One week before the St. Louis Browns‘ train arrived in Anniston, the 1942 Rams didn’t have enough men in spring camp to field a team: seven, not nine. Ownership, wanting a sizeable Johnston Field crowd and ample ticket sales, wasn’t oblivious to the potential storm.
The city’s civic-minded newspaper, The Star, tried to cheerlead as best it could — but it went only so far. The storm was real. “The locals should have plenty of time to get in condition for the opening of the Southeastern League,” the paper wrote, “but a great deal of concern is being shown over getting ready for the exhibition contest here a week from today with the St. Louis Browns of the American League.”
The Browns’ brief stopover in Anniston, though, wasn’t necessarily a front-page story. In the days before widespread civilian airplane travel and the Major Leagues’ expansion, National League and AL clubs would routinely schedule spring-training games along their train routes north just prior to the season’s start. Anniston, in fact, had hosted the St. Louis Cardinals three years earlier. The Philadelphia Phillies had played in Anniston against Rochester’s minor-league team in 1911.
The Star then turned blunt. “With no member of the local club having more than one week of training, and with most of the Rams with only two or three days of conditioning, the locals are sure to have a tough row to hoe when the Browns come to town.”
Other than a talent discrepancy, the Rams’ problem was that the exhibition was scheduled so early during their spring training. Their season didn’t begin until late April; their camp opened April 1. Financially and athletically, passing up the opportunity to host an AL team was ludicrous. The Rams had no choice but to play the game with the players they had, regardless if their legs were fit and their arms were in shape.
The depleted roster filled in as the game neared, players trickling in two or three a day. By April 7, exhibition eve, 19 had reported to Rams camp. Three players sent east from the Pacific Coast League team in Hollywood arrived in Anniston less than 48 hours before first pitch, and Rams player-manager Dee Moore immediately decreed they’d start against St. Louis in large part because they were already in shape.
The Browns, who’d played the Atlanta Crackers the day before, arrived in Anniston around 9:30 a.m. on April 8 and lounged in the city’s Alabama Hotel before the 3 p.m. first pitch. Managed by Alabama-born Luke Sewell, St. Louis featured a roster hardly loaded with AL standouts but nonetheless managed to win 82 games and finish third in the league that season. Sewell, an All-Star catcher in 1937, had led the Browns to a .500 record the year before, his first as a manager.
Moore, a catcher who’d played in MLB in 1936-37 and would again during World War II, was cautious to a fault with his prediction. “We will be trying to give the Browns a real fight for (their) money, but don’t expect too much,” he told The Star. “We will be experimenting and trying to see just what we do have in the way of material.”
If The Star feared a mismatch, and if Moore’s expectations were appropriately tepid, the result — a 13-2 Browns win — was confirmation of both. The Rams’ under-trained and lesser-talented lineup utterly collapsed against the competent AL squad. The Browns scored in each of the first seven innings, led 8-0 when Anniston plated its first run, and it could have been worse, given that the Rams walked 12 and St. Louis left 12 runners on base.
The press showered the result with requisite attention, or lack thereof. Bless its heart, The Star reported that the Browns merely “defeated” the Rams, and that the AL team had “only” managed 12 hits. The paper’s cheerleading never waned. But the St. Louis papers embraced truth. The Globe-Democrat reported that the Browns “crushed” the Rams. The Star and Times thought the exhibition so newsworthy that it gave the result two measly sentences. The Post-Dispatch was a bit more eloquent, though brief, writing that the Browns “had an easy time walloping the home club by a score of 13-2.”
Afterward, the Browns traveled to Montgomery for a game against the Rams’ Southeastern League rivals, the Rebels, but rain washed it out, and St. Louis continued its train journey north. The Rams restarted their spring workouts and embarked on a season in which they posted a losing record — 67-76 — but still made the playoffs. Moore, who’d join the Marines during the war, played so well that he was sold that summer to the higher-level Southern League team in New Orleans.
The Rams didn’t fizzle out until July 1950, but they’d never again host a Major League team at Johnston Field.