Baseball’s Twin Towers in the Twin Cities: The Minneapolis Millers and the St. Paul Saints in the American Association, 1902–1960
This article was published in the 2012 The National Pastime.
THE RIVALRY TAKES ROOT
After spending the better part of the 1890s hosting entries in the Western League, the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul became part of the newly formed American Association when the league organized in Chicago in November 1901. The independent circuit would compete with the American and National Leagues, placing clubs in cities closely mirroring that of the old Western League. On April 23, 1902, the Minneapolis Millers and St. Paul Saints opened their season as members of the fledgling league on the road against the Columbus (Ohio) Senators and Toledo Mud Hens, respectively. The Millers stepped off the train to a shutout, 5–0, while the Mud Hens handed the Saints a narrow defeat, 8–7.
The two teams came home to their neighboring cities on the Mississippi River just weeks later and began a long legacy of baseball in the high minors. In their May 10, 1902, home openers, the Millers crushed the Louisville Colonels, 9–4, at Nicollet Park, while the Saints initiated the Indianapolis Indians, 4–0, behind right-hander Charlie Chech (pronounced “Check”) who struck out nine at expansive Lexington Park, then on the western outskirts of St. Paul. Neither Twin Cities team went on to glory that first year, but a new and lasting era of professional baseball was born.
Known at various times in the city’s history as the “Apostles,” the newly christened “Saints” landed in third place (72–66) in 1902 under Massachusetts-born player-manager Mike Kelley. The club sported a cast of players previously with St. Paul’s Class-A Western League franchise, including future Hall of Famer Miller Huggins at second base. The 1902 Millers were in a more developmental stage. Posting a team batting average of .244, 24 points below the league average, Minneapolis finished the season with a 54–86 record under player-manager Walt Wilmot, who hailed from Plover, Wisconsin.
The Twin Cities’ new American Association entries continued a tradition of inter-city rivalry that extended from the days of the old Northwestern League in the 1880s, and their American Association battles would become legendary over a period of six decades. The cross-town holiday twinbills, with screaming trolley cars packed to the gills, raucous carnival-style barkers on street corners, grandstands and bleachers filled to the brim, overflow crowds, popular Sunday bouts, and perennially well-matched teams, brought out local revelers on a robust scale. These teams and their fans put what was then an isolated Midwestern locale securely onto the baseball map until the Millers and Saints played their final games in 1960, departing the scene to make way for the Minnesota Twins.
ST. PAUL SAINTS: 1903 AND 1904
Riding the 25-year-old Chech, who won 24 and lost nine, the Saints won the 1903 pennant with 88 wins and 46 losses. The Saints’ style of play on the home grounds changed drastically in mid-July. From the wide-open spaces of Lexington Park (at the corner of University and Lexington in St. Paul), the club moved to the diminutive Downtown Park (aka “Pill Box”), located near the city center. Perhaps the most unusual feature of the facility was the lack of foul territory around the entire perimeter of the playing field. The first game was played at the brand new venue July 20, 1903, against the Minneapolis Millers and resulted in a convincing win for the Saints, 11–2, at a time when they were battling with Milwaukee for the league lead. Despite the move, the Saints stayed hot, winning their first 14 home games after the switch.
St. Paul hitters out-paced the opposition with a .281 batting average, but where the Saints really did their damage was on the basepaths. With 267 steals, the club led the league courtesy of three rabbits with at least 40 each: second-baseman Miller Huggins (48), outfielder Jimmy Jackson (42) and outfielder Spike Shannon (41). “Little Phil” Geier was the Association’s top batter at .361.
The Saints kept their hands on the league crown in 1904 on the strength of two righties: Chech (27–8) and Perry Sessions (27–10). They now had a full season in which to swat two-baggers in Downtown Park, and they led the league with 270. Again Mike Kelley was at the helm, and again the Saints ran rampant, racking up 237 steals, 54 more than second-ranked Milwaukee. Jimmy Jackson exceeded his old form by amassing 59 swipes for the Association lead. The 5-foot-6, 165-lb. Pennsylvanian also excelled at the plate, hitting .335 and swatting league-highs with 13 home runs and 39 doubles. Jackson’s productivity placed him among the league’s elite, ranking third in both slugging percentage (.480) and total bases (278). The speedy right-fielder was the perfect number-two hitter and an indispensable weapon in the Saints’ arsenal during the pennant chase of 1904.
