This article was written by Stew Thornley
The Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis was a functional, if not beloved, sports facility for more than 25 years. In addition to hosting three major sports teams — the Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Vikings, and Minnesota Gophers collegiate football team — the facility was the site of many major sporting events as well as other activities.
The Metrodome succeeded Metropolitan Stadium in suburban Bloomington as the home of the Twins and Vikings, and it was the rise of the latter that prompted talk of a new stadium in the early 1970s. Initial proposals were for a football-only stadium since the Met was considered by many to be a good place to watch baseball. By later in the decade, however, the discussion turned to ways to accommodate both teams.
In 1977, the Minnesota Legislature passed a no-site stadium bill, which also created the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission to replace the Metropolitan Sports Area Commission. This action by itself did not mean the end of Metropolitan Stadium, because the options included a remodeling of the Met for baseball with a new football stadium built adjacent to it. But the new stadium commission, after studying alternatives for 18 months, voted to erect a multi-purpose covered facility on the eastern edge of downtown Minneapolis.
The commission’s selection was not the end of the fight, however. Citizens initiatives and political referenda threatened to derail the downtown dome throughout 1979. Meanwhile, the stadium commission struggled to comply with the stringent requirements of the law that authorized the sale of revenue bonds for what would become known as the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome.
Although many hurdles remained (and were eventually overcome), construction began in December of 1979 with excavation on the 20-acre site on the east side of Chicago Avenue between 4th and 6th streets. Unlike the conditions facing the designers and builders of earlier local ballparks, the Metrodome did not have to be confined to a site within existing streets. In this case, the roadways were reconfigured to get out of the way of the structure, which caused the blocks on which it sat to swell beyond their previous limits.
Contractors erecting Met Stadium in the 1956 had to contend with a fire during its construction. An obstacle of a different type appeared before the builders of the Metrodome. A 125-ton granite boulder, estimated at more than a billion years old, was uncovered during excavation. The rock resisted all attempts to be dislodged or blown apart. When initial attempts to pulverize the rock were unsuccessful, it became the subject of public attention and a campaign to save it. Eventually a local bank took the rock off the stadium commission’s hands and moved it to the lawn of one of their suburban branches.
With the rock out of the way the joint venture of Barton-Malow/Construction Services, Inc. was able to proceed with the $55-million project. Fifty-two concrete columns were driven 50 feet to bedrock around the perimeter of the playing field. Foundation work commenced with the drilling and pouring of 135 caissons, averaging 54 feet in depth, surrounding the stadium. Concrete columns ringed the playing field and, on top of them, 110-foot-long step-like concrete slope girders were poured in place. These girders supported the seating surface and the seats themselves. More than 500 tons of structural steel and 40,000 cubic yards of concrete were used in the stadium.
In June of 1981, construction began on the roof, which consisted of two layers of woven fibercloth glass, each 1/32-inch thick, clamped to 18 steel cables crisscrossing the stadium. To make it weatherproof, a Teflon coating was applied to the exterior surface of the outer layer, which is separated from the inner layer by as much as six feet of air. The entire roof structure, including fixtures such as lights and speakers, weighs 340 tons and is supported by as many as 20 90-horsepower fans. When it was inflated for the first time on October 2, 1981, the center of the dome billowed 186 feet above the playing surface.
The Metrodome opened in April of 1982 with 55,000 seats available for baseball. The capacity for football–both the Vikings and the Minnesota Gophers, who abandoned Memorial Stadium on the University campus to play in the new domed facility–is 8,000 more than baseball.
The first event was an exhibition baseball game between the Twins and Philadelphia Phillies on Saturday night, April 3. Pete Redfern threw the first pitch for the Twins, and the second batter up for the Phillies, Pete Rose, got the first hit. Kent Hrbek of the Twins hit the first two home runs in the new stadium. Three nights later, the first regular-season game was played, with the Twins losing to the Seattle Mariners. With two out in the bottom of the first, Minnesota’s Dave Engle put one over the left-field fence for the first official hit and home run in the Metrodome.
As part of the stadium legislation, the Twins and Vikings had been required to sign 30-year leases. However, Twins owner Calvin Griffith insisted on an escape clause he could exercise if the team, for three consecutive seasons, was unable to sell the lesser of 1.4 million tickets or the average number of tickets sold by all American League teams. It also required the installation of air conditioning if the lack of it affected attendance.
Although the duct work was in place, the stadium opened without air conditioning, and the Metrodome climate was oppressive during the first summer. Air conditioning was installed and was first used in June of 1983.
