Steve with Baseball Personalities
Gene Karst (1906-2004) My dear friend, Gene Karst. When I first met Gene in 1999, I brought him a set of Conlon’s baseball cards, of ballplayers from the early 20th century. Gene had a story—a firsthand recollection—of so many of the men. My trips to St. Louis always included a visit to Gene’s home. One snowy January day, I took him to a St. Louis SABR chapter meeting at Mike Shannon’s restaurant, where he reconnected with Bob Broeg.
Gene was the first publicist in the history of major-league baseball, back in 1931. Gene had been a reporter for the Globe Democrat since the mid-1920s. He still had Branch Rickey’s response to Gene’s letter suggesting the Cardinals’ executive hire him. Gene explained that he may have written more articles that appeared under the bylines of others than any other reporter. Gene would travel to the small outlying cities (outside of St. Louis), including those in neighboring states, where he provided article about the Cardinals for the local papers. The Cardinals drew from afar, especially for Sunday doubleheaders.
Gene moved on to the Cincinnati Reds in the mid-1930s. He had a rich and varied life outside of baseball, spending time in Central and South America, as well as the Far East, with the Foreign Service. Gene had such a remarkable memory. (Washington University would meet with him once a week and was to get his donated brain after his death, for research on his remarkable faculties in the tenth decade of his life.) I’ve often thought that had I known when I met this 93-year-old man in 1999 that we’d know each other for five more years, I would have considered writing a book on his life. The Archives of SLU (St. Louis University) have a collection of his papers. To get a hint of his fascinating career, here’s a link to a summary of those papers: http://libraries.slu.edu/files/docmss13_karst.pdf.
In 2001, my wife Colleen joined me in St. Louis to celebrate Gene’s induction into the St. Louis Media Hall of Fame. He had a reception at his home and threw out the first pitch at a Cards’ game, an event for which he had been practicing (his throw) with his grandson.
Gene and I exchanged emails on a regular basis. The last exchange we had was when I was finalizing the manuscript of my Arcadia book on early St. Louis baseball. I wanted to know how he was referred to, in that first position with the Cardinals. Gene responded that while his card said, “Director of Information,” he was just known as the publicity guy. Gene signed that last message, “Love.” Even though he was healthy and sharp right up to the end, perhaps he sensed he was about to be called up. How I wanted him to enjoy my book, one he contributed to but did not live to see published.