August A. Busch Jr., the last and the biggest of the nation's old-time beer barons and the influential president of the St. Louis Cardinals, died Friday at his home in St. Louis. He was 90.
With his death, a part of baseball's colorful past is lost. The proudly independent Busch was an anachronism in a sports world increasingly populated by financial conglomerates and corporate executives.
Busch was an old-style owner--rich, bombastic, fierce in his love of his team and ready to do battle with baseball's Establishment. Busch was also a philanthropist, civic leader and successful rejuvenator of the family business--taking it from a small brewery in 1946 and fashioning it into the world's largest by the time he retired from Anheuser-Busch Inc. in May 1975.
When he stepped down as chief executive officer, Busch said he had been blessed with "three love affairs" in his life.
"First, there has been my family; second, the company; and third, this great community of St. Louis," he said.
Busch had been in poor health for the past few months and spent several weeks in a St. Louis County hospital in late summer. He was discharged to his estate Sept. 14 after doctors said there was nothing else that could be done for him.
Busch loved nothing more than a winner, a philosophy which he applied with equal measure to his brewery and to his baseball team.
"Being second isn't worth anything," he once said.
In 1955, he spent nearly a year traveling the country in his private railroad car, meeting with his wholesalers and urging them on to greater sales efforts.
The efforts paid off in 1957, when Anheuser-Busch again took first place among America's brewers, a position it has held since.
Busch may have reserved most of his affection for the baseball team he urged brewery executives to buy. The Cardinals have won six World Series championships and nine pennants since 1926. Busch became president of the Cardinals on Feb. 20, 1953, when Anheuser-Busch purchased the club from Fred M. Saigh for $3.75 million. The team plays in Busch Stadium, which Gussie, as he was known, directed the brewery to spend $5 million to help build.
Busch, who headed Anheuser-Busch for 28 years, was not only a successful businessman. Like the well-rounded millionaires of an earlier era, Busch was a sportsman, hard-boiled baseball owner, a lover of horses, an active community leader and a bon vivant who lived on a 281-acre estate known as Grant's Farm.
Shortly before his 82nd birthday in 1981, Busch announced that he was secretly married to Margaret Snyder, who had worked for the brewery for 39 years and had been his secretary for 16 years. She died earlier this year.
Busch's grandfather, Adolphus Busch, migrated to St. Louis from Germany and operated a business that supplied small breweries. He married the daughter of Eberhard Anheuser, a soap-maker with real estate interests who had foreclosed on a small brewery and was attempting to keep it running.
Busch went to work for his father, August Anheuser Busch Sr. in 1922, cleaning vats and sweeping floors at the south side brewery started by his grandfather.
Known as "the Big Eagle" in the city where his gravelly voice and salty language were his trademarks, Busch was slowed only by an arthritic hip that forced him to walk with a cane in his later years.
The Cardinals won National League pennants in 1964, 1967 and 1968, ran into a dry spell in the 1970s and came back to win more pennants in 1982, 1985 and 1987. They were World Series champions in 1964, 1967 and 1982.
Busch was an outspoken critic of former National League President Chub Feeney and the major leagues' chief representative in negotiations with the Major League Players Assn. He happily joined celebrations honoring the team's veteran heroes such as Bob Gibson and Lou Brock. Busch took charge and could be seen leading a parade around the Busch Stadium field in a carriage pulled by Clydesdale horses and loaded with members of his family.
The Cardinals won their final World Series for Busch in 1982, with new Manager Whitey Herzog rallying the Cardinals from a three games-to-two deficit against Milwaukee to take the crown for the first time in 15 years.
Herzog was one of Busch's favorites and spent many hours at Grant's Farm, drinking beer and eating bratwurst with the elder statesman of the Busch clan.
"You know, Gussie and I are a lot alike," Herzog said earlier this month. "One time his wife Margaret told me, 'He likes you so much because you don't give him any bull. You tell it like it is.' With Gussie, it's always fish or cut bait. I'm the same way."
In recent years, Busch was known nationally for his appearances before Cardinals' World Series home games. He came out of the Cardinals bullpen riding a red beer wagon pulled by eight Clydesdales.
Busch is survived by 10 children, 27 grandchildren, nine great grandchildren and one sister.
Funeral services will be private, and memorial arrangements were pending Friday.