With a record of 95–52, the “Kellyites” (as they were often dubbed in the local press) won the pennant by eight games over the Columbus Senators. In a postseason series between St. Paul and the Eastern League champion Buffalo Bisons managed by George Stallings, Buffalo beat the Saints, two games to one.
MINNEAPOLIS MILLERS: 1910-1912
It wasn’t until 1909 that either team had much hope of bringing another flag to the Twin Cities. Under Bill Clymer the Columbus Senators became kings of the AA by capturing the league crown from 1905–07, the first three-peat in league history. In 1909, Minneapolis and the Milwaukee Brewers battled for the top spot all season long, but a late surge by the Louisville Colonels shoved them both aside.
The Millers began their ascent in 1910. Managed by another Wisconsin native, “Pongo Joe” Cantillon, Minneapolis carried out the league’s second three-peat and in the process won a cumulative total of 311 victories against 187 defeats. Minneapolis finished the season with 107 wins and 61 losses.
The 1910 season was the Millers’ most successful in club history. After losing to the Kansas City Blues in the season opener at cozy Nicollet Park, the Millers split the four-game series. With a record of 16–9 by mid-May, they asserted their strength with a seven-game home winning streak, then losing only sparingly. Through June 25 the Millers never lost more than two straight games. With steady work and good fortune, they did not lose a homestand all season.
Potent offense characterized the club. The Millers led the league in batting with a .272 mark; the league batting average was a paltry .243. With 79 triples Cantillon’s men set a standing club record (which the Millers tied in 1922). The lead performer on a cast of offensive stars was 29-year-old Californian Gavvy “Cactus” Cravath who paced the league in hits (200), doubles (41), home runs (14), and batting average (.326). Cravath would later star for the National League’s Philadelphia Phillies. Center fielder Otis Clymer, the Millers’ perennial leadoff man, rang up 30 doubles and stole 38 bases while scoring 109 runs in addition to his top-notch fielding.
Fielding was another club hallmark. Two Miller infielders led the league with the leather: second baseman Jimmy Williams and third baseman Hobe Ferris, both players with considerable prior major league experience.
Chicago-born right-hander “Long Tom” Hughes was the staff ace for the Millers in 1910. After showing signs of a tired arm while with the American League’s Washington Senators, Hughes became a Miller in 1909. But with new life in his lame arm, he shattered all expectations by nailing down 31 wins against 12 losses. This “shot in the arm” performance propelled him back to Washington to pitch for the Senators for three more years. Unlike many other pitchers of the era, he overcame his arm problems to continue pitching at a high level well into his 40s.
Even without Hughes for 1911, the team barely lost a beat. The league’s leader in wins, Roy Patterson (24–10), and former Philadelphia Athletics star Rube Waddell (20–17) combined for 44 of the club’s 99 wins. Waddell struck out 185 batters. But even with their record of 99–66, the Millers finished only 41⁄2 games in front of Dan Shay’s Kansas City Blues.
Six regular position players batted over .300 for the 1911 Millers. At the forefront was Cravath who went on a tear the likes of which the Association had never seen. He led the league in batting (.363), hits (221), doubles (53), and home runs with 29, upsetting the previous record of 18 set in 1907 by John Frank “Buck” Freeman, another Minneapolis outfielder. Cravath’s remarkable .637 slugging percentage topped the league’s runner-up by more than 130 points.
In 1911 the combined strength of the Millers’ base-stealing and the recently introduced juiced ball resulted in an offensive surge. The Millers topped the league with a .301 mark, surpassing the .300 level for the first time in league history, and led the circuit in runs scored. From 1910 to 1911, the league batting average went from .243 to .268, while total runs jumped from 5,055 in 1910 to 6,169, a 22% increase. The following season the American Association returned to the customary “dead” ball and the numbers subsided.
