As Major League Baseball teams prepare for their season openers this week, St. Louis Cardinals fans have a place they can relive their favorite team’s history any time of the year. Cardinals Nation Museum and Hall of Fame at the St. Louis Ballpark Village offers that venue.
The museum sits on the second floor of Ballpark Village, directly across the street from Busch Stadium – home of the Cardinals. Cardinals Nation also has a restaurant on the first floor.
We started our tour before lunch. If you eat there before taking the tour, present your receipt and you’ll get a discount off the $12 adult admission ticket. We told the staff we were planning lunch after the tour, so they gave us the discount. Very nice of them.
The tour covers the three generations of the Cardinals’ stadiums. A look at the first stadium – Sportsman’s Park – gives visitors a glimpse into the early days of the franchise. The St. Louis Cardinals were born in 1900 after ownership changed the name from Perfectos.
Early teams wore jerseys with “Cardinals” written across them. Today’s logo featuring two cardinals on a bat would arrive a few years later.
St. Louis won the first of its 11 World Series championships in 1926, defeating the New York Yankees in seven games. The great Rogers Hornsby was a player/manager for the Cards that season. They went on to win their three world titles over a nine-year span (1931 and 1934).
St. Louis owned baseball in 1940s, winning three more World Series titles in 1942, 1944 and 1946.
Stan “The Man” Musial is considered the greatest player ever to have taken the field for St. Louis. That’s saying a lot, with teams that included Hornsby, Bob Gibson and Ozzie Smith. Musial spent 23 seasons with the Cardinals, after a late-season call up for 12 games in 1941.
Musial is revered in St. Louis. His statue welcomes visitors to Busch Stadium. He has a bridge named after him that crosses the Mississippi River.
He has a section of the Cardinals Museum to himself and his feats – on the field and off field. He was a civic-minded person.
At the peak of his career, he received a silver tea and coffee service set for his eighth appearance for the National League in baseball’s All-star game.
While most people would say the Cardinals were St. Louis’ “real” team, they had competition for local support. The St. Louis Browns played in the American League and shared Sportsman’s Park. The team’s actually played an all-St. Louis World Series – the “Street Car Series” – in 1944. The Cards won the Series in six games.
Support for two teams in St. Louis waned in the early 1950s. Bill Veeck bought the Browns in 1951. He was a showman. He once signed a “little person” to play for the team. This was done to attract people to the stadium. Eddie Gaedel was 3’7” and weight less than 70 lbs. he was used as a pinch hitter. He wore the number 1/8 on the back of his jersey. He walked on four straight pitches. The next day, the American League president voided Gaedel’s contract, because he was upset about the circus-type act Veeck pulled.
Veeck then decided St. Louis was too small for two teams and sought to get rid of the Cardinals. It almost happened, but Budweiser brewer Gus Busch stepped in at the last minute and bought the Cardinals.
Following the 1953 season, the St. Louis Browns relocated to Baltimore and became the Orioles.
Sportsman’s Park, which was owned by Veeck and then sold to Busch, who renamed it Busch Stadium. The Cardinals continued playing here until 1966, when Busch Stadium II opened.
The new circular stadium featured miniature arches in the top ring. They decorated them with green and red colors during the Christmas season.
As integration of baseball grew after Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers , the Cardinals realized they needed to become integrated. They signed their first African-American player in 1954 – Tom Alston. Later, Curt Flood, Bill White and Bob Gibson eventually became some of the team’s early players of color. They added Latin American players in the early 1960s, including Ed Olivares.
As St. Louis added diversity among its roster, the winning continued. The Cardinals added two more World Series titles in 1964 and 1967. Gibson was considered the best pitcher ever to play the game by 1967. Later, baseball changed the height of the pitcher’s mound because Gibson was so dominant. The Omaha native remains the all-time winningest pitcher for St. Louis.
The museum has a play-by-play attraction where fans can record themselves calling key plays in Cardinals history. I called Gibson’s 17-strikeout effort. Lisa supposedly called a game, but it was more like a lot of silence, then some giggling. True story.
The museum also features a small display highlighting the Stars, St. Louis’ entrant in Negro League baseball during segregation. The Stars featured one of the greatest players of that time – “Cool Papa” Bell.
Fast forward to the 2000s. St. Louis hadn’t a World Series title since 1967. Busch Stadium needed renovations. How to solve both issues? Open a new stadium and win the World Series the same year. Busch Stadium III opened in 2006, near the site of the last stadium. The Cardinals won the MLB title that same season. The team has added an 11th title since, in 2011.
The museum offers fans a rarity among history – a chance to actually touch a bat used by a famous Cardinals player and to try on the 2006 and 2011 Series rings.
I used two bats – one from Ozzie Smith and the second from Stan Musial. Lisa tried out Matt Holliday’s bat.
We each tried on the rings, but they looked much better AND bigger on Lisa’s small fingers.
The museum features a championship room. All 11 World Series and the 2013 pennant team are recognized with a player’s jersey. The first team to actually receive a World Series championship trophy was the 1967 Cardinals. Until then, Major League Baseball didn’t award trophies. They started after pro football started awarding the Lombardi Trophy for their champion.
St. Louis’ managerial history is recognized with some of the best managers of the team, dating back to the 1920s.
The Hall of Fame closes out the tour. Plaques recognize the greatest players, managers and leadership in franchise history. The Hall includes Rogers Hornsby, Stan Musial, Branch Rickey, Bob Gibson, Enos Slaughter, Dizzy Dean and announcer Jack Buck.
Outside the museum, a small ballpark stands in the old Busch Stadium’s infield. People can play games there, picnic or even watch a game on the big screen TV.
Cardinals Nation offers an excellent choice of lunch and dinner options. Lisa had a roast beef sandwich, with a side of au jus. Excellent!
I had a pulled pork sandwich. By the way, one meal will feed two people.
The restaurant has a baseball theme, including the restrooms. I’m not one to share a lot of information about a restroom, but the floor tile has baseballs on it. The color scheme is Cardinal red. Cardinals’ memorabilia line the walls of the restaurant.
The restaurant’s ceiling is designed to look like a baseball.
Ceiling fans have baseball bats attached.
Cardinals Nation is a must-see for any baseball fan. But, it means a lot more to a person if they are a Cardinals fan. I have to rank the museum up there with any other professional hall of fame/museum.