This article was written by Stew Thornley
Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, Minnesota, served the American League’s Minnesota Twins for 21 seasons. However, it was originally the home of a minor-league team, the Minneapolis Millers of the American Association.
The drive for a new ballpark for the Millers began in the 1940s. In June of 1948, the Millers, affiliated with the parent New York Giants, and the Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners agreed on a 17-acre tract near Theodore Wirth Park, slightly less than three miles west of downtown Minneapolis, for a new ballpark. The site was bounded on the north by Olson Memorial Highway, on the south by Glenwood Avenue, on the west by Xerxes Avenue North, and on the east by the Great Northern Railroad tracks. It was the intention of the Millers/Giants to purchase the property, reroute a stream to its natural channel, and construct a stadium with a seating capacity between 20,000 and 30,000. Home plate would be in the southwest corner, near the corner of Glenwood and Xerxes.
According to Halsey Hall in the Minneapolis Tribune of June 10, 1948, Minneapolis Mayor Hubert Humphrey “said flatly that the stadium would be a good thing for clean professional sport, for recreation and for a ‘growing place’ for young America in Minneapolis. He stressed the need for action and quickly.”
However, the first action came from residents in the Glenwood-Wirth area who objected to the site and quickly formed a committee to circulate a petition that read, “This group goes on record unanimously in requesting the park commissioners not to take the contemplated action in establishing a ball park in the Wirth park area, nor to sell, transfer, or lease the property to a commercial enterprise.”
One of the strategies for promoting a new stadium was to denigrate the existing one. (The strategy continued into the 21st century.) Dick Cullum, who had written for newspapers in Minneapolis and St. Paul, had his first “Cullum’s Column” in the Minneapolis Tribune on June 14, 1948, as the new ballpark site was being debated. Cullum wrote that fans “can look forward to better things in a better park,” and attacked the Millers’ existing park: “That’s pretty poor baseball we have to look at in Nicollet Park. We have to go to that old crate a great many times to see one well played ball game.… In Nicollet Park, where every pitcher has to work hard on every batter and where the poorest ball player in the league may upset all percentages and make a burlesque of the game of baseball, a fan does not see any fraction of the number of genuine baseball plays he would see in a standard ball park. It just isn’t baseball.”
A ballpark never was built at the Glenwood site. Alternate sites were studied and, in late 1949, the Minneapolis Baseball and Athletic Association went farther west, beyond the Minneapolis city limits into St. Louis Park, and purchased 33 acres of land with 1,400 feet of frontage on the south side of Wayzata Boulevard (now Interstate 394), about a quarter-mile west of what is now Minnesota Highway 100.
A neighboring restaurant, McCarthy’s Café, had sold the land to the association at a reduced price because of the potential business it would generate. An apparent agreement, that McCarthy’s could buy back the property if no stadium emerged, was not put in writing. New York Giants owner Horace Stoneham assured the sellers and the village of plans to build an 18,000-seat stadium, with construction to start immediately and completion possibly in time for the 1950 season. Years later, a restaurant employee told reporter R.T. Rybak, “We wanted to put it in the contract that the sale would not be final unless the stadium was built, but [Giants owner Horace] Stoneham said that wasn’t necessary ‘because we are all men of our word.’”
However, the land remained dormant. A convenient reason given was that the outbreak of the Korean conflict in 1950 brought a halt to construction of sports facilities. Less convenient to the explanation is that Milwaukee built a new stadium in the early 1950s and the Giants and the Minneapolis Baseball and Athletic Association had plenty of time to build the ballpark before the war began. It’s possible the Giants got cold feet or delayed the start of construction so long that the eventual war in Korea created material shortages and hampered plans. It’s even possible that the entities only used the promise of a ballpark to get the land on the cheap.
Later in the 1950s McCarthy’s Café unsuccessfully sued the Millers and Giants to get the land back. The Giants held on to the property for more than 20 years, and the empty lot eventually was called Candlestick Park, the same name of the stadium the Giants built on Candlestick Point in San Francisco after moving west. When the Giants finally sold the property, they reportedly received a price more than four times as much as they had bought it for.