Even with the cooler temperatures in the Metrodome, drawing fans was a problem, mainly because of the poor performance by the Twins. Despite a number of players who would become stars, eventually helping the team to the world championship in 1987, in 1982 the Twins lost more than 100 games, and attendance was only 921,186. In 1983, the Twins were 70-92, and it was becoming clear that the attendance would probably not achieve the average of 1.4 million per season through 1984, which would allow Griffith to terminate the lease.
The response of the local business community, led by envelope entrepreneur Harvey Mackay, was to begin buying unused tickets to the games. The plan was to buy the least expensive tickets, which meant focusing on the weekday games, when ticket prices were discounted. The first occurrence of the buyout was on Tuesday night, May 15, 1984, when the Twins played the Toronto Blue Jays. Although fewer than 10,000 fans attended the game, the paid attendance was 26,761. The next day, with discounted prices in effect, the paid attendance was 51,863, although the number of fans present was closer to 8,700 (with more than 2,300 of those being school-patrol members who got in free, leaving the turnstile count for paid ticket holders at 6,346). The Twins began announcing two attendance figures for games based on tickets sold and on the turnstile count. A legal battle loomed as to whether this artificial padding of attendance would actually stop Griffith from exercising his escape clause; instead, in June of 1984, Griffith signed a letter of intent to sell the Twins to banker Carl Pohlad.
Escape clauses in varying forms remained and other provisions emerged over time as the Twins’ lease on the Metrodome was renegotiated, and the threat for the team to leave (either by relocation or by being entirely eliminated, an issue that surfaced after the 2001 season) continued.
Concerns about the lack of revenues generated for baseball in the Metrodome prompted the Twins to seek a new stadium in the latter part of the 1990s, and the issue of a more suitable facility for the team continued into the 21st century and was finally settled with the construction of an open-air stadium on the other end of downtown Minneapolis from the Metrodome.
The Metrodome was functional but short on amenities. The sterile nature of the stadium was not conducive to the aesthetic atmosphere desired by many fans. Other problems included the roof, which caused players to lose sight of fly balls. The first inside-the-park home run at the Metrodome came on Friday night, May 28, 1982 when Tom Brunansky hit a high fly to left. Yankees leftfielder Lou Piniella stood helplessly, his arms outstretched, as he couldn’t see the ball, which dropped to the ground and stayed in play by bouncing off the fence as Brunansky circled the bases.
The artificial turf initially installed in the Metrodome was extremely spongy, causing high bounces that played havoc with fielders. White Sox right fielder Harold Baines had a different problem with the turf on Sunday, June 24, 1984. The Twins were trailing, 2-0, with two on and one out in the last of the ninth when Tim Teufel dropped a hit into right field. Baines charged in to field the ball, which hit a seam in the turf, bounced over his head, and rolled to the fence. Teufel ended up with a game-winning, three-run inside-the-park home run. Different types of artificial turf have been installed since then and the problem has lessened.
Despite the complaints about the Metrodome, its tenure as the home of the Twins and Vikings has exceeded that of Metropolitan Stadium and has been the site of a number of significant events in baseball and football:
* The Metrodome was the site of the 1985 All-Star Game, with the National League winning 6-1.
* Two 300-game winners won their final game in the Metrodome: Tom Seaver of Boston, who won his 311th game August 18, 1986, and Minnesota’s Steve Carlton, who won his 329th game August 8, 1987.
* The Metrodome hosted the first indoor World Series game October 17, 1987. The Twins won that World Series, against the St. Louis Cardinals, and won the World Series again in 1991, beating the Atlanta Braves. In the seventh game of the 1991 World Series, Jack Morris of Minnesota pitched a 10-inning shutout, and the Twins won in the bottom of the 10th as Gene Larkin singled home Dan Gladden.
* The New York Yankees became the first team to reach 10,000 home runs in their history. They reached that mark on a home run by Claudell Washington at the Metrodome on April 20, 1988.
* Three players have gotten their 3,000th hit in the Metrodome: Dave Winfield of Minnesota on September 16, 1993; Eddie Murray of Cleveland on June 30, 1995; and Cal Ripken of Baltimore on April 15, 2000. Ripken also played in his 2,000th consecutive game at the Metrodome August 1, 1994.
* Frank Thomas of Toronto hit his 500th home run at the Metrodome on June 28, 2007.
* Two no-hitters were pitched in the Metrodome: Scott Erickson of the Twins no-hit the Milwaukee Brewers April 27, 1994, and Minnesota’s Eric Milton no-hit the Anaheim Angels on September 11, 1999.
