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Plaques along Baseball Boulevard show history of baseball in St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG — Give you two Stan Musials, one Steve Bilko. Throw in Country Slaughter, if you'll let Alston go.

Big Tom Alston, Cardinals '54, I seen him yesterday at the Woolworth store.

Bruce Piephoff's big foot in the door.

Plaque No. 40, near the mid-point of the Jim Healey & Jack Lake Baseball Boulevard linking Al Lang Stadium and Tropicana Field, notes the 1953 signing of the St. Louis Cardinals' Tom Alston and the New York Yankees' Elston Howard.

It was the year St. Petersburg's two spring training teams became racial integrated.

St. Petersburg's baseball history, from the St. Louis Browns' 3-2 humbling by the 1914 Chicago Cubs at Coffee Pot Park to the 1998 welcome of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, is chronicled on a path of 85 major-league size brass home plate plaques.

The Jim Healey & Jack Lake Baseball Boulevard, named for the two men who championed a Major League Baseball team in St. Petersburg long before anyone had heard of Field of Dreams, will be dedicated at 5 p.m. Friday at the Tropicana Field rotunda. Community leaders and representatives of the Healey and Lake families will attend. The public is invited.

The plaques, which cost $35,632, plus $11,600 for 56 concrete pedestals, note every professional baseball team that played in St. Petersburg since Al Lang lured the Browns to town in 1914, often in a humorous tone. Examples:

• 1936 – "Joe DiMaggio's spring debut is disrupted when the Yankees trainer parboils his left ankle during treatment, sidelining him until May."

• 1966 – "In June, the St. Petersburg Cardinals play and play and play, losing to Miami in a then record 29-inning game."

The idea stems from a St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce Sports Council plan to honor the St. Louis Cardinals, who ended their 57 spring training seasons in St. Petersburg last year.

Council chair Scott Brainard said he and fellow council members came up with an initial history that later was augmented by baseball historian Karen Mathews and Times staff writer Marc Topkin. Mark Russell of Wannamacher Russell Architects Inc. came up with plaque concept and design.

A rectangular plaque telling of Healey and Lake, and the boulevard's intent, mark either end of Baseball Boulevard, which runs on First Street S from Al Lang Stadium and turns on the south sidewalk of Central Avenue before veering to Tropicana Field just west of 13th Street.

The intent was to have Baseball Boulevard ready for the Devil Rays opening day, Brainard said. Dedication will begin two hours, five minutes before the first pitch of the last home stretch, three games against the Toronto Blue Jays.

This story was originally published in the St. Petersburg Times on Sept. 16, 1998.

Plaque list

Here is a list of each of the plaques along Central Avenue's "Baseball Boulevard."

1914: St. Louis Browns _ Browns lose to Chicago Cubs 3-2 at Coffee Pot Park as about 4,000 fans watch first spring training game in St. Petersburg.

1915: Philadelphia Phillies _ Phillies prove the merits of spring training in Florida, winning 14 of their first 15 regular season games en route to the National League pennant.

1916: Philadelphia Phillies _ Al Lang, the city's unofficial ambassador of baseball and father of spring training, is elected mayor.

1917: Philadelphia Phillies _ The first Festival of States celebration is held, in part, to enhance the Phillies spring training season.

1918: Philadelphia Phillies _ Phillies spend their last year in St. Petersburg, but will return to Pinellas County (Clearwater) in 1947.

1919: (Aftermath of) World War I (no teams) _ The sounds of spring are silenced as teams are prevented from traveling to Florida in the aftermath of World War I.

1920: (Aftermath of) World War I (no teams) _ Indianapolis of the American Association trains at new Moorefield Park (Fourth Street and Eighth Avenue S) and plays exhibition games.

1921: (Aftermath of) World War I (no teams) _ Recovery from the Hurricane of '21 furthers St. Petersburg's reputation as a boom town and entices additional teams.

1922: Boston Braves _ Spring training makes a powerful return as the Boston Braves move into new Waterfront Park, which later became the site of Bayfront Center.

1923: Boston Braves _ Baseball becomes a year-round obsession as fans gather to watch the World Series on "Playograph," erected on a downtown office building.

1924: Boston Braves _ Opening of the Gandy Bridge _ despite a pricey toll of 75 cents _ makes St. Petersburg more accessible for baseball fans.