Ushering in a new age, the 1912 American Association was reclassified as a Double-A league, granting it higher status relative to several other leagues in the high minors. With Cantillon again in command, the Millers captured the flag with a record of 105–60.
In terms of wins and losses, the 1912 Millers were comparable with the 1910 team, but there was one big difference: the 1912 team amassed 292 stolen bases, the highest total in the six-decade expanse of American Association history. Shortstop Dave “Filipino” Altizer’s 68 swipes set a new Association record, one which stood until 1921. Right-hander Fred Olmstead won 28 games to lead AA pitchers and struck out 131. Outfielder Claude Rossman swatted 32 doubles and topped the club with a .322 batting average.
Local fans appreciated the Millers’ strong showing, as attendance at Nicollet Park led the league. Logistics may have played a part in the club’s strong draw as the park, at West 31st and Nicollet Avenues, was located adjacent to a street car terminal, allowing fans unparalleled access from a variety of points in the city.
MINNEAPOLIS MILLERS: 1915
Milwaukee captured the crown from 1913–14, its first championships in the American Association. Then in a remarkable turn of events, both St. Paul and Minneapolis came out of nowhere to become contenders in the most competitive and dramatic season the two clubs ever played against one another.
On Wednesday, May 19, a just-turned-20-year-old southpaw named Harry Clayton Harper took the hill for the Millers at Nicollet Park against the Saints and reeled off a no-hitter. The gem would become the only Millers vs. Saints no-no ever in the American Association. Despite the no-hitter, the Millers continued to struggle, and it seemed both teams were having trouble getting out of their own way.
By mid-June the Millers were mired deeply in the second division, spending the entire second-half of the month dipping in and out of seventh-place. They were struggling, but there were still some live embers buried deeply within the Miller woolens.
Just as the summer was about to kick off, things began to heat up for both teams. During the last half of June, St. Paul won 10 of 15 games under Mike Kelley, resulting in an appreciable rise in the standings. The Millers were beginning to capture their stride as well, as Cantillon’s crew used the period from June 15–30 as a platform for future success. By month’s end they found themselves in sixth place, punctuating their resurgence by sweeping a doubleheader against Kansas City on June 30.
The Saints were now competing for the top spot in the American Association. Kelley’s men had bridged a wide river, winning 23 of 27 games during their homestand stretching between June 26 and July 21. It was a sign the planned ownership change was the right move for the team. Long-time club owner George Lennon gave up the reins to a group of St. Paul businessmen who saw the recent successful run of the team translate into a bigger payday at the gate.
Just as the Saints’ string of 13 wins was ending, the Millers started a streak of their own. Facing a pair of second-division teams, the Columbus Senators and Cleveland Spiders (the Toledo Mud Hens had moved to Cleveland as a tactic against a potential Federal League invasion in that city) at Nicollet Park, Minneapolis began to surge. After the Senators took the first meeting July 16, Millers pitchers tossed four consecutive shutouts.
The Millers winning ways continued until July 27 when they lost a close one in an 11-inning battle at Kansas City’s Association Park in the second game of a twin bill. But the Cantillon nine finally took over first place on August 22, after sweeping twin tilts against Cleveland at Nicollet Park. Defeating the Spiders, 4–3, in the second game pushed the Millers’ record to 71–50 for their tenth straight win.
It was part of a 13-game string dating back to August 14—and it all started in St. Paul. From that point their largest lead over the Saints was four games on September 1. The Saints kept nipping at their heels until the close of the season on September 19 when Minneapolis finished atop the Association with a thread-like 1 1⁄2 game lead over their down-river rival.
ST. PAUL SAINTS: 1919 TO 1924
The Saints and Millers both finished in the first division in 1916, but were not considered contenders. The following season, St. Paul was competitive until the end, finishing just 2 1⁄2 games behind Jack Hendricks’ Indianapolis Indians. As World War I took its toll on the nation, the 1918 American Association season was mandated complete through the games already complete on July 21 at which point the Saints and Millers finished sixth and seventh, respectively.
