’53, ’56, ’57, ’58 and ’59.”
In 1958, most of the players on the Ballwin team had played on minor league teams and, according to Wheatley’s book, some had played in the big leagues, including former St. Louis Browns first baseman Hank Arft and St. Charles pitcher Kenny Heintzelman, who had a 13-year major league career that included a World Series appearance.
“This was a level of baseball that most cities did not have,” Wheatley said. In an interesting aside he added, “If you know Schrader Funeral Homes, Arft and his wife owned it. Their daughter still runs it.”
West County’s role in producing championship teams and players didn’t end in the ’60s.
“If you look at the years – from 1950 through 1972 – when there was one state championship, you see the rise of Lafayette [High] in Wildwood. They were state champs in 1970, ’71 and ’73. They went on to win many more as did a number of West County teams, but that was after, I’ll call it diluted, high school baseball was divided into classifications. All of those are listed in the book as well.
“So, Lafayette was a powerhouse. Most of those kids also played on the Ballwin American Legion team that won the National Championship in 1972. We’re planning a reunion of that team on Sept. 12 at the Daniel Boone Library and that’ll be open to the public.”
Wheatley sees the event as a chance for those in attendance to share not only memories but their love of the game.
|Mid Rivers Newsmagazine wants to hear your stories of Baseball in St. Louis. Share your favorite memories and you could be selected to win a copy of “Baseball in St. Louis: From Little League to Major Leagues” and potentially have your story included in a “Baseball in St. Louis” movie. |
“We are working on a PBS movie from this book, the way we did for the St. Louis Browns book,” Wheatley explained. “If Mid Rivers Newsmagazine will pass along the memories they receive, we’ll review them for possible inclusion in the movie.”
In 2017, Wheatley and Reedy Press published “The St. Louis Browns: The Story of A Beloved Team.” Its success led to a PBS documentary in 2018, “The St. Louis Browns – The Team St. Louis Forgot,” which earned an EMMY nomination and selection into the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s 13th Annual Film Series. The memories stirred by that movie led to a second film, “A Baseball Legacy – Fans Remember the St. Louis Browns, which debuted on PBS in August 2019 and was featured in the Hall of Fame’s 14th Annual Film Series last September.
“Baseball in St. Louis: From Little Leagues to Major Leagues” is available for purchase at reedypress.com. Send your memory submissions to email@example.com.
It is that love, which is celebrated in this book, which has been beautifully produced by St. Louis-based Reedy Press [reedypress.com] and is jam-packed with photos, stats and trivia.
“There’s so many little touch points in this book,” Wheatley said.
And so much to learn. Wheatley offers the example of one league in which many players had their start.
“People don’t realize that the Khoury League, which is in every state and country around the world, was founded and is still headquartered here,” Wheatley said.
Founded in 1934 and named for George Khoury, the league is considered to be the “granddaddy of all youth baseball.” The league offers programs for kids ages 4 and older. In his book, Wheatley asks: “How many former little leaguers remember the changing size of the baseball as they moved up from Atom to Bantam to Midget divisions?”
And therein lies the magic of “Baseball in St. Louis,” it’s all about the memories.
“Keeping those memories alive so people don’t forget them,” Wheatley said. “When people read this book, it’s more about seeing their names or those of people they knew or were related to. You kind of fall in love with it, that’s what I’m hearing from people.
“Baseball in St. Louis – it’s not just about the Cardinals. Any man can play baseball. Any girl can play baseball.”