Christian Friedrich Wilhelm von der Ahe was a German entrepreneur, best known as the owner of the St. Louis Brown Stockings of the American Association, now known as the St. Louis Cardinals. Von der Ahe arrived in New York City but quickly moved to St. Louis, later, he bought out the store owner and expanded business by establishing a saloon in the back of the store. He named the team the Browns and hired future Chicago White Sox owner Charles Comiskey to play first base, Von der Ahe took a very active role in the team, even though he knew almost nothing about baseball. He was the first baseball owner with a significant public persona, with his thick German accent bushy mustache and showmanship, he was as much of a story as his players. The Browns dominated the American Association, winning four league championships starting in 1885, and the baseball, beer. He made $500,000 off the team alone. He set the price at 25 cents, hoping fans would spend money on beer. As a result, the Browns led the league in attendance, the term fan is sometimes attributed to von der Ahe. In 1885, von der Ahe erected a statue outside of Sportsmans Park, not of any of his star players. A sportswriter from Denver mockingly dubbed the statue Von der Ahe discovers Illinois, although eccentric, von der Ahe made a number of innovations, including operating a farm club called the St. Louis Whites. Also, tradition holds that von der Ahe was the first to sell hot dogs at the ballpark, Von der Ahe billed himself as the Millionaire Sportsman. In 1887, after a showing in the World Series. In 1891, he was majority owner of the Cincinnati Kellys Killers which played for part of one season in the American Association. In 1892 the team joined the National League after the American Association folded, by this time, Comiskey had lost patience with von der Ahe and left for the Cincinnati Reds. Without Comiskey, the Browns quickly became a last-place team, legal problems plagued von der Ahes ownership, especially in the later years. The league, which prohibited gambling on its grounds, disapproved of the race track, the press called the facility Coney Island West and nicknamed von der Ahe Von der Ha Ha. With losses still piling up, von der Ahe resorted to selling off his best players, in 1898, part of the ballpark burned down during an April game with Chicago, his second wife divorced him, and his bondsman kidnapped him for not paying his debts. In a highly publicized trial connected with the fire, von der Ahe lost his baseball team, the Browns changed hands twice and changed their name twice, first to the Perfectos and then to the Cardinals
von der Ahe, from a baseball card, 1887
The 1888 St. Louis Browns. Click for player names.