As all this was happening, an itch for major-league baseball was developing in the area. The Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce asked its president, Gerald Moore, to explore the possibility. Moore appointed a committee for this purpose, and the group began meeting in March of 1953, at about the same time that the Boston Braves of the National League moved to Milwaukee, the first geographic shift in major-league baseball since 1903. Up to this point, all 16 major-league teams occupied just ten cities.
A half-century of inertia had been broken, and seeing Milwaukee, another Midwestern city approximately the same size as the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, get a team made believers not just out of the burgeoning major-league committee but of Minnesota fans in general. Milwaukee found itself in a fortunate position when a major-league team was ready to move, having just built a new stadium for the minor-league Brewers; instead it was used by the big-league Braves. No thought of major-league baseball was behind the building of this new stadium, according to Milwaukee baseball historian Bob Buege. “When ground was broken for County Stadium on October 19, 1950, the clear understanding was that the park would be used by the Brewers,” Buege said. “The hope of getting major-league baseball was never even used by proponents in helping to get public funding for the ballpark.”
It soon became apparent to the Minneapolis committee that a new stadium would be needed to lure a team to Minnesota. The Twin Cities joined other cities in trying to land the St. Louis Browns. The committee offered the use of an extremely spartan stadium on the park board’s Parade Grounds, on the western edge of downtown Minneapolis, until a new stadium could be built. The Browns instead went to Baltimore in 1954 and became the Orioles, and the Minneapolis baseball committee set its sights on a new stadium before focusing on luring another team.
An impasse had already developed between Minneapolis and St. Paul interests over the site of the new stadium. In the fall of 1953, St. Paul voters approved a bond issue for a new ballpark in the Midway area of the city. The Minneapolis baseball committee went its own direction, picking a site outside the city limits on a 160-tract of land in suburban Bloomington, and an organization called the Minneapolis Minute Men was formed to raise money for the stadium. In the midst of the bond drive by the Minute Men, the Minnesota Legislature created the Metropolitan Sports Area Commission to operate the new stadium.
The Minneapolis Minute Men set a goal of $800,000 in bond sales through public subscription while another $3 million would be sold on the market to investors. The Minute Men organized into 16 teams, named after major-league teams, and each had a quota of $50,000 to reach the overall goal. The drive, when completed on March 31, 1955, had exceeded its goal by more than 50 percent, with $1,212,000 in bonds being sold. The Indians team, managed by Gunnar Rovick, had the top team sales, of $152,000 while Joe Duffy of the Indians was the individual champion, selling 100 bonds for a total of $50,000.
Sixty years before, Nicollet Park had been built in three weeks. Although the new Bloomington stadium didn’t rise as quickly, the transformation from cornfield to baseball stadium was remarkable in its rapidity.
However, the beginning of construction — scheduled for June 20, 1955 — was almost delayed because of a protest by the owners of the property on which the stadium would be built. Claiming they hadn’t yet been paid, one of the owners, Paul Gerhardt, created a barricade of farm equipment along his property line, which ran directly through where the infield of the stadium would be. However, the dispute was settled in time for the groundbreaking to go forward as planned.
A large crowd of spectators joined a number of dignitaries (who included Minneapolis Mayor Eric Hoyer but not St. Paul Mayor Joseph Dillon, who had already said his city would not support this stadium site) to see the first shovelfuls of dirt being tossed. Several members of the Minneapolis Millers came out and posed for photos as pitcher Joe Margoneri tossed balls to catcher Carl Sawatski. Player-manager Bill Rigney stood in the batter’s box while general manager Rosy Ryan assumed the duties of the umpire.
Kimmes Construction Company started the first work on the 160-acre site, performing grading, drainage, surfacing, sodding, sanitary sewer installation, and miscellaneous construction. The grading work involved the excavation of over 400,000 cubic yards of material. On September 15, as the earthwork continued, Johnson, Drake & Piper, Inc. of Minneapolis was awarded the general contract for the stadium on a bid of $2,949,200.
