SABR

Dale and Aurora Grounds (St.Paul)

This article was written by Stew Thornley.

In late 1893 Byron Bancroft "Ban" Johnson, a writer for the Cincinnati Commercial-Gazette, and Charles Comiskey, a player-manager for the Cincinnati National League team who had achieved prominence as a first-baseman and manager of the St. Louis club in the American Association during the 1880s, began discussing the idea of forming another major league.

The plan the men followed was to revive a defunct league, the Western League, and build it to a point that it could eventually compete with the National League for major-league status. All Comiskey could lend was moral support at the time as he was under contract to Cincinnati through 1894. But Johnson--as president, secretary, and treasurer--was able to launch the league with teams in Milwaukee, Toledo, Kansas City, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, Detroit, Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Sioux City, Iowa.

In 1895, Comiskey had completed his commitment to the Cincinnati National League team and was ready to join the Western League. In November 1894, the league awarded the Sioux City franchise, which had just won the pennant, to Comiskey with the agreement he would transfer it to St. Paul.

Lee Allen, in The American League Story, provided an account of the exchange between Comiskey and Cincinnati owner John T. Brush during which Comiskey gave the news that he was leaving Cincinnati to take charge of a team in St. Paul:

"'Are you crazy?' Brush inquired. 'St. Paul is a graveyard. You'll go broke, and then you'll want to come back here.'

"'I'll take my chances,' Comiskey told him."

In early April of 1895, Comiskey began the process to build a ball park in the block between Dale and St. Albans streets and Aurora and Fuller avenues about a mile to the west of downtown St. Paul.

The grandstand and two sets of bleachers provided 3,000 seats within the ball park. According to Harold Seymour in Baseball: The Early Years, "Comiskey rearranged the position of the diamond so that the right field fence would be located a short distance beyond first base, to give the seven left-handed hitters in his St. Paul line-up an inviting target."

The team played several exhibition games before the regular season, including two on Sunday before local protests caused the team to schedule Sunday home games at both the Minnehaha Driving Park in Minneapolis and a ballpark on State Street, across the river from downtown St. Paul.

One of the exhibition games St. Paul played was against the Page Fence Giants, an outstanding all-black team sponsored by the Page Wire Fence Company of Adrian, Michigan. The Giants were managed at that time by Bud Fowler, who had played for Stillwater in 1884. During these exhibition games, Comiskey noticed people watching the game from outside the ball park, on a hill along St. Albans Street. Comiskey put an end to their freeloading by erecting additional stands on that side of the field. On the morning of the first regular-season game, Tuesday, May 7, 1895, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported, "The advantageous position on the hill has been blocked by a high row of seats on that corner of the park, and that congregation of person who would otherwise probably not pay their half-dollar to see the game will be disappointed."

Prior to the first official game, the Saints and the Milwaukee team toured the city in a couple trolley cars, headed by a car containing a band. The parade ended at the ballpark, where the teams worked out for a couple hours before the game began at 3:30. Tony Mullane started on the mound for the Saints and also homered in the game, which was delayed by rain for about a half-hour in the third inning. Despite rain that caused a 30-minute delay in the third inning, the attendance was 3,000, and the Saints won 18 to 4.

Although Comiskey eliminated the free view from St. Albans, he quickly discovered another problem, according to the article "When Charlie Comiskey Came to St. Paul" by the Junior Pioneer Association (on file at the Minnesota Historical Society): "Within a few weeks the small fry had bored more than 200 peep-holes in the fence. Comiskey merely grumbled, 'Boys will be boys,' and created a second fence six inches inside the other.

This ball park was called, alternately, the "Dale and Aurora Grounds" or, more simply, "Comiskey Park." In addition to owning and managing the Saints, Charles Comiskey played 17 games as a first baseman in 1895, which marked the end of his career as an active player.

Because of the objections of neighborhood residents, who obtained an injunction games on Sunday, Comiskey had to play Sunday games elsewhere in 1895 and 1896. For the 1897 season, he solved the Sunday problem by moving to a neighborhood where the residents didn't care what day of the week baseball took place. This was a mile to the west of the team's current grounds, off the corner of Lexington and University avenues. Lexington Park, as it was known, opened in April of 1897 and served the team for 60 years.

Sources

The American League Story, Revised Edition, by Lee Allen, New York: Hill & Wang, 1965, pp. 1-12.

Ballparks of North America by Michael Benson, Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 1989, p. 353.

Brief History of the St. Paul Saints, an unpublished manuscript by Jim Hinman.

"When Charlie Comiskey Came to St. Paul," Junior Pioneer Association, Minnesota Historical Society.

"Desperately in Earnest: Opponents of the Ball Game Advocate Use of Rifles," St. Paul Pioneer Press, Wednesday, May 1, 1895, p. 2.

"Storm Mayor Smith," St. Paul Dispatch, Wednesday, May 1, 1895, p. 7.

"Now Play Ball!," St. Paul Pioneer Press, Tuesday, May 7, 1895, p. 2.

"Will Not Prohibit It," Minneapolis Tribune, Special Telegram to the Tribune, Thursday, May 9, 1895, p. 1.

"Ball Game Is Prohibited: Judge Otis Grants an Injunction against Sunday Games," St. Paul Pioneer Press, Tuesday, May 14, 1895, p. 8.

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