1925: Boston Braves/New York Yankees _ The illustrious Yankees are welcomed by excited fans and a curious alligator, which chases Babe Ruth off the Crescent Lake Park field.

1926: Boston Braves/New York Yankees _ Babe Ruth gets in the swing during spring training, spending his nights by dancing at the Coliseum, then hitting 47 homers during the season.

1927: Boston Braves/New York Yankees _ The legendary '27 Yankees proceed to win 110 games and the World Series as Babe Ruth hits 60 home runs and Lou Gehrig wins the American League MVP award.

1928: Boston Braves/New York Yankees _ Yankees go on to win 101 games and another World Series title while the Braves lose 103.

1929: Boston Braves/New York Yankees _ Stock market crash and ensuing Depression hit home as tourism industry suffers great decline.

1930: Boston Braves/New York Yankees _ Babe Ruth signs an $80,000 Yankees contract, meaning he will make more than President Hoover. Responds Ruth, "I had a better year!"

1931: Boston Braves/New York Yankees _ Crescent Lake Field is dedicated in honor of legendary Yankee manager Miller Huggins.

1932: Boston Braves/New York Yankees _ Babe Ruth continues to cast a huge local presence as he entertains fellow guests on the tuba at Jungle Country Club.

1933: Boston Braves/New York Yankees _ Braves go on to have their first winning season in 17 years, finishing 83-71.

1934: Boston Braves/New York Yankees _ Boston's Rabbit Maranville breaks a leg sliding home in a spring game, prompting calls for a new stadium.

1935: Boston Braves/New York Yankees _ Babe Ruth spends his final active spring in St. Petersburg as a Brave, having been let go by the Yankees.

1936: Boston Braves/New York Yankees _ Joe DiMaggio's spring debut is disrupted when the Yankees trainer parboils his left ankle during treatment, sidelining him until May.

1937: Boston Braves/New York Yankees _ An argument with Al Lang leads Braves to move their camp from St. Petersburg to Bradenton after 16 seasons.

1938: New York Yankees/St. Louis Cardinals _ The Cardinals are welcomed by a crowd of 6,948 in their first game at Waterfront Park, embarking on an enduring relationship with St. Petersburg.

1939: New York Yankees/St. Louis Cardinals _ Lou Gehrig collapses during spring training, foreshadowing the tragic end to his streak of 2,130 consecutive games; Joe DiMaggio named American League MVP.

1940: New York Yankees/St. Louis Cardinals _ Baseball has a new look. Fans flock to Waterfront Park to watch donkey baseball _ men playing the game while riding donkeys.

1941: New York Yankees/St. Louis Cardinals _ Joe DiMaggio goes from spring training to the record books, assembling his amazing 56-game hitting streak.

1942: New York Yankees/St. Louis Cardinals _ It's a St. Petersburg World Series as the Cardinals beat the Yankees 4-1 in the only match-up of teams that share a spring home.

1943: World War II (no teams) _ Wartime travel restrictions prevent teams from training in Florida, but Yankees and Cardinals repeat their World Series match-up.

1944: World War II (no teams) _ With no major league teams, local fans flock to minor-league and semi-pro games to satiate their baseball appetites.

1945: World War II (no teams) _ There is no Major League Baseball in town, but there is a big-time, big-league star _ Joe DiMaggio is stationed at the Don CeSar.

1946: New York Yankees/St. Louis Cardinals _ Cardinals return to St. Petersburg in glorious fashion as they win the World Series and Stan Musial wins the second of three National League MVP awards.

1947: New York Yankees/St. Louis Cardinals _ Al Lang Field, a $300,000 project, opens as 7,706 fans watch the Cardinals beat the Yankees and Stan Musial hit the first homer onto Beach Drive.

1948: New York Yankees/St. Louis Cardinals _ The teams' biggest stars have colossal years _ Stan Musial wins another MVP award, and Joe DiMaggio leads the American League in home runs (39) and RBIs (155).

1949: New York Yankees/St. Louis Cardinals _ The professor, Casey Stengel, comes to town and manages the Yankees to the first of his seven World Series championships.

1950: New York Yankees/St. Louis Cardinals _ Right out of spring training, Yankees rookie Billy Martin makes history with two hits in one inning in his first game; Phil Rizzuto is named American League MVP.