In late September Matty Schwab was brought in to oversee the laying of sod and work on the infield. Schwab was the groundskeeper at the Polo Grounds, the Giants’ home in New York, and was one of the most renowned in his field. (Schwab even lived in the Polo Grounds during the season, in a small apartment beneath the left-field stands.)
The first load of structural steel, supplied by the American Bridge Division of the U.S. Steel Corporation, didn’t arrive until mid-January in 1956. At the same time, Axel Ohman Company began the brick work. The structure rose quickly over the next month. Steel erection for the second and third decks began on February 10 with the placement of the first seats in the lower deck commencing a week later.
Then, on Sunday, February 26, an explosion rocked the stadium, setting off a fire on the third-base side of the grandstand that made it necessary to rebuild one section of it. The placement of the concrete had just been completed, and butane heaters were being used to warm the concrete as it cured. “Exploding tanks ripped through the concrete floor and one bomblike tank landed a few feet from the left-field fence, almost the first home run in the new stadium,” said narrator Dick Enroth in a film made by WCCO Radio and Television soon after the stadium opened. Another fire struck a set of storage shacks barely three weeks later although this did not affect the stadium itself.
Despite the setbacks, construction remained on track and on April 24, 1956 — barely ten months after groundbreaking ceremonies — the Minneapolis Millers opened Met Stadium with a game against the Wichita Braves. The stadium was still without an official name, which did not come until that July when it was announced that it would be called Metropolitan Stadium. The distances down the line to right and left were 316 feet, 3 inches, and the distance to center field was 405 feet, and the outfield was surrounded by an 8-foot-high fence. A triple-decked permanent grandstand extended only to the end of each of the dugouts, although portable seating expanded the capacity and a crowd of 18,366 attended the first game.
One of the most significant components of Met Stadium was not what it had, but what it didn’t have: posts to support decks or roofs above. By going to cantilever construction for the overhanging decks, architect Foster Dunwiddie of Thorshov and Cerny, Inc. had found a way to eliminate the posts, which often block the view of some fans in other stadiums. The expansion a few years earlier of Husky Stadium in Seattle, used by the University of Washington football team, had been recognized as the first use of cantilever construction in a sports facility. Met Stadium became the first baseball stadium in the country to take advantage of this principle.
The reason for the new stadium was not to provide better facilities for the minor-league Millers but to have a first-class stadium available for a major-league team to eventually occupy. The lure of the Met eventually achieved its objective. In October of 1960 Calvin Griffith announced he was moving his American League Washington Senators franchise to Minnesota, and, in 1961, the Minnesota Twins took the field for the first time.
According to James Quirk in “Stadiums and Major League Sports: The Twin Cities,” a 1997 Brookings Institute publication, “For the individuals holding the revenue bonds issued to finance the Met, it [the arrival of the Twins and football’s Minnesota Vikings, who also used the stadium] could not have come at a better time. Between 1956 and 1961, the Met did not earn enough to cover required interest payments on the bond, and the facility would have been in default except that certain large bondholders, civic-minded firms, and individuals agreed to wait for their money until major league sports made it to the stadium.”
Met Stadium was expanded with the coming of the major-league baseball. Originally the triple-decked grandstand extended only around the infield. With the arrival of the Twins, the first two decks were extended beyond the foul pole in right field, although a similar extension was not done in left field. Bleachers filled the gap down the left-field line beyond the permanent grandstand. A new press box was built into the second deck. The previous press quarters, on top of the third deck, were converted into six “elite” boxes, an early albeit simpler version of the luxury suites that are a staple of modern stadiums.
The outfield consisted of a series of bleachers, interrupted by a batter’s eye in center field and in right-center field by the scoreboard, with the bullpens in front of the scoreboard. In 1965 the bleachers in left field were replaced by a double-decked grandstand. (Work on the grandstand was continuing as the 1965 baseball season began, and one of the construction workers was able to corral a home-run ball hit into the stands by Elston Howard of the New York Yankees in the season opener.)