But in 1919 the Saints rose from the lull. Finishing 94–60, Mike Kelley’s men used speed and pitching to grab the American Association flag for the first time in 15 years. Outfielder Elmer Miller was a one-man wrecking crew, posting league highs in total bases (302), slugging percentage (.497), triples (16), and home runs (15).
First-baseman Leo “Lee” Dressen was another impact player that year, leading the club in five offensive categories. A table-setter, Dressen drew 94 walks and stole a league-leading 46 bases. As the American Association’s only player ever to lead the circuit in steals in three seasons (1917, 1919–20), Dressen was an impressive lead-off batter.
Catcher Eugene “Bubbles” Hargrave was solid defensively, but his hitting was vital. He led the club in doubles (35) and had a team-second 233 total bases. While it wasn’t a sustained relationship, the Saints also employed a 24-year-old outfielder by the name of George Halas to fill in for 39 games and do some hitting, which he did, to the tune of a .274 batting average. On the hill, two 20-game winners graced the St. Paul roster, lefty Dick Niehaus (23–13, .639) and Dan “Rusty” Griner (21–14, .600).
The 1920 Saints went on a barnstorming tour of sorts—across the American Association—again with Kelley managing. Three 20-game winners provided the boost as St. Paul won 115 games with only 49 losses. Compiling more wins than any other team in American Association history and posting the league’s best winning percentage ever at .701 the Saints had the season wrapped up early, winding up with a 281⁄2 game lead over the second-place Louisville Colonels.
Heading the charge off the hill was right-hander Charley “Sea Lion” Hall (real name Carlos Clolo) with a league-leading 27 wins against only eight losses. On August 26 against the Columbus Senators, Hall allowed no runs and no hits at St. Paul’s Lexington Park for a historic 6–0 win. In his third year with the Saints, lefty John Merritt had 21 wins against only 10 losses. Righty Rees “Steamboat” Williams racked up 20 wins for the second time as a Saint, losing only six—nearly matching Hall’s league-high .771 winning percentage.
The Saints also boasted a potent offensive attack in 1920. They established a new Association record with 1,679 hits, scoring 961 runs, 142 more than the runner-up. Third baseman “Goldie” Rapp essentially shared the batting crown with teammate Bubbles Hargrave (who had 62 fewer at-bats), hitting .335 with 37 doubles. Hargrave banged out a club-high 22 long balls while leading the club in total bases (292—tied with second-year Saint Elmer Miller) and slugging. Joe Riggert, a St. Paul stalwart in the outfield for 12 seasons (1912–24, excluding 1914), led the league in triples.
At the time, the American Association pennant winner played the champion of the International League in what was billed as the Little World Series (renamed the Junior World Series in 1932). For the 1920 minor league crown, the Saints faced the Baltimore Orioles, another dynasty made up of a number of future big league stars. Despite their stellar season, the Saints could not defeat their East Coast opponent, losing the best of nine series five games to one.
In 1921 St. Paul took a tumble, landing in sixth-place. But in 1922, Mike Kelley and the Saints were right back in the fray. In decisive fashion, St. Paul nailed down the American Association pennant, beating their cross-river rival by 15 games. Returnees included second baseman Marty Berghammer, outfielders Bruno Haas and Joe Riggert, and pitchers Charley Hall and John Merritt. Outfielder Walt “Cuckoo” Christensen led the club in runs (117) and bases on balls (97).
The pitching staff was led by Tom Sheehan (26-12), Charley Hall (22–8), and John Cleave “Rube” Benton (22–11), who had been banished to the minors in 1921 for his gambling associations and unsavory reputation. Sheehan’s 3.01 ERA was tops in the league, and his 26 wins, 53 appearances and 332 innings of work led the circuit as well. But the Saints fell again to the Baltimore Orioles in the Little World Series, five games to two.
In the 1923 campaign, despite a stellar record of 111–57, the Saints finished second, two games behind the Kansas City Blues. St. Paul’s pitching was led by their ace, Sheehan, who was back with a vengeance, winning 31 games. Three other 20-plus game winners boosted the club’s chances. It was Mike Kelley’s final year managing St. Paul. For a generation of Twin Cities residents, it was the end of an era as 1923 was the last season when both Pongo Joe Cantillon and Kelley managed the Millers and Saints. The dramatic headline for 1924: the Saints’ Kelley replaces Millers manager Cantillon!
