The Spirit of St. Louis

A History of the St. Louis Cardinals and Browns

Written by: Peter Golenbock

Published By: HarperCollins Publishers

Reviewed by Melissa Minners


           After reading Amazin’: The Miraculous History of New York’s Most Beloved Baseball Team by Peter Golenbock, I had decided that this man, like myself, had a genuine love for the game.  His book about the New York Mets discussed the good, the bad, and the ugly and gave the reader incredible insight into the team’s history.  I loved his writing style which mixed facts with quotes from players, managers, sports writers, and fans, giving the reader an overall picture – a view from every perspective.  When I saw The Spirit of St. Louis: A History of the St. Louis Cardinals and Browns on the bookshelf at my local Barnes & Noble, I decided to pick it up.  Knowing Golenbock’s dedication to telling the story fully and from every angle, I couldn’t wait to read this tale about teams from a city rich with baseball history.

            A fan of baseball from a young age, Peter Golenbock began writing about sports while at Dartmouth College, writing for The Daily Dartmouth, The New York Times and The Boston Globe.  After a brief career in the hotel business and in law, Golenbock realized that his true love was sports writing.  His first book, Dynasty: The New York Yankees 1949-64 became an instant best-seller.  Since then, he has gone on to become author or co-author of over 25 books – Wrigleyville, Bums, Wild, High and Tight: The Life and Death of Billy Martin, Balls, The Bronx Zoo, American Zoom, Thunder And Lightning: A No B.S. Hockey Memoir, The Last Lap, Bats and more - most of which focus on baseball.  In the introduction to The Spirit of St. Louis, Golenbock writes, “My lifelong quest has been to save for history as many ballplayer memories as I am able…For me, baseball history is an endlessly fascinating topic.”  His love for the sport shows in every book Golenbock writes.

            St. Louis, Missouri is a city rich in baseball history, having hosted winning teams in both the American and National Leagues.  Peter Golenbock takes the reader back in time to the very beginnings of the city in the 1800s and brings us all the way through to the 1999 baseball season.  The history of the St. Louis teams, the Browns and the Cardinals, is quite extensive.  From the National Association’s Brown Stockings of the late 1800s through the Cardinals of today, St. Louis has been the home to many a star player.  Using old player’s interviews, sports writers’ accounts, newspaper articles and more, Golenbock seeks to bring every aspect of St. Louis baseball teams’ growth to the reader in vivid detail. 

            As was true with his other books, Golenbock doesn’t just discuss the team and its players, but the behind-the-scenes action, such as the owners, transactions, the mood of each era, and more, painting a complete picture for the sports history enthusiast.  When it comes to the players, Golenbock discusses as many as he can, but shines the spotlight on the several exceptional players over the span of the franchises.  Players such as Charlie Comisky, Dizzy Dean, Bob Gibson, Rogers Hornsby, George Sisler, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Stan Musial, Darrell Porter, Joe McGrane, Mark McGwire and more receive very special treatment.  The reader hears from the players themselves, their teammates, fans, sports writers, commentators, and more.  Pictures of these baseball legends are scattered throughout the book.

            Golenbock also gives readers extensive insight into perhaps the most ingenious baseball man who ever existed – Branch Rickey.  He doesn’t glorify the man.  Readers are treated with both the good sides and the bad sides of the pioneer of the farm system.  Known for his cheapness and for cutting corners in the name of the almighty dollar, Rickey was still an undeniable genius when it came to understanding the game and how to grow talent for the team.  Having been an integral part of both organizations, it is fitting that Rickey gets his due in this book.

            As with every Golenbock book, readers are treated to more than just statistics.  Readers learn so much about the players, owners, and managers that they begin to feel somewhat of a kinship with them.  They are shown the good sides and the bad sides, the quirkiness and the professionalism, the player and the man.  Little bits of information such as how beer played a role in the success of both teams, how historical events affected the teams and how they played, how things in the players’ personal lives affected their lives on the field – all of these are instrumental in bringing the reader a complete view of both the Browns and the Cardinals.

            My only fault with The Spirit of St. Louis is the layout.  For several chapters, you read about the Browns, then you read about the Cardinals.  Then it’s back to the Browns.  Then, back to the Cardinals.  The back and forth game gets a tad confusing.  I understand why it was done – the history of the teams overlap and so, I suppose, it is only fitting to overlap the chapters a tad.  But, as I said, it could be a bit confusing, causing readers to backtrack and reread some pages to get a better bearing of things.

            Otherwise, The Spirit of St. Louis: A History of the St. Louis Cardinals and Browns contains an incredible amount of information (over 600 pages worth) written in an easy and enjoyable style.  Any baseball fan would be proud to display this book with the rest of his sports memorabilia.  And, as if the 600 pages weren’t enough, there are over 20 pages of notes that contain additional information about previous chapters.  At $16.00 (U.S.), this book is a steal!


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