The new grandstand in left field was for the benefit of the National Football League’s Minnesota Vikings; it allowed more fans to sit along the sidelines for football games. The Twins also benefited from the extra capacity provided by the new grandstand as they hosted two major events in 1965. The first was the All-Star Game in July. An added bonus was the World Series as Minnesota won the American League pennant. The Twins lost the World Series to the Los Angeles Dodgers in seven games with the final game drawing 50,596, the only time a baseball crowd exceeded 50,000 at Met Stadium.
In addition to the Twins and Vikings and later the Minnesota Kicks soccer team, Met Stadium hosted events ranging from wrestling matches to a concert by the Beatles, who came to Minnesota on their second tour of the United States, on August 21, 1965.
Metropolitan Stadium was considered a good venue for baseball but not for football, even after the new grandstand was built in 1965. The gridiron ran from right field toward third base, with barely enough room to squeeze in the playing field and end zones. The space between the sidelines and the stands was vast.
From 1961 to 1970, the Twins generally had competitive teams and drew at least one million fans, then considered a benchmark for a successful season. The team dropped in the standings and also in attendance in 1971 and stayed down for many years.
This transition was coinciding with the rise of the Minnesota Vikings. An expansion team in 1961, the Vikings won their first division title in 1968. The following season, they made it to the Super Bowl, their first of four appearances in the Super Bowl in an eight-year span. The Vikings, not the Twins, were the hot item at Met Stadium.
Talks began regarding the remodeling of the Met to improve the sight lines for football or even building a brand-new stadium for just the Vikings. It was expected that, since Minneapolis interests had sold the bonds for the original stadium construction, funding for an upgrade for the Met would come once again from Minneapolis.
But this time the Minneapolis business community decided that, if it was going to foot the bill, it might as well have the stadium within its own city limits. One of the first proposals for a new stadium was a doozy: an 80,000-seat domed stadium exclusively for football on the northwest edge of downtown Minneapolis. The stadium would be surrounded by a 5,100-space parking ramp that would be uncovered on the top level to allow the tradition of pregame tailgating to continue. This stadium proposal was eventually derailed by the city’s Board of Estimates and Taxation.
In 1977 the Minnesota Legislature passed a no-site stadium bill. 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. However, the new stadium commission formed with the legislation opted for a multipurpose covered facility on the eastern edge of downtown Minneapolis.
The Twins, in their final years at Met Stadium, twice more topped one million in attendance, in 1977 and 1979. The 1977 season was exciting for fans because of the play of the team, which was in the title race for much of the season, and because of Rod Carew, who finished the season with a .388 batting average and was named the American League Most Valuable Player.
The biggest day of the season came on Sunday, June 26, as the Twins played the Chicago White Sox. With first place in the West Division at stake and the fans receiving a replica Carew jersey as a giveaway, a crowd of nearly 47,000 turned out for a wild game. Glenn Adams provided the early fireworks with a grand slam en route to a team-record eight RBIs in the game. The Twins took an 8-1 lead, only to have the White Sox cut the gap with six runs in the third inning. The parade across the plate continued for both teams, unimpeded by even an alcohol-laced fan who interrupted the game in the bottom of the fourth by climbing to the top of the foul pole in left field. The Twins won the game, 19-12. Carew had four hits, scored five runs, and drove in six, capping his performance in the last of the eighth inning with a home run that raised his batting average to .403 and drew another long ovation from the fans.
In 1979 the Twins stayed in the race until the final week of the season and drew one million fans for the second time since 1970 and for the last time at Met Stadium.
The final baseball game at the Met was played on September 30, 1981 with the Kansas City Royals beating the Twins 5-2. Roy Smalley popped out to end the game as well as an era of baseball on the former cornfield. The final event at the Met was a Vikings football game against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday, December 20, 1981. After the game fans in search of souvenirs ravaged the stadium, taking what wasn’t bolted down and many things that were.
Met Stadium remained partially dismantled for several years before being demolished, and remained a vacant site for several more years before a large shopping center, the Mall of America, was erected on the site. A plaque marking the spot of home plate was installed in an amusement-park area in the middle of the shopping center.