In 1924 the Saints returned to the summit with their new manager, Nick Allen, a former catcher. Johnny Neun, the Saints new first baseman, stole 55 bases to lead the league, and “Cuckoo” Christensen scored 145 runs to top the circuit. That season also saw the emergence of third baseman Chuck Dressen who batted .347 and led the club in doubles (41), home runs (18), and RBI (151), the latter figure pacing the league. Dressen’s club leadership in slugging (.534) and total bases (327—a new record for the St. Paul club) represented a powerful contribution to the Saints’ lineup. For this final year of dominance the Saints set a team attendance record with 242,258 fans, a total that would not be surpassed until 1938. In the Little World Series the Saints finally came out on top. Allen’s men faced Jack Dunn’s Baltimore Orioles for the third time in five years, this time taking the 10-game series five games to four.
THE MILLERS AND SAINTS: 1925-1930
In 1925 the Saints and Millers finished back-to-back for the first time since 1922, in slots three and four, respectively, Kelley’s Millers landing five games behind Allen’s Saints. In 1926 the Saints and Millers were again “twins” in the season’s final standings, St. Paul in sixth, the Minneapolis well behind in seventh. Interestingly, by the time the 1927 standings were sorted out, the Millers and Saints finished one on top of the other for the third straight year. From 1925–27 St. Paul led Minneapolis in each instance. The back-to-back pattern happened during one other stretch: 1914–16—when the Millers led each time.
Under Nick Allen in 1927 the Saints finished in fourth-place (90–78), 11 games behind Casey Stengel’s surprising Toledo Mud Hens. Minneapolis landed in fifth under Kelley (88–80), just two games behind St. Paul. Millers’ shortstop Frank Emmer won the American Association home run derby that season with 32, the first time a shortstop won the honor in the Association. Over in St. Paul, a budding shortstop named Leo Durocher was cutting his teeth on American Association diamonds at the age of 21.
The Millers just missed in 1928, finishing 21⁄2 games behind the Indianapolis Indians. The Saints, under new manager Bubbles Hargrave, renewed their trend of first-division finishes in 1929 (102–64), their first season with over 100 wins since 1923, but finished 81⁄2 games behind Dutch Zwilling and his Kansas City Blues. The Saints maintained their momentum in 1930, but narrowly missed another pennant as the Louisville Colonels nabbed first-place by 21⁄2 games.
ST. PAUL SAINTS: 1931
The Saints returned to the top in 1931 under their former pitcher, Al “Lefty” Leifield, who led them to 104 wins and 63 losses. The league temporarily returned to a 168-game schedule and the Saints worked it to their advantage by building a 14-game lead over Kansas City. Among the batting leaders were second baseman Jack Saltzgaver, pitcher-turned-outfielder Oscar Roettger, and outfielder George “Kiddo” Davis. Walter “Huck” Betts, a 34-year-old right-hander, held court with a 22–13 record, leading the staff with 285 innings and an ERA of 3.60. Right-hander William Jennings Bryan “Slim” Harriss may have had his best season as a pro, with 20 wins against 11 losses.
As entrants in the Little World Series that year the Saints faced off against the Rochester Red Wings who were led by future Hall of Fame manager Billy Southworth. Both teams scored 37 runs during the match-up, and the two teams’ batting average and ERA nearly equalled one another. But after being shutout in the first game, Southworth’s squad won four straight and prevailed five games to three.
MINNEAPOLIS MILLERS: 1932 TO 1935
The Saints fell to seventh-place the following year, but the Millers were there to take their place. With a record of 100 wins and 68 losses, Minneapolis captured the 1932 flag under the leadership of veteran Owen “Donie” Bush. Mike Kelley had finally stepped down from his managerial duties but remained active in club affairs. Thirty-three-year-old first baseman Joe “Unser Choe” Hauser came to the Millers from the Baltimore Orioles and showed the Flour City just how high he could rise. Swatting 49 home runs gave him the home run crown by a margin of 19. The Millers benefited from having a left-handed power hitter like Hauser with the short right field at Nicollet Park. The Millers’ 188 home runs set an AA record, and nearly 80% were hit at home. Left fielder Joe Mowry, age 24, amassed 384 total bases and led the Association in games (168), at-bats (739), runs (175), and hits (257).
