It’s a beautiful sunny day and you’re walking down to your seats at Wrigley Field with a hot dog in one hand and a cold craft beer in your other. Amid the cheers and chattering you hear a call from a vendor “Cold Beer Here!”. In the corner of your eye, a giant neon Budweiser sign crowns the video board in right field. Like peanut butter & jelly, beer and baseball are an inseparable pair. Have you ever wondered how the two got together?
NATIONAL LEAGUE VS. THE AMERICAN ASSOCIATION
In the early days of professional baseball, circa 1876, there was only one league: The National League of Professional Baseball Clubs, more commonly known as the National League. Baseball was a proper sport with strict rules and if teams were caught selling beer, they would be expelled. Many teams and owners found this rule and other rules to be stifling to the true nature of the game, so a new league called the American Association was formed in 1882 to rival the National League.
The American Association was everything the National League was not. They targeted river cities (Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Louisville, Cincinnati) for their teams, which were previously regarded as cities of lower morality and social standards. They slashed their ticket prices to 25 cents, whereas the National League charged 50 cents a ticket. They created Sunday games so that blue collar workers could enjoy a weekend game with their friends and family. Most noteworthy of all was that they allowed the sale of beer and whiskey at their games. Beginning in 1884 through 1890, the champion of the American Association and the National League met at the end of the season for an early version of the World Series. The American Association only won once in 1886 when the St. Louis Browns (now Cardinals) defeated the NL’s Chicago White Stockings (now Cubs).
THE FALL OF THE AMERICAN ASSOCIATION
Winning only one early World Series Championship wasn’t the sole problem for the American Association had. A new league was formed in 1890, the Players League, which stole many of the stars of the American Association away. The National League also began to poach American Association players, leaving desperate teams behind.
In 1892, the American Association threw in the towel and merged with the National League, but not all was lost. The rules that made the American Association so inclusive were kept alive. Now all leagues were able to offer cheaper tickets, Sunday games and of course, the sale of beer. This was the beginning of baseball as entertainment.
BEER AT THE BALLPARK
Finally selling beer at the ballpark proved to be lucrative for everyone involved. Baseball was no longer a sport reserved for rich city dwellers, but for blue collar Americans everywhere. Drinking a beer became synonymous with a day at the ball park and those brewing the beer quickly took notice.
Small breweries began to expand and go national after World War 2, and baseball proved to be a great way to advertise their product. As revenue from modern day broadcasts increased, so did the sponsorships and financial commitment from breweries. Some breweries bought teams, but most preferred to work with the teams as a combined sales effort. Breweries used scoreboards for advertising, broadcasters to peddle their product on air, and later on, commercials for their beer during televised games.
Scotty’s beloved Cubs have been backed by Anheuser-Busch for decades and in the 1980s, they enlisted Harry Caray as their spokesperson. He was depicted in commercials sitting in the sun drenched bleachers of Wrigley Field, drinking a Budweiser with fellow Cubs fans. Budweiser is still a major sponsor of Wrigley Field, but you won’t see a broadcaster chugging a Bud Light during a commercial break. After a few decades of heavily advertised imbibing during games, baseball has found a happy compromise of beer and the sport we all love.
Macro brews from large corporations used to dominate the beer scene, but now craft beer has taken quite a chunk of business for itself at baseball games. Today you can walk into most ballparks across the country and drink a variety of local micro brews from craft breweries in the area. Red Sox fans call Fenway Park the “Biggest Bar in Boston”, the Oakland Athletics hosted their very first craft beer festival on the grounds of Oakland Coliseum in 2016, and Coors Field in Denver has a brewery built inside the grounds of the ballpark! Who knows what the next trend in beer drinking will be for baseball fans? One thing we know for sure, is that beer and baseball are pair that will always be together.
Kimmy Gerhart is a Graphic Designer for Scotty's Brewhouse & Thr3e Wise Men Brewing Co. She specializes in hand-lettering, illustration, and corporate identity. You can usually find her at a local bar trying different craft brews or doodling in her sketch book at a local park. Her cat, Pistachio, is her muse and confidant.