Most of us are probably not aware of this, but we do kind of owe beer for making the gameday experience what it is today. Not just because it helps make slow games fun or encourages drunk guys to try and start the wave. No, the relationship between beer and baseball is much deeper than that.
It all began back in the late 19th century….
The population was a little more socially structured back then. Your “upper class” didn’t mix with the “middle” or “lower” classes. Those in high society were much more concerned with being prim and proper at all times, especially while in public at sporting events.
At the time, that was the crowd professional baseball wanted to cater to. Ticket prices were a little on the high side for the average American (which made sure they didn’t go). When a big, exciting play happened, fans didn’t hoot and holler like they do today. They reacted with polite applause (origin story for the ‘golf clap’ perhaps…).
Oh—and thanks to the Temperance Movement, ballparks didn’t sell alcohol.
In 1882, a Prussian beer garden owner by the name of Chris Von der Ahe decided baseball should be a game for the masses—and a lot more fun. So, after seeing a lot of baseball fans stop by his establishment for a beer after a game, he decided to take action.
He decided it was time to start a new, beer-friendly baseball league—the American Association, AA for short (an acronym that would eventually become incredibly ironic).
Owners in pro baseball’s primary league, the National League of Professional Baseball, referred to the upstart league as the “Beer and Whiskey league.” Owners of the AA teams embraced the name, and why wouldn’t they? After all, most of them were brewery or distillery owners that got into the business of baseball to sell more beer.
The lower ticket prices and the availability of beer made the AA appeal to the masses almost instantaneously. In time, the NL took notice of this and realized something fundamental to the foundation of sports and business.
If more fans are watching the game, we make more money. If more fans are watching the game while drinking beer, we make even more money.
So, the NL owners dropped the ban on beer at ballparks and eventually absorbed some of the AA’s better teams-- the Pittsburgh Alleghenies (Pirates), Cincinnati Red Stockings (Reds), Brooklyn Bridegrooms (LA Dodgers), and St. Louis Brown Stockings (Cardinals).
Thanks to Von der Ahe, baseball owners began to understand something crucial to all professional sports, and not just baseball.
People didn’t attend games just to watch their favorite players and teams play. They went for the entire gameday experience. They wanted to relax, unwind, and maybe even blow off some team. If that meant having a few beers while yelling, “We want a pitcher, not a belly-itcher,” then they should have those beers.
Beer wasn’t the only innovation Von der Ahe brought to baseball. He is credited with being the first to sell hot dogs at games, he started the first farm team, and even had an amusement park at his stadium complete with a pair of water slides!
But we remember him most for bringing beer to the ballgame. So, the next time you belt out your best rendition of ‘Take Me Out To The Ballgame’ during the seventh inning stretch, remember that you sound like you could win American Idol because of Chris Von der Ahe (and the five beers you drank).
When you are done singing, raise your glass to Chris Von der Ahe and thank him for bringing beer and baseball together.
Play ball! Drink a NoCoast.