1951: New York Giants/St. Louis Cardinals _ Yankees and Giants swap spring training sites and meet in the World Series, with Yankees winning 4-2; Willie Mays is named National League Rookie of the Year.

1952: New York Yankees/St. Louis Cardinals _ Billy Martin breaks his right ankle while demonstrating "proper" sliding technique for Joe DiMaggio's TV show.

1953: New York Yankees/St. Louis Cardinals _ The spring teams are racially integrated as the Cardinals, under new Busch family ownership, sign Tom Alston and the Yankees add Elston Howard.

1954: New York Yankees/St. Louis Cardinals _ St. Petersburg gains an important southern entry point as the Skyway Bridge opens in November; Yogi Berra is named American League MVP.

1955: New York Yankees/St. Louis Cardinals _ How big a deal is spring training? St. Petersburg's population is 325,000 in the spring; 125,000 the rest of the year.

1956: New York Yankees/St. Louis Cardinals _ Don Larsen starts year with spring training auto accident, ends with a perfect World Series game; Mickey Mantle wins Triple Crown and American League MVP.

1957: New York Yankees/St. Louis Cardinals _ A March golf match sidelines Mickey Mantle with a leg injury after he and Billy Martin play "bumper cars" with the carts; Tony Kubek wins American League Rookie of the Year.

1958: New York Yankees/St. Louis Cardinals _ Cardinals open spring training with a special rookie camp and an innovation _ taking movies of players to illustrate their technique.

1959: New York Yankees/St. Louis Cardinals _ Yankees finish third but conclude the most remarkable decade baseball has ever seen _ six World Championships and eight American League pennants.

1960: New York Yankees/St. Louis Cardinals _ Al "Mr. Baseball" Lang dies at age 89 prior to the start of the exhibition season.

1961: New York Yankees/St. Louis Cardinals _ The Yankees say goodbye to St. Petersburg before moving to Fort Lauderdale; Roger Maris hits a then-record 61 homers and is named American League MVP.

1962: New York Mets/St. Louis Cardinals _ The Mets, the new kids in town, assemble at Miller Huggins Field and stun the Yankees (4-3) in an exhibition but go on to lose 120 games.

1963: New York Mets/St. Louis Cardinals _ Casey Stengel, back in town with the Mets, becomes a permanent part of St. Petersburg lore as Miller Huggins Field is renamed Huggins-Stengel Field.

1964: New York Mets/St. Louis Cardinals _ Trying to make a point to his young infielders, Casey Stengel fires the ball at his foot and spends a day hobbling; St. Louis' Ken Boyer is named National League MVP.

1965: New York Mets/St. Louis Cardinals _ The city keeps up with the times, opening the Busch Complex training facility in northeast St. Petersburg and upgrading the Al Lang Field scoreboard.

1966: New York Mets/St. Louis Cardinals _ In June, the minor-league St. Petersburg Cardinals play and play and play, losing to Miami in a then-record 29-inning game.

1967: New York Mets/St. Louis Cardinals _ Tom Seaver makes a strong impression in the Mets camp and wins National League Rookie of the Year Award; St. Louis' Orlando Cepeda is named National League MVP.

1968: New York Mets/St. Louis Cardinals _ The Payson training complex in northwest St. Petersburg opens for the Mets; St. Louis' Bob Gibson wins National League MVP and Cy Young Award.

1969: New York Mets/St. Louis Cardinals _ A miracle is born here _ the Amazing Mets go on to stun the baseball world by winning the World Series.

1970: New York Mets/St. Louis Cardinals _ The first of what became an annual affair, the Governor's Baseball Dinner, is held in St. Petersburg.

1971: New York Mets/St. Louis Cardinals _ Joe Torre, who later would return to St. Petersburg to manage both the Cardinals and the Mets, wins a National League MVP Award as a Cardinal.

1972: New York Mets/St. Louis Cardinals _ Spring training ends in tragedy _ players go on strike and Mets manager Gil Hodges dies of a heart attack in West Palm Beach.

1973: New York Mets/St. Louis Cardinals _ The National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, which governs the minor leagues worldwide, makes St. Petersburg its permanent home.

1974: New York Mets/St. Louis Cardinals _ St. Louis' Lou Brock gets off to a running start by stealing a National League record 118 bases in the regular season.