College, high-school, and other amateur teams frequently use the Metrodome for games. The Minnesota Gophers schedule many of their early-season games for the Metrodome and sometimes during poor weather have shifted games from Siebert Field, their normal home, to the Metrodome. Amateur teams have often taken the field after Twins games, sometimes playing into the early hours of the next day.
* The Metrodome was the site of the Super Bowl following the 1991 National Football League (NFL) season. The Washington Redskins beat the Buffalo Bills 37-24 on January 26, 1992.
Two unbreakable records were set in the Metrodome:
* Tony Dorsett of Dallas had a 99-yard touchdown run against the Vikings January 3, 1998, the longest play from scrimmage in NFL history.
* Antonio Cromartie of San Diego ran back a missed field goal 109 yards for a touchdown, the longest play of any type in NFL history.
* In the same game that Cromartie ran back the field-goal attempt, Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson rushed for 296 yards to set an NFL record.
Besides the Vikings and Gophers, the Metrodome has hosted many small-college and high-school football games. In 1991, less than a week after the Twins won the World Series, record snowfalls hit the area. Football fields across Minnesota were covered with snow, and, over the next few weeks, 73 high-school games were relocated to the Metrodome.
The Metrodome has hosted many basketball games, including two National Collegiate Athletic Association Final Four tournaments, in 1992 and 2001. The Minnesota Timberwolves used the Metrodome as their home during their inaugural season of 1989-90, as a new arena was being built for them. In the first regular-season National Basketball Association (NBA) played in the Metrodome, Michael Jordan scored 45 points as the Chicago Bulls beat the Timberwolves.
The Timberwolves set an NBA attendance record during their season in the Metrodome, although, as the Twins had done to sell enough tickets to reach the 3-million mark in 1988, the Timberwolves orchestrated a sales blitz of deeply discounted tickets in order to reach the level needed to break the previous record.
Other Metrodome events
* In 1996, Billy Graham preached to 349,000 people over several days.
* The movie Little Big League was filmed in the Metrodome in 1993.
* Paul McCartney, Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd, Guns N’ Roses, Metallica, and George Strait have appeared in concert at the Metrodome.
* International Special Olympics, a display of the AIDS quilt, and the Scandanavia Today cultural festival have been held in the Metrodome as well as professional wrestling matches and tractor pulls.
* The Metrodome was used for trade shows in the late 1980s after the Minneapolis Auditorium had been torn down and until a new convention center was opened on the site.
* The Metrodome concourses have been opened for running, walking, and rollerblading during the winter.
The cause of fly balls being lost in the roof has often been attributed to the roof being white, which causes a white ball to blend into it. However, the ball actually shows up as a dark spot to a fielder looking up at it with the translucent roof as a background. During the day, this dark spot was easier to pick up as the translucent roof remained light. At night, however, the roof darkened and tracking fly balls became a treacherous activity. The stadium commission eventually installed lights that illuminated the roof at night, which ameliorated the problem but did not totally eliminate it. (One ball that did get lost in the roof in a more literal sense was hit on May 4, 1986 by Dave Kingman of Oakland, a pop up that didn’t come down. The ball went through a vent hole in the roof, and, by the ground rules of the Metrodome, Kingman was awarded a double.)
Another myth concerns the only postponement to date at the Metrodome. The stadium’s roof was prone to collapsing under the weight of snow. The first time this happened was in November of 1981, before the Metrodome opened. Early in the 1983 season, a storm dropped 13 ½ inches of wet, heavy snow on the Twin Cites beginning on Wednesday night, April 13 and continuing into the next morning. The Twins had a game scheduled against the California Angels at the Metrodome on Thursday night that was postponed because of the storm. Late Thursday evening, a chunk of ice tore a 20-foot gap in the roof of the Metrodome, causing it to deflate. The roof collapse is often given as the reason for the postponement. However, the game had already been postponed nearly 12 hours before out of concern for safety of the fans and Twins players trying to get to the game as well as the fact that the Twins opponents weren’t available. The Angels had taken an overnight flight from California and arrived over the Twin Cities at about 5:30 on Thursday morning. The plane was unable to land and was diverted to Chicago, where the Angels spent the day. The roof was quickly repaired and re-inflated, and the Angels arrived in Minnesota in time for the Friday night game to be played.
A roof breach that did affect a game occurred on Saturday night, April 26, 1986. In the top of the ninth inning, a storm ripped a hole in the roof, causing fans in the upper deck in right field to get wet as water poured through. High winds also caused the light bars to sway and the game was delayed as fans were evacuated from the seating area. The game eventually was resumed, but the Twins may have wished it wasn’t as the California Angels scored six runs in the inning, capped by a two-out, two-run home run by Wally Joyner off Ron Davis, to win, 7-6.