The Millers’ 1932 pitching staff was anchored by Wilfred “Rosy” Ryan who led the AA with 22 wins while posting an ERA of 4.45. Arguably, 37-year-old Jesse Petty, the “Silver Fox,” was the Millers’ most efficient workhorse, appearing in 52 games and 236 innings. Perhaps the biggest story of the Miller mound crew was Rube Benton, who, at the age of 42, went 18–7. The Millers bowed to the International League’s Newark Bears in their initial foray into Junior World Series territory, four games to two.
An impressive performance by the Columbus Red Birds (101-51) in 1933 left Minneapolis in the dust by 151⁄2 games. Under one-year skipper, and future Hall of Famer, Dave Bancroft, the Millers led the league with a team batting average of .303, but they couldn’t surpass Columbus despite the home run heroics of Hauser who set a new league record with a staggering 69 home runs in a 154-game schedule.
Donie Bush returned to the Millers in 1934, just in time to lead them to another first place regular season finish. With a record of 85–64, Minneapolis surged on the bats of Hauser, outfielder Albert “Ab” Wright, and 38-year-old catcher William McKinley “Pinky” Hargrave (brother of Bubbles). Each Miller regular batted over .300, but Hargrave was the bountiful backstop, hitting .356, slugging .523, and compiling a club-fifth 286 total bases. Outfielder Russell “Buzz” Arlett, the former Pacific Coast League star, stood out as a Miller that season. The 35-year-old California native led the Association in home runs (41) while hitting .319.
Thirty-two-year-old righty Walt Tauscher, in his second season with Minneapolis, was the Millers’ undisputed pitching leader with 21 wins against only seven losses, giving him the league’s top winning percentage. Adding to the mound corps mix was Petty who finished 19–7 with a 96–40 strikeouts-to-walks ratio in 40 games at the age of 39.
The previous year the American Association had introduced an experimental playoff system based on an “Eastern vs. Western” format. In this second year of the new scheme, the Millers were defeated by second-place Columbus, four games to three.
The 1935 season was the first year the Millers affiliated with a major league organization, creating a working agreement with Cleveland Indians. In 1934, only one American Association club had anything beyond a loose working arrangement with a major league parent: Columbus was aligned with the St. Louis Cardinals. But the trend was growing, and the Millers, along with three other teams, were caught up in the farm system wave.
The 1935 Minneapolis Millers maintained their AA reign. Again under Bush they went 91–53, finishing five games ahead of the Indianapolis Indians. With 191 home runs, the Millers blasted more balls out of Association ballparks than ever. As Hauser’s home run totals were subsiding (from 33 in 1934, to 23 in 1935), two players surpassed him: outfielder Johnny Gill, who led the league with 43 while slugging .656, and Arlett who drove out 25. Gill seemed to come out of nowhere that year, appearing in only eight games as a Miller in 1934.
Right-hander Denny Galehouse was a welcome addition to the Miller pitching staff, posting a club-high 140 strikeouts in the 23-year-old’s first, and last, season in Minneapolis. The Millers now owned seven American Association championships, but could not return to the Junior World Series that year because of a one-year hiatus in the post-season series.
ST. PAUL SAINTS: 1938
The Saints affiliated for the first time in 1936, creating working agreement with White Sox. After finishing second under new manager Gabby Street, the Saints had high hopes for the coming season. In 1937 they changed their affiliation to the Boston Bees, but the team struggled, resulting in a mid-season managerial replacement. The Saints hoped to reverse course by naming their perennial first baseman, Phil “Hook” Todt, the successor to Street. Todt, one of the most adept first basemen in the league, was in his sixth and final season with the club; it was his seventeenth year in pro ball. But Todt could not turn the club around, and St. Paul finished in seventh place.
