The connection between beer and baseball runs deep. But, for one MLB franchise – no, not the Brewers – that connection dates back to the 1880s. In The Summer of Beer and Whiskey: How Brewers, Barkeeps, Rowdies, Immigrants, and a Wild Pennant Fight Made Baseball America’s Game, author Edward Achorn details how German immigrant Chris Von der Ahe went from selling beer to running a ballclub.
The character at the center of Edward Achorn’s most recent book is Chris Von der Ahe, a German immigrant who made his fortune in the grocery and beer business after he’d arrived in St. Louis. Sensing the natural connection between beer and baseball, Mr. Von der Ahe campaigned successfully to bring the beverage into the ballpark … more specifically, the ballpark that housed the team that would eventually become the St. Louis Cardinals. Eventually he gained control of the team.
The Summer of Beer and Whiskey is entertaining in part because Von der Ahe was a spectacularly entertaining fellow. Achorn writes that he was George Steinbrenner before there was George Steinbrenner. But wait … there’s more. Steinbrenner never made the tabloids for chasing women, more specifically St. Louis blondes, and he never commissioned a life-size statue of himself to stand outside his ballpark (although he came close). The book also benefits from Achorn’s fascination with contemporary accounts of what was going on during the summer days of the early 1880s, when one Philadelphia paper was calling Von der Ahe’s St. Louis team “the toughest and roughest gang that ever struck the city … vile of speech, insolent in bearing, and impatient of restraint.”
Whether Achorn is correct in his conclusion that the business deals, personalities, and events associated with Chris Von der Ahe and his “vile, insolent, and impatient” band of ballplayers in 1883 placed the game on the road to everlasting success and popularity cannot be finally determined, but the author makes a convincing case that it was an exceptionally entertaining time to be a baseball fan in St. Louis.