1975: New York Mets/St. Louis Cardinals _ In October, Al Lang Field is razed to be replaced by Al Lang Stadium, shifting 76 exhibition games to James F. Oliver Field in Campbell Park.

1976: New York Mets/St. Louis Cardinals _ Striking players open spring by holding informal workouts at Eckerd College; camps open a month late after settlement.

1977: New York Mets/St. Louis Cardinals _ New Al Lang Stadium opens in March; civic leader Jack Lake first pitches the idea of St. Petersburg's own major league team.

1978: New York Mets/St. Louis Cardinals _ Sometimes it's just a bad year _ Mets and Cardinals finish with the two worst records in the National League.

1979: New York Mets/St. Louis Cardinals _ Talk about a hometown hero _ St. Petersburg native Dan O'Brien pitches in camp with the Cardinals; St. Louis' Keith Hernandez is named National League co-MVP.

1980: New York Mets/St. Louis Cardinals _ Under new ownership, Mets lay groundwork for success by hiring Frank Cashen as general manager; Cardinals, meanwhile, employ four different managers.

1981: New York Mets/St. Louis Cardinals _ With the Pinellas Sports authority seeking a site to build a domed stadium, St. Petersburg officials focus on a downtown location.

1982: New York Mets/St. Louis Cardinals _ Businessman Jim Healey develops a workable stadium financing plan as the Gas Plant site is approved.

1983: New York Mets/St. Louis Cardinals _ The Mets bring back former star pitcher Tom Seaver and unveil Darryl Strawberry, who wins National League Rookie of the Year Award.

1984: New York Mets/St. Louis Cardinals _ Tampa Bay's Dwight Gooden wins a job in the Mets' starting rotation and the National League Rookie of the Year Award.

1985: New York Mets/St. Louis Cardinals _ The story of spring training is Sidd Finch, a Mets pitcher who threw 165-mph but existed only in the pages of Sports Illustrated, an April 1 hoax.

1986: New York Mets/St. Louis Cardinals _ The Mets go on to win another World Series, but the real earthshaking news is groundbreaking for St. Petersburg's downtown domed stadium.

1987: New York Mets/St. Louis Cardinals _ The Mets say goodbye to their birthplace as they leave St. Petersburg after 26 years and relocate across state.

1988: St. Louis Cardinals _ Cardinals celebrate their golden anniversary in St. Petersburg as singing hot dog vendor Tommy Walton signs lifetime contract.

1989: St. Louis Cardinals _ The St. Petersburg Pelicans begin play in a novel and short-lived senior league and win the championship; Ozzie Smith wins 10th straight Gold Glove.

1990: St. Louis Cardinals _ The downtown stadium opens as the Florida Suncoast Dome with expectations that a major league team soon will be on the way.

1991: St. Louis Cardinals _ Von Hayes, on loan from the Phillies, quells concerns about visibility in the Dome by catching fly balls during a test.

1992: Baltimore Orioles/St. Louis Cardinals _ The Orioles move in to share Al Lang with the Cardinals. Meanwhile, a bid to buy and relocate the San Francisco Giants to the Dome is rejected by the National League owners.

1993: Baltimore Orioles/St. Louis Cardinals _ The domed stadium, renamed the Thunderdome, gets its first big-league tenant _ the Tampa Bay Lightning hockey team.

1994: Baltimore Orioles/St. Louis Cardinals _ The quest is almost over _ the presentation by Vince Naimoli's ownership group is a hit with the expansion committee; World Series is canceled due to strike.

1995: Baltimore Orioles/St. Louis Cardinals _ Spring training opens with replacements for the striking players, but the grand news comes March 9 when the Devil Rays franchise is awarded.

1996: Baltimore Orioles/St. Louis Cardinals _ Two of the greatest shortstops in history, Cal Ripken and Ozzie Smith, share the Al Lang Stadium infield for the final time.

1997: St. Louis Cardinals _ The Cardinals leave St. Petersburg behind after 57 years of memories; the Thunderdome is renamed Tropicana Field and undergoes extensive renovation.

1998: Tampa Bay Devil Rays _ Al Lang Stadium and Tropicana Field turn into true fields of dreams as the Devil Rays become St. Petersburg's first year-round home team.

Plaques along Baseball Boulevard show history of baseball in St. Petersburg

05/22/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 23, 2012 11:18am]

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