In 1938 the Saints renewed their affiliation with the Chicago White Sox, and Foster “Babe” Ganzel took over as manager. Meanwhile, the Boston Red Sox farmed 19-year-old future Hall of Famer Ted Williams to the Millers.
Ganzel led St. Paul to the flag with a 90–61 record, six games ahead of Kansas City. Second baseman Ollie Bejma had a career year, leading Ganzel’s men in batting average (.326), slugging percentage (.548), total bases (304), and home runs (25). Outfielder Malin “Bit” McCullough spurred the St. Paul offense with his league-topping 41 doubles and his club-best 14 triples.
Vic Frazier (17–7) and former Miller Ray Phelps (12–8), two right-handed veterans, had exceptional years on the mound. But the most remarkable pitching performance belonged to 32-year-old Art Herring, another experienced righty. With three shutouts to his credit, Herring posted a 16–6 record and 3.74 ERA in 200 innings.
But in the Shaughnessy play-off system adopted in 1936 (involving the league’s top four teams), Kansas City advanced to the Junior World Series after Bill Meyer’s Blues eliminated St. Paul, four games to three, in the final round of the playoffs.
ST. PAUL SAINTS: 1949
St. Paul slogged through the 1940s, nailing down a first-division finish on only four occasions before capturing its ninth and final flag in 1949. A 36-year-old Walter “Smokey” Alston took the reins in 1948, finishing 86–68, a huge improvement over 1947. A Brooklyn Dodgers affiliate since 1944, St. Paul was an incubator for talent, and the odds were in their favor in 1949. First baseman Danny Ozark (.307), second-sacker Hank Schenz (.345), third baseman Danny O’Connell (.314), and outfielders Eric Tipton (.320) and Bob Addis (.346) topped the batting list. Ferrell “Andy” Anderson, the presiding St. Paul backstop, hit .303 while his back-up Sam Calderone hit .316.
The 1949 Saints specialized in manufacturing runs, spiced with a dash of power, and playing solid ball behind its pitchers. With 112 stolen bases, the Saints bested all Association rivals for the first time since 1928. In addition, their 121 home runs was runner-up to the Millers’ league-high 202 long balls. On the mound, Phil Haugstad had a career year. With a record of 22–7, Haugstad posted a 2.85 ERA, 140 Ks, 17 complete games, and two shutouts, all club highs.
In the first round of the playoffs, St. Paul was defeated by Milwaukee, four games to three. The club also lost its manager after the season as the Dodgers organization sent Alston east to manage the Montreal Royals.
MINNEAPOLIS MILLERS: 1950
Fifteen seasons after their last pennant, the Millers were due. Prior to becoming an affiliate of the New York Giants in 1946, Minneapolis was a second-division team during the decade’s first half. But in 1950, 36-year-old former catcher Tommy Heath, in his second year managing the club, pushed the team back into the top spot, finishing 90–64.
Heath’s brand of ball hinged on defense. The Miller infield was the Association’s envy with future NL All-Star second baseman Davey Williams, third baseman Ray “Dannie” Dandridge, and shortstop Bill Jennings.
Minneapolis also continued to capitalize on Nicollet Park’s short fence in right, topping the league by a significant margin with 176 home runs, and the club led the circuit in runs for the second straight year. Bert Haas, the Millers’ 36-year-old first baseman/outfielder, was Heath’s leading man at the plate. He led the league in doubles (36) and topped his teammates in home runs (24), batting average (.318), and total bases (276). The 36-year-old Dandridge, a long-time former Negro Leagues star, was the Millers’ first African American player. In his second season with Minneapolis Dandridge paced the American Association in hits (195) while showing off his endurance with a league-high 627 at-bats.
Perhaps Dandridge’s real value to the Millers came defensively. With a .978 fielding average, he demonstrated his superiority over all other Association third-basemen. As a hot corner hero, Dandridge didn’t just “flash the leather,” rather, sparks came out of it.
On the mound, Hoyt “Old Sarge” Wilhelm, at age 27, was becoming a household name by putting his knuckleball to good use. The first reliever elected to the Hall of Fame, Wilhelm was in his first season as a Miller, winning 15 against 11 losses. Millard “Dixie” Howell, finished 14–2 with a pair of shutouts. Dave Barnhill (11–3) and Cuban Adrian Zabala (11–4) nearly matched Howell’s performance.
