With apologies to Charles Dickens, this is the story of a World Series pinback button that involves three cities. You probably can envision two of the cities—-the teams that played in the World Series. However, the third city might stump you. Just to make it even more confusing, in fact only one of the three cities was involved in the World Series. This is yet another story of how one baseball pinback button is more than what it appears to be.
I begin with the World Series city. It is Boston, and the team in question is the Red Sox. The year was 1916. Although it has no bearing on this story, Boston’s opponent was the Brooklyn Dodgers (at the time they called themselves the “Robins”). The pin in question is perhaps the all-time crème de la crème of baseball pinback buttons. It is six inches in diameter, the largest baseball pin made up until that point in history. It features head shots of 25 people identified below their picture: 24 of the Red Sox players plus their manager, (Bill) Carrigan. The head shots are arrayed in two concentric circles. Fifteen players are featured in the outer circle (including Babe Ruth at the 11:00 position), and nine players plus Carrigan are in the inner circle. The picture of Carrigan is slightly larger than those of the players. The wording above the picture of Carrigan states, “World Champions 1916.” The wording below the picture of Carrigan states, “Boston Red Sox American League.” The middle of the pin states, “Drink Alpen Brau, Detroit’s Champion Beer” (yes, Detroit is one of the three cities in question).
The design of the pin is neither exquisite nor stylish. I would describe it as “folksy,” almost to the point of being “corny.” Interlaced between the encircled players are images associated with the game of baseball, including balls, bats, a catcher’s mask, a catcher’s mitt, a pair of baseball cleats, a first-baseman’s glove, an outfielder’s glove, a base, and a home plate. They appear to be hand-drawn, or at the least, are not photographic images.
In the decade of 1910-1919, only three teams represented the American League in the World Series. The first was the Philadelphia Athletics: 1910, 1911, 1913, and 1914 (losing only in 1914 to the “Miracle Braves” who issued a spectacular pin/ribbon of their own). The second was the Boston Red Sox: 1912, 1915, 1916, and 1918 (winning all four). The third was the Chicago White Sox: 1917 and 1919 (winning the first and intentionally losing the second). There is an uncanny pattern between the World Series pinbacks of the Athletics and the Red Sox in their respective four-time World Series appearances. The Athletics made several beautiful pins following their first two World Championships. They made one pin following their third championship in 1913, and none in 1914 (perhaps because they lost). A similar pattern emerges for the Red Sox. A few pins were made following their 1912 World Championship. In 1915 came the most attractive Red Sox World Series pins. Both the pins and/or accompanying beautiful ribbons referred to the “Royal Rooters.” It was also following the 1915 World Series that they were referred to on one pin (as well as a pennant) as the Boston Red “Sox’s.” The term contains a double linguistic error: there is no plural of “Sox” and the apostrophe makes no sense. To the best of my knowledge, this pin of their third World Championship is the only one that was made (just as only one pin was made of the Athletics third World Championship). Finally, there is no known pin of the 1918 World Series. This is most likely due to the national crisis at the time. The United States was in its second year of fighting WWI. The national edict was “Work or Fight.” The 1918 baseball season was abruptly halted on September 1, 1918. The two teams in first place at the time were declared League Champions. The Boston Red Sox went on to defeat the Chicago Cubs in a poorly attended World Series. Pinmakers in Philadelphia made all of the pins of the Athletics. Pinmakers in Boston made all of the pins of the Red Sox, except one. This one.
We now consider the second city: St. Louis. What does St. Louis have to do with the 1916 World Series and this pin? In 1892 the Columbia Brewing Company opened in St. Louis. One of their brands was Alpen Brau (German for “brew of the Alps”). The earliest record I could find of this brand was from 1905. In the early years of the 20th century, St. Louis was the home to many breweries. In reality, there was one big brewery and many small ones. The big one was, of course, Anheuser-Busch, maker of Budweiser. Falstaff was the second largest, followed by the Lemp brewery. Down the list in size was the Columbia Brewing Company. I could only find one entry that cross-listed Alpen Brau and the Boston Red Sox. Alpen Brau placed an ad in the 1946 National League champion St. Louis Cardinals version of the World Series program against the American League champion Boston Red Sox. Two years later in 1948 Falstaff acquired the Columbia Brewing Company. Anheuser-Busch was so dominant in the city and industry that it was simply referred to by its initials, “A-B.” I believe it was just a coincidence that Alpen Brau had the same initials. In 1916 Anheuser-Busch was well on its way to developing a national market presence. But why would a brand (Alpen Brau) with a small regional market presence (in the central mid-west) be promoting itself in Detroit, Michigan through the Boston Red Sox? Obviously Alpen Brau was trying to create a larger market presence in another big city, but why Detroit, and not closer big cities as Kansas City, Cleveland, or Chicago?
In early 1917 when this pin was made, the political winds of Prohibition were gaining momentum. The temperance movement was powerful, especially in the mid-west. Furthermore, many breweries in the United States were founded by emigrants from Germany. Anti-German sentiment was strong in the U.S. because that year we joined our Allies in fighting WWI against Germany. The breweries and distilleries across the nation were bracing for a seismic change in their business: they all would have to make non-alcoholic products. Enough states supported an amendment to the United States Constitution that would prohibit the sale and consumption of alcohol. Congress passed the National Prohibition Act to carry out the intent of the 18th Amendment, effective January 1920. It would take 14 years for society to reverse its opinion on the prohibition of alcohol, culminating in the 21st Amendment to the Constitution that repealed the 18th Amendment. Many (former) breweries throughout the nation did not survive those 14 years until Prohibition was finally repealed.
So why did a small brand out of St. Louis try to assert itself into the Detroit market in early 1917? It was because the state of Michigan was three years ahead of the rest of the nation in imposing Prohibition. On May 1, 1917 the major breweries in Detroit, as Stroh, Goebel, and Pfeiffer, were out of the beer business. Alpen Brau saw a market with a need and used the World Champion Boston Red Sox to promote itself. How the residents of Detroit would purchase this product is unspecified, because all beer sales in Michigan became illegal. But if the residents wanted a beer, Alpen Brau presented itself as the brand to purchase (however it could be done). Alpen Brau exploited the World Champion Boston Red Sox through association by referring to itself as “Detroit’s Champion Beer.”
I believe the Columbia Brewing Company did not ask the Boston Red Sox for permission to use their name and likeness of their personnel in making this pin. Perhaps the Red Sox responded by getting an injunction against the Columbia Brewing Company that demanded all such pins be destroyed. That may account for why this is the only known remaining specimen. Then again, maybe there was no injunction of any kind, and like many old baseball pins, it is simply the lone survivor.