America's Best Sports City
Did You Know?
It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment the region went from being a city to a sports city.
It’s easy to imagine the mound dwellers, members of the ancient Indian civilization that made Cahokia home across the river, having spear-throwing contests. Or maybe the offspring of St. Louis founders Pierre Laclede and August Choteau made balls out of beaver skins and threw them around the riverfront while the grown-ups were busy building forts.
But we know what moment made St. Louis a great sports city: It was the opening of the 1904 Olympics – the first time ever the Games were held on American soil. You can thank World’s Fair organizer David Francis for an Olympian feat of chutzpah that stole the Olympics right from under the nose of Chicago, Illinois.
St. Louis, of course, was planning that World’s Fair when Francis got word the International Olympic Committee had awarded Chicago the 1904 Olympics. Of course, he wouldn’t let anything take away from the grandeur of his party, which had some sporting events scheduled of its own. Francis convinced the International Olympic Committee that changing the venue to St. Louis was in everyone’s best interest. Chicago didn’t put up much of a fight and the Olympics was ours. With Chicago being shut out by the IOC yet again for the 2016 games, St. Louis will continue to hold the distinction of being only one of three U.S. cities – along with Atlanta and Los Angeles – to have hosted the Summer Olympics.
Other feats from that historic Olympiad:
- Hurdler George Coleman Poage became the first African-American to appear in Olympic competition.
- The Games were the first to award gold, silver and bronze medals.
- Francis Field still stands on the campus of Washington University, looking pretty much the same as it did in 1904.
The Olympics aren’t the only reason St. Louis is a great sports city. Other firsts, unique feats and reasons to be proud:
INNOVATORS AND OVERACHIEVERS:
On Sept. 5, 1906, Saint Louis University football coach Eddie Cochems called the first-ever legal forward pass play in football, as quarterback Brad Robinson tossed the football to Jack Schneider. It was incomplete, but on SLU’s next possession they tried it again and Robinson completed a 20-yard pass to Schneider for a touchdown.
James “Cool Papa” Bell. A member of the baseball Hall of Fame, this Negro Leaguer led his team, the St. Louis Stars, to two Negro League titles and was said to be so fast, he could turn out the lights and be in bed before the room was dark.
One of baseball’s all-time greats, Stan "The Man" Musial, played his entire career for the Cardinals. Musial, who still lives and works in St. Louis, won three MVP awards, made 24 All-Star Game appearances, collected 3,060 hits, and hit .331 for his career. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1969.
- On Sept. 5, 1906, Saint Louis University football coach Eddie Cochems called the first-ever legal forward pass play in football, as quarterback Brad Robinson tossed the football to Jack Schneider. It was incomplete, but on SLU’s next possession they tried it again and Robinson completed a 20-yard pass to Schneider for a touchdown.
- James “Cool Papa” Bell. A member of the baseball Hall of Fame, this Negro Leaguer led his team, the St. Louis Stars, to two Negro League titles and was said to be so fast, he could turn out the lights and be in bed before the room was dark.
- One of baseball’s all-time greats, Stan "The Man" Musial, played his entire career for the Cardinals. Musial, who still lives and works in St. Louis, won three MVP awards, made 24 All-Star Game appearances, collected 3,060 hits, and hit .331 for his career. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1969.
- The Saint Louis University Billikens won college basketball’s NIT in 1948 and 10 NCAA Division I titles in soccer.
- Five St. Louisans — Charlie Colombo, Frank Borghi, Gino Pariani, Harry Keough and "Pee Wee" Wallace — were part of the U.S. soccer team that upset England in the 1950 World Cup.
- On April 12, 1958, Bob Pettit scored 50 points for the St. Louis Hawks against the Celtics as the city captured its first and only NBA Championship.
- In Game One of the 1968 World Series against Detroit, Cardinals Hall of Famer Bob Gibson struck out a Series record 17 Tigers in one of the greatest postseason pitching performances.
- In their first three seasons (1968-70), the St. Louis Blues reached the Stanley Cup Finals.
- From 1974-76 -- under head coach Don Coryell — the football Cardinals went 31-11 and won the NFC East in ’74 and ’75.
- In the 1990-91 season, Brett Hull scored 86 goals for the Blues, the most ever by a right-winger.
- Sprinter Ivory Crockett held the 100-yard dash world record in 1974, making him the world’s fastest human.
- Distance runner Craig Virgin is the only American to win the IAAF World Cross Country Championships, which he did twice in 1980 and 1981.
- Native St. Louisan Taylor Twellman is one of the brightest stars in Major League Soccer for the New England Revolution and was league MVP in 2005. He has 29 international caps for the U.S. National Team.
THE HARDWARE STORY:
Three international sports trophies have their roots in St. Louis.
- The Davis Cup. In 1900, St. Louisan Dwight Davis came up with the idea to pit country against country on the tennis court, giving the game of tennis its premier team competition and a Cup that bears Davis’ name.
- The Walker Cup. In 1920, a local man named George H. Walker put up a trophy for competition between U.S. and British golfers. The Walker Cup, contested every other year, is one of golf’s most treasured prizes.
- The Weber Cup, named after legendary bowler Dick Weber, is a Ryder Cup-style bowling event held annually in England.
IT HAPPENED RIGHT HERE:
- For one glorious World Series, every game was held at St. Louis’ Sportsman’s Park. In 1944, the Cardinals and the St. Louis Browns, who spent 51 seasons in the American League before moving to Baltimore in 1954 and becoming the Baltimore Orioles, met in the World Series. The Cardinals won in six games.
