SABR

Midway Stadium (St. Paul)

This article was written by Stew Thornley.

In the 1950s, the two American Association teams in Minnesota, the St. Paul Saints and Minneapolis Millers, were playing in ballparks approaching 60 years old. Both cities were considering new ballparks for their teams and were looking beyond the immediate need to having a stadium that could be the home of a major-league team.

In 1955, ground was broken in suburban Bloomington for a stadium for the Millers. Not wanting to be left behind it the drive for major-league baseball, the city of St. Paul also explored stadium sites and included $2 million for a ballpark as part of a $39-million bond issue for municipal improvements. Several sites were considered, including one by the State Fair grounds, but complications developed in procuring land from the University of Minnesota.

Instead, a gravel-pit site to the southeast of the fair grounds was selected. Below the grade of surrounding areas, the stadium site was on the east side of Snelling Avenue and was bounded on the north and south by railroad tracks. Like the new stadium in Bloomington, the St. Paul facility was not confined by city blocks and had a parking lot outside the stadium.

Brooklyn Dodgers president Walter O'Malley came to St. Paul for the groundbreaking in April of 1956. One year later, on Thursday, April 25, 1957, Midway Stadium opened with a day-night doubleheader, the Wichita Braves beating the Saints in both games.

The distances down the line to both left and right field were 320 feet and 410 feet to center, and the outfield fence was 18 feet high. Joe Koppe of Wichita was the first player to clear the fence with a seventh-inning home run in the first game, before a crowd of 10,169, slightly below capacity. Another 5,800 fans showed up for the second game that night.

A road was squeezed in between the stadium and the Great Northern railroad tracks on the south, but there were problems with traffic jams, and access to Midway Stadium remained a problem throughout the life of the ball park.

The stadium had a single deck, but it was designed to provide for additional decks if needed to provide the necessary additional seating for major league baseball. "It will be very easy to expand this park to seat from 30 to 40,000 fans," St. Paul city architect Alfred Schroeder told St. Paul Pioneer Press reporter Bob Schabert. "We could go up either one or two levels, depending upon the number of seats we need. Before we put on another level, however, we would probably extend the present grandstands all the way out to the fences."

Saints president Mel Jones had already touted the new stadium in the March 1957 issue of ACE magazine, calling Midway "a structure well worth seeing and talking about." Jones noted the large entrances and wide concourse area, which "leads you to any one of eight, extra-wide ramps extending into the Stadium proper." The seats were color coded to match the ticket color: green for the box seat near the field, grayish white for the loge seats (which Jones called an "upper level box seat"), red for reserved seats, and blue for general admission. "Even a trip through the public rest rooms proves inviting," wrote Jones. "Completely tiled with face brick tiling from top to bottom, they offer the finest in comfort and sanitation."

The St. Paul Saints' rivalry with the Minneapolis Millers remained spirited. In the morning game of the Independence Day doubleheader in 1959, Millers manager Gene Mauch went into the stands at Midway Stadium, upset with the heckling of a well-known St. Paul fan--boxing announcer and gadfly Chuck Van Avery--who was noted for his ability to irritate opposing teams. Minneapolis general manager George Brophy, who was at the game and helped to break up the altercation, said Mauch was already in a bad mood. The day before, the Boston Red Sox (the parent club of the Millers) had fired their manager, Pinky Higgins, and Mauch was hoping to get the job. Instead, the Red Sox went outside the organization and hired Washington Senators coach Billy Jurges to succeed Higgins. St. Paul's Jim Gentile, who already had a pair of doubles (and later added two home runs), couldn't have helped Mauch's mood as the Saints went on to win the game, 8-4.

The city of St. Paul made it clear that it wanted Midway Stadium to eventually host a major-league team. Even though Metropolitan Stadium was not in Minneapolis, it was not acceptable to St. Paul interests. As early as July 1954, the city's mayor, Joseph Dillon, said that "under no circumstances" would St. Paul support the Bloomington site that was then under consideration and eventually chosen. In August of 1959, a group of St. Paul fans began a petition stating they would not support major-league baseball unless 50 percent of the games were played at Midway Stadium.

No major league games were ever played at Midway Stadium. When the Twins came to Minnesota to begin the 1961 season, they played at Metropolitan Stadium. The arrival of the Twins also meant the departure of the Minneapolis Millers and St. Paul Saints. Midway Stadium had lost its primary tenant and missed out on the one it hoped to get.

For the next 20 years, the stadium was used for a variety of activities--high-school and other amateur sports, exhibitions such as famed softball pitcher Eddie Feigner with the King and His Court, a practice facility for the Minnesota Vikings football team, and wrestling. However, Midway Stadium became a drain on the city and was frequently referred to as a "white elephant." It was demolished in 1981 as a new energy-park development took shape between Snelling Avenue and Lexington Avenue to the east.

A new stadium, smaller and less elaborate than Midway Stadium, was built on the other side of Snelling Avenue and later became home to a new St. Paul Saints professional team in 1993. Originally known as Municipal Stadium, it was later renamed to Midway Stadium.

Note

Midway Stadium: "The St. Paul Municipal Stadium" by Mel Jones, ACE: Athletic Club Events (A publication of the St. Paul Athletic Club), March 1957, pp. 20-21; "Committee OKs Snelling Gravel Pit--Stadium Site Chosen," St. Paul Dispatch, Tuesday, July 19, 1955, p. 1; "City's Stadium Site Ideal--O'Malley" by Mark Tierney, St. Paul Pioneer Press, Tuesday, April 10, 1956, p. 19; "Wichita Jolts St. Paul Twice, 7-2, 9-1" by Joe Hennessy, St. Paul Pioneer Press, Friday, April 26, 1957, p. 18; "Midway Thrills Architect" by Bob Schabert, St. Paul Pioneer Press, April 26, 1957, p. 19; "Midway Stadium Could Take Several Shapes in Remodeling" by Gene Malott, St. Paul Pioneer Press, Sunday, November 20, 1960, p. 19; "Midway Stadium: St. Paul's White Elephant" by Donald Del Fiacco, St. Paul Pioneer Press, Sunday, October 25, 1964, p. 1, Third Section; Commissioner Meredith Gets the 'Albatross'" by Joe Rigert, Minneapolis Tribune, Sunday, July 24, 1966, p. 14A.

St. Paul opposition to Bloomington for major-league baseball: "City Gets Stadium Bond Go-Ahead" by John Cowles, Jr., Minneapolis Tribune, July 1, 1954, p. 1; "St. Paul Starts Midway Petition," Minneapolis Tribune, Thursday, August 6, 1959, p. 23.

1959 altercation at Midway Stadium: "Saints, Millers Divide Twin Bill" by Joe Hennessy and "Mauch Leads Mates into Midway Stands," St. Paul Pioneer Press, Sunday, July 5, 1959, p. 5, Second Section; "Mauch Goes into Stands, Warns Fan," Minneapolis Tribune, Sunday, July 5, 1959, p. S1; Interview with George Brophy, November 11, 1989.

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