Stix, Baer and Fuller
- Scott Tann
- Tue Mar 27 2007, 8:21pm GMT
In 2004, I wrote a five-part series for MatchNight on the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. It was called "A Toast to the Open Cup." This is Part 3.
While the first half of the 20th century saw many great players and teams come from the northeast and mid-Atlantic region, St. Louis, Missouri has also had a deep soccer history.
In 1884, an all-star team from the Western Football Association of Ontario, Canada toured St. Louis. Most local players at the time were English, Irish, or Scottish immigrants. Shortly thereafter, Americans began playing more regularly, and in 1890, a team of St. Louis natives won the local championship.
An English touring team, the Pilgrims, played a series of matches against local all-stars in 1905. This event marked a long tradition of European teams visiting St. Louis as part of their American tours. In 1920, a selection of St. Louis all-stars toured Sweden, going 7-2-5 in fourteen games.
Early Open Cup Success
St. Louis teams gained national prominence in the early 1920s between the dynasties of Bethlehem Steel and the Fall River Marksmen.
Ben Millers defeated Fore River of Quincy, MA for the 1920 U.S. Open Cup title, which was then known as the National Challenge Cup.
St. Louis Scullin Steel lost the 1921 final to Brooklyn Robins Dry Dock of the National Association Football League. Scullin defeated Brooklyn Todd Shipyards of the American Soccer League for the 1922 title, but lost again in 1923, defaulting to Paterson FC after the first match of the series. Scullin were unable to raise a team for the second match because many of their players had already left for baseball training camps.
St. Louis teams were also National Cup runners-up in 1924 (Vesper Buick), 1926 (Ben Millers), and 1929 (Madison Kennels).
The Not-so Roaring 30s
In the early 1930s, baseball took off as the premier professional sport in America, while football was a popular college sport. Basketball was organized into regional semi-professional leagues and would grow rapidly after World War II.
Yet the Great Depression, as well as the political infighting of the late 1920s known as the "Soccer Wars," were tough on professional soccer leagues. This slump marked a stagnant period for the sport at the professional level which lasted, according to soccer Historian Dave Litterer, until 1960, when the second International Soccer league was born.
The St. Louis Soccer League (SLSL) and the second incarnation of the American Soccer League, founded in 1933, were both semi-professional. Like their peers in ethnic amateur leagues, players in the ASL and SLSL worked side jobs to survive.
America's Soccer Capital
St. Louis teams participated in the Open Cup finals from 1932 to 1937 - a streak of six consecutive years. A St. Louis team also made it to the Western semi-finals in 1938.
The first St. Louis powerhouse of the 1930s was sponsored by the Stix, Baer and Fuller Dry Goods Company.
Popularly known as Grand Leader, Stix, Baer and Fuller's downtown department store was one of the largest and most opulent in the city. The company also ran its own radio station in the 1920s.
Stix, Baer and Fuller lost the 1932 Open Cup final to the New Bedford Whalers, owned by Fall River businessman Sam Mark. Both matches were played at Sportsman's Park in St. Louis. The teams drew Game One 3-3, but New Bedford won the second match 5-2 for the title.
The St. Louis side had better luck the following year. Approximately six weeks after Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave his first inaugural address on March 4, 1933, Stix, Baer and Fuller defeated New York Americans 1-0 at Sportsman's Park. They won 2-1 a week later at Starlight Park in New York to clinch the cup.
Stix, Baer and Fuller defended their title successfully in 1934. They beat Pawtucket Rangers 4-2 at Walsh Memorial Stadium in St. Louis, then lost 3-2 at Coats Field in Rhode Island. The teams returned to the Mound City for the decisive Game Three, with St. Louis crushing Rangers 5-0.
The same team, re-christened Central Breweries, again defeated Pawtucket Rangers for the 1935 Open Cup title. The teams split the points over three games: Central won 5-2 at Walsh Memorial and tied 1-1 at Coats Field, but Rangers won the final 3-1 at Newark City Stadium in New Jersey. Central won the cup 7-6 on aggregate.
Philadelphia German Americans knocked the re-named St. Louis Shamrocks from the Open Cup pedestal in 1936. The following year, New York Americans avenged their 1933 loss by defeating the Shamrocks again.
A St. Louis team would not advance to the Open Cup final again until October, 1948, when Simpkins-Ford beat the ASL's New York Brookhattan 3-2. But there is no question that St. Louis was the capital of the U.S. Open Cup in the 1930s: the same team made six championship appearances - and won three consecutive titles - in ten years.
What makes the accomplishments of Stix, Baer and Fuller, Central Breweries, and Shamrocks more impressive is that several of their players came from the Fall River Marksmen, Fall River FC, and New Bedford Whalers - Open Cup champions in 1930, 1931, and 1932, respectively.
This means that one group of players had a huge impact on the Open Cup in the 1930s. That nucleus includes Bill McPherson, Billy Watson, Alex McNab, and Werner Nilsen, as well as the legendary Billy Gonsalves and Bert Patenaude, profiled in "A Toast to the Open Cup: Fall River Marksmen."
Other notable St. Louis players from the time include Harry Hebberger, Bill Lehman, Jimmy Roe, and Willie McLean.
McLean, a member of the 1934 U.S. World Cup team with Nilsen and Lehman, collapsed during a match in 1936 and was sent to a sanitarium. Released after a nine month stay, he returned to Chicago, only to disappear a year later.
Jimmy Roe, his friend and teammate from Stix, Baer and Fuller and Central Breweries, said at his Hall of Fame induction that McLean was never seen nor heard from again.