The influence of television was making itself felt across the minor leagues, and attendance suffered dramatically in minor league cities across America. But fielding a winner helped Minneapolis stave off the television blues, and the club suffered little at the gate. In 1949, official league records indicate a Nicollet Park draw of 247,637; in 1950, the Millers drew 238,285—a reduction of only 3.8 percent.
In the first round of the league playoffs, the Columbus Red Birds knocked the Millers out of contention for the Junior World Series four games to two.
MINNEAPOLIS MILLERS: 1955-1960
During the 1950s the American Association went through a variety of changes. Franchise transfers and ownership changes characterized these times as teams tried to save themselves from economic hardship, much of it due to the advent of television. When Toledo left for Charleston (WV) at mid-season in 1952, the move represented the league’s first major shift since the Toledo Mud Hens became the Cleveland Spiders in 1914. Unlike that temporary transfer, Toledo’s move to Charleston was intended as permanent.
Against this backdrop the 1955 Millers achieved the ninth and final American Association regular season title for Minneapolis. In their final season at Nicollet Park, they finished on top with a record of 92–62, eight games over the Omaha Cardinals, one of four new franchises in the Association. Leading the league with 18 complete games, Al “Red” Worthington was the staff ace, winning 19 against 10 losses under 37-year-old manager Bill Rigney, serving his second stint as skipper.
The Millers exploded for 241 long balls in 1955—the highest total in Association history—tipping their collective cap to the old barn at 31st and Nicollet Avenues, not with a bang, but with a resounding thunderclap. Among those providing the home run heroics were two experienced Miller outfielders: Bob “Archie” Lennon and George “Teddy” Wilson, each with 31 circuit clouts. Catcher Carl “Swats” Sawatski hit 27 four-baggers, while third-baseman Rance Pless had 26.
In the playoffs, the Millers swept both Denver and Omaha in four games to win the Governor’s Cup, the top prize of the American Association champion. Minneapolis became the first American Association team to sweep both rounds of the playoffs since the inception of intra-league postseason play. Facing the Rochester Red Wings in the Junior World Series, the Millers overcame their .235 series batting average to capture the crown, four games to three. With 16 home runs during the seven-game series, Minneapolis achieved an all-time Junior World Series record.
In 1958 Minneapolis again made it to the Junior World Series. Finishing the regular season in third-place under Gene Mauch in his first year at the helm, the Millers defeated Wichita and Denver in the playoffs to earn the Governor’s Cup. To seal the deal, Mauch’s men swept Montreal, becoming only the second Association club to ever sweep a Junior World Series.
The Millers repeated as the Association’s representative in the Junior World Series in 1959, whipping Omaha four tilts to two in the opening round of the playoffs. In the final playoff round, they skinned the Fort Worth Cats, four games to three. But this time the Junior World Series outcome was less favorable as the Havana Sugar Kings nipped the Millers four games to three in one of the closest battles in series history.
Minneapolis and St. Paul wrapped up their fifty-ninth season in the American Association by finishing fifth and fourth, respectively, in the standings, signaling an end to a long and dramatic history. In 1961 the Washington Senators moved to Minnesota and renamed their club the “Twins,” a moniker suggesting a “coming together” of the two long-competitive rivals. Even today, the iconic Twins logo illustrating “Minnie and Paul” shaking hands across the Mississippi River lives on. Created by St. Paul artist Ray Barton for $15.00 in 1961, the symbolic emblem represents the region’s storied baseball past in tribute to the Minneapolis Millers and the St. Paul Saints.
REX HAMANN first became interested in baseball history while teaching in the Milwaukee Public Schools during the 1990s. As part of doing research on the Milwaukee American Association club, he began looking for the graves of players who spent time with Milwaukee. Grave hunting led directly to the formation of the "American Association Almanac," a baseball history journal devoted to the American Association’s first five decades which he has been dedicated to since 2001. He hopes to publish a book on the rivalry between the Minneapolis Millers and St. Paul Saints by early 2013.
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