The 1984 ticket buyout, an attempt to keep the Twins from exercising an escape clause in the Metrodome lease, is well remembered. Four years later, a ticket buyout on a smaller scale was used to help the Twins reach a milestone. In 1988, the Twins were on their way to setting a new American League attendance record, which was 2,807,361, set by the California Angels in 1982. However, the Twins also had a chance to become the first American League team to reach 3 million in attendance. To aid the chances, the Twins sold 50,000 discounted general-admission tickets to WCCO Radio for a mid-September series against the Chicago White Sox. The paid attendance for each of the games was well over 40,000 although considerably fewer fans actually attended as WCCO tried, with little success, to distribute the tickets to groups. These tickets, however, made the difference as the Twins finished the season with an attendance of 3,030,672.
While the Metrodome was to remove weather as a factor, there were still charges that climate-control manipulation was being used to aid the home team. Bobby Valentine, when he was managing the Texas Rangers, was the most vociferous and persistent in suggesting that electric fans behind the plate were turned on to blow air toward the outfield when the Twins were at bat. The Twins scoffed at the charges, but in 2003 former Metrodome superintendent Dick Ericson told the Star Tribune, Newspaper of the Twin Cities, that he had tried to manipulate the game in this manner. While the power of the electric fans needed to be increased near the end of the game, to keep the roof inflated as doors were opened for spectators to leave, Ericson said he would increase the number of fans blowing from between first and third bases, starting in the last of the eighth if the Twins were behind in the game, thus giving the Twins the chance at two innings of batting in these conditions and with only one inning at bat for the visiting team. Despite Ericson’s admission, which was backed up by another Metrodome employee, it remains unclear how much effect the added fans had on the distance of fly balls. Ericson also made clear that he manipulated the air flow on his own, not at the request of the Twins nor the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission.
Several publications provided general information on Metropolitan Stadium and the Metrodome: Metropolitan Sports Area Stadium, Stadium Souvenir published by the Metropolitan Sports Area Commission in 1956; 10: A Decade at the Met, by the Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce (1966); History of the Metropolitan Stadium and Sports Center, by Charles Johnson (Minneapolis: Midwest Federal, 1970); and by Once There Was a Ballpark, by Joe Soucheray (Edina, Minn.: Dorn Books, 1981).
A film, Metropolitan Stadium, was produced by WCCO Radio and Television shortly after the opening of Met Stadium in 1956. Narrated by Dick Enroth, this is essentially a film promoting the new stadium as well as the Twin Cities metropolitan area for the purpose of luring major-league baseball to the area. However, it contains footage of the final game of Nicollet Park and its demolition, the groundbreaking of the Bloomington stadium, the fire during construction in February 1956, and the first game on April 24, 1956. The film is available at the Minnesota Historical Society.
General resources on the Metrodome include The Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome Souvenir Book, compiled by Dave Mona (Minneapolis: MSP Publications, 1982) and Uncovering the Dome by Amy Klobuchar (Minneapolis: Bolger Publications, 1982).
Additional sources of information on Metropolitan Stadium and the Metrodome include “Stadiums and Major League Sports: The Twin Cities” by James Quirk (a publication of the Brookings Institute, 1997) and Stadium Games by Jay Weiner (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000).
Metrodome Backgrounder, published by the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, October 2004
Metrodome: “Building the Metrodome” by Stew Thornley, Construction Bulletin, March 5, 1993, pp. 8-19; “Perpich Signs Stadium Bill,” Minneapolis Tribune, Tuesday, May 17, 1977, p. 1; “Panel Picks Downtown Stadium,” Minneapolis Tribune, Saturday, December 2, 1978, p. 1A.
Metrodome Lore: “April Shower Falls as Record Snow” by Randy Furst and “Ice Rips Dome; Damage Believed to be Modest” by Ron Meador, Minneapolis Star and Tribune, Friday, April 15, 1983, p. 1A; “Even Dome Couldn’t Save Twins’ Game” by Tom Briere, Minneapolis Star and Tribune, April 15, 1983, p. 1D; “Most Seats Were Empty Despite a Near Sellout” by Dan Stoneking, Minneapolis Tribune, Thursday, May 17, 1984, p. 1D; “Twins Fans Fill Stands: League Ticket Record to be Broken Tonight” by Dennis Brackin, Star Tribune, Newspaper of the Twin Cities, Tuesday, September 27, 1988, p. 1A; “Blowout? This Man Says He Used the Air Vents to Help the Twins” by Randy Furst, Star Tribune, Newspaper of the Twin Cities, Sunday, July 27, 2003, p. 1A.