- St. Louis hosted golf’s 1965 U.S. Open at Bellerive Country Club won by Gary Player. Bellerive was the site of the 1992 PGA Championship won by Nick Price. The pristine club was looking forward to its next national golf event, the American Express Championship in 2001. A young golfer named Tiger Woods was playing a practice round on the course the morning of Sept. 11 when he and the rest of the country was getting the news that changed our world. The event was canceled, and it would be seven years before the PGA Tour returned to Bellerive for the 2008 BMW Championships won by Camilo Villegas.
- In the 1973 NCAA Final Four at the St. Louis Arena, Bill Walton scored 44 points and made 21 of 22 shots leading UCLA to a national championship game victory over Memphis State.
- The Cardinals were the first team since the 1926 New York Yankees to win the World Series in their first year in a new stadium.
- The "Old Barn on Oakland" — the St. Louis Arena — stood from 1929 to 1999, playing host to hockey, indoor soccer, NCAA Final Fours, NBA and NHL All-Star games, and yes, even dairy shows and high school football games.
In November 2009, the St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame enshrined its first class. Charter members are:
Yogi Berra – The Yankee catcher is a Hall of Famer and widely regarded as one of the greatest catchers in baseball history. The St. Louis native who grew up in the neighborhood known as The Hill, Berra’s master at fracturing the English language, known for such colorful phrases as “It ain’t over til it’s over” and “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
Lou Brock – Baseball’s base burglar played with class and grace, helping the Cardinals to three World Series in the 1960s and picking up stolen base records in the 1970s.
Jack Buck – Generations of Cardinals fans first learned about the game from Buck, arguably one of the greatest baseball broadcasters of all time. When he told us to “go crazy,” we did.
Jimmy Connors – The Belleville, Ill., native won eight Grand Slam titles and the No. 1 ranking in tennis for 160 consecutive weeks from 1974-77.
Dan Dierdorf – One of the anchors of the St. Louis Cardinals’ offensive line in the 1970s, Dierdorf was elected to the NFL Hall of Fame in 1996. Hasn’t done too badly in his second career as an NFL broadcaster: Monday Night Football, top CBS color man … when Dierdorf talks, you listen.
Bernie Federko – If Federko hadn’t played hockey in the same era as a guy named Gretzky, he’d be an international sports star. The NHL Hall of Famer holds Blues records for games played, career points and career assists.
Bob Gibson – Like Brock, Gibby owned the 1960s and 70s for the baseball Cardinals, much like he owned National League hitters.
Bob Goalby – The Belleville, Ill., native has 14 professional tournament titles, including 11 PGA Tour victories, 12 Senior PGA and one non-PGA senior tournament win. His most famous victory: The 1968 Masters.
Whitey Herzog – The White Rat managed four Major League teams, including the Rangers, Angels, Royals and Cardinals. In St. Louis, he popularized “Whiteyball” and made three World Series appearances in the 1980s, including winning the 1982 World Series over the Milwaukee Brewers.
Harry Keough – Besides being a member of the team that defeated England, Keough coached Saint Louis University to five NCAA soccer titles.
Jackie Joyner-Kersee – The East St. Louis native burst onto the national scene in the 1984 Olympics when she won the silver medal in the heptathlon. By the time she finished her Olympic career in 1996, she had three golds, one silver and two bronze.
Ed Macauley – The St. Louis native scored 11,234 points in ten NBA seasons with the Boston Celtics and St. Louis Hawks. He was elected to the NBA Hall of Fame in 1960.
Stan Musial – Only legends get statues, and only legendary statues get moved from one stadium venue to another.
Bob Pettit – the first NBA player to eclipse the 20,000-point mark, he revolutionized the position of “power forward.” With Macauley, he helped lead the St. Louis Hawks to its one and only NBA title in 1958.
Red Schoendienst – Spent his entire career in a Cardinals uniform, and he still looks good with the birds-on-the-bat across his chest.
Jackie Smith – A Hall of Fame tight end who played 14 seasons with the football Cardinals.
Ozzie Smith – St. Louisans still go crazy over Ozzie, who provided local sports fans with the most unexpectedly thrilling moment in St. Louis sports history – a game-winning home run in the 1985 National League Championship Series. Oh yeah, there are 13 Gold Gloves and 15 All-Star appearances for the Hall of Fame shortstop, too.
Dick Weber – The legendary bowler was a founding member of the Professional Bowler’s Association. Singlehandedly made St. Louis a hotspot for bowling.
Roger Wehrli – Pro football Hall of Famer spent his entire career as a cornerback for the St. Louis Cardinals. He made wide receivers miserable for 14 seasons.
Larry Wilson – the free safety also played his entire career in St. Louis and helped revolutionize the safety blitz.
OTHER NOTABLE NAMES:
Other notable local athletes who made a splash on the national or international scene:
- Olympians Ray Armstead, Dwight "Dike" Eddleman, Sammie Henson, Tom Jager, Al Joyner, Wendy Williams, and Nikki Ziegelmeyer.
- Baseball player and broadcaster Joe Garagiola.
- Boxing brothers Leon and Michael Spinks.
- Golf’s Hale Irwin.
- Auto racing’s Ken Schrader and Rusty Wallace.
- Racquetball’s Marty Hogan.