Baseball in Minnesota: The Millers versus the Saints

I’m pleased to offer the latest article from regular contributor Joe Guzzardi, which offers a look at former minor league baseball club, the Minneapolis Millers.

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The 2010 Minnesota Twins came and went from the playoffs so quickly that I didn’t have an opportunity to fit in the blog I wanted to post about its predecessor, the Minneapolis Millers.

The Millers were the minor-league team that played before the Washington Senators moved its franchise to Minneapolis in 1961 as part of baseball’s first expansion. Originally (1884) the Millers played in the Northwestern League which had teams in Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana as well as Minnesota.

In 1902, the Millers became part of the new American Association. Then in 1915 when the neighboring St. Paul Saints also joined the American Association, the Millers and Saints’ legacy began.

Over the 59 years the Millers played in the Association, they compiled the best won-lost record of all the teams in the league. The second-best record over that span belonged to the St. Paul Saints who, in 1920, posted a 115-49 (.701) record. The Saints finished first in the American Association nine times and won the Little World Series in 1924.

Only seven miles separated the Millers’ Nicollet Park from the Saints’ Lexington Park which helped fuel the great rivalry between the teams.

Season high points were the holiday doubleheaders that featured morning-afternoon games with one in each park. These were known as “street car” doubleheaders since the fans would take a trolley across the river to watch the second game.

Throughout its history, the Millers had many great stars.

Seventeen members of the Hall of Fame– 15 players, one coach and one manager– passed through Minneapolis. They are: Roger Bresnahan (1898-99), Jimmy Collins (Player-manager 1909), Rube Waddell (1911-13), Urban (Red) Faber (1911), Bill McKechnie (1921), Zack Wheat (1928),George Kelly (1930-31), Ted Williams (1938), Billy Herman (Player-manager 1948), Ray Dandridge (1949-52), Hoyt Wilhelm (1950-51), Willie Mays (1951), Monte Irvin (1955), Orlando Cepeda (1957), Carl Yastrzemski (1959-60), Dave Bancroft (Manager 1933) and Jimmie Foxx (Coach 1958).

For the Saints, Charlie Hall pitched 16 straight wins in 1915 while he was backed at the plate and in the field by third baseman Chuck Dressen; Lefty Gomez, Ben Chapman, Everett Scott, Elmer Miller and Dusty Cooke all became New York Yankees while Duke Snider, Roy Campanella, Ralph Branca and Larry Sherry were all groomed for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Both the Millers and Saints folded when the Twins came to Minneapolis. But in 1993 a reincarnated Saints team started play and has, despite its proximity to the Twins, fared well. Much of its success is attributed to Mike Veeck, son of Bill, and his colorful promotions.

The most well-known promotion featured a bobblehead doll known as Count von Recount that portrayed Minnesota Senate challenger Al Franken on one side and incumbent Norm Coleman on the other. Fans were asked to spin their dolls so that their preferred candidate would be facing an attorney who would tabulate their votes. Veeck was poking fun at the extended 2008 recount between Franken and Coleman.

My Minnesota friends who have seen the Chicago Cubs play the St. Louis Cardinals and the New York Yankees go against the Boston Red Sox say nothing topped the excitement generated when the Millers faced the Saints.

As they recalled it for me, anything could and most often did happen including fights that pitted player versus player, player versus fan, and fan versus fan. In one account, Millers’ manager Gene Mauch climbed into the stands in St. Paul to confront a fan whose remarks were “a bit too personal.”

Of course, the rivalry’s is easily explained. For more than a decade in the 1940s and 1950s, the Saints and Millers were the top farm clubs of the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants, respectively.

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Joe Guzzardi belongs to the Society for American Baseball Research, as well as the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America. Email him at guzzjoe@yahoo.com

About Joe Guzzardi

Joe Guzzardi is a member of the Society for American Baseball Research and the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America. Email him at guzzjoe@yahoo.com

2 thoughts on “Baseball in Minnesota: The Millers versus the Saints

  1. Hi – My dad was the biggest Millers/Twins fan who ever lived probably. I found this site researching the 1958 little world series mentioned in his journal from that year. I have put together the above family website in memorial of him, George H. Fix, Sr. (1920-1994). I am uploading his journals, home movies, photos, etc to the site. At first I was annoyed that he talks sooo much about sports, especially baseball, but I finally gave up and got interested and starting including photos, etc of the Millers. You might enjoy the site since it includes so much of his mentioning the Millers in those early years.

    Sincerely,
    Betty Fix-Marketello

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