Metropolitan Stadium Lore
The Twins had a sunny but cold day for their season opener in 1965, the start of their run to the American League pennant. The somewhat nice weather was unusual for that spring, as the weather had been challenging, particularly with flooding. Four members of the Twins — Rich Rollins, Jim Kaat, Dick Stigman, and Bill Bethea (who was staying with Kaat before reporting to the Twins’ farm club in Charlotte) — lived in Burnsville and were marooned on the other side of the swollen Minnesota River. The four were taken by helicopter to and from the Met for the opener against the Yankees. Kaat started for the Twins and would have been the winning pitcher if not for a popup dropped with two out in the ninth by César Tovar, a replacement for Rollins, who had left the game in the fourth inning after twisting his knee. However, the Twins still won the game, with Tovar singling home the winning run with two out in the last of the 11th.
Weather often delayed or postponed Twins games, but a game between the Twins and Boston Red Sox at Met Stadium on the night of August 25, 1970, was interrupted for a different reason. With Tony Oliva on first base with two out in the last of the fourth and Rich Reese at bat, first-base umpire Nestor Chylak ran in toward the infield, waving his arms to call time. The interruption was explained with an announcement that the Bloomington police had been told an explosion would take place at Met Stadium at 9:30. The week before, the Old Federal Building in downtown Minneapolis had been bombed, and officials were taking no chances, although they allowed the game to start and be played until 9:15, about 45 minutes after the threat had been called in. The players congregated on the field, away from the stadium structure itself. Fans were directed to go to the parking lots. However, many of the fans, and others, found their way onto the field. The fans mingled with the players and got autographs while vendors walked through the crowd, hawking concessions. A beer vendor set his cases on second base and continued his business, quickly selling out. Few people even noticed the time when the scoreboard clock showed 9:30, the time set for the explosion, which never occurred. Twenty minutes later, fans re-entered the stadium and cleared the field, and the game resumed shortly before 10:00. The only blast of the night was from Boston’s Tony Conigliaro, who homered in the eighth inning to give the Red Sox a 1-0 victory.
This article appeared in “A Pennant for the Twin Cities: The 1965 Minnesota Twins” (SABR, 2015), edited by Gregory H. Wolf.
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 Once There Was a Ballpark, by Joe Soucheray (Edina, Minnesota: 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. It contains footage of the final game of Nicollet Park and its demolition, the groundbreaking for 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).
Beebe, Bob, “Triple-Decked Stadium Is a Construction ‘Miracle,’” Minneapolis Tribune, April 22, 1956, 16.
Briere, Tom, “Tovar Bats Twins to 5-4 Win in 11th: Yanks Fall in Game of 8 Errors,” Minneapolis Tribune, April 13, 1965, 19.
Briere, Tom, “…How Many, if by Helicopter?” Minneapolis Tribune, April 13, 1965, 19.
Cowles, John, Jr., “City Gets Stadium Bond Go-Ahead,” Minneapolis Tribune, July 1, 1954, 1.
Cullum, Dick, “Better Ball Park Means Better Ball,” Minneapolis Tribune, June 14, 1948, 22.
Cullum, Dick, “First Step Taken Toward Bringing Big League Baseball to Twin Cities,” Minneapolis Tribune, March 24, 1952, 1.
Hafrey, Danie J., “Property Owners Protest, Try to Halt Start on Stadium,” Minneapolis Tribune, June 19, 1955, 1 (Upper Midwest Section).
Hafrey, Daniel J., “Dispute on Stadium Settled,” Minneapolis Tribune, June 20, 1955, 1.
Hall, Halsey, “Glenwood-Wirth Area Picked for New Ball Park,” Minneapolis Tribune, June 10, 1949, 16.
Hall, Halsey, “Baseball Backers Dig Up Bloomington Diamond in Rough,” Minneapolis Star, June 20, 1955, 1.
Hertz, Will, “Stadium Drive Tops Goal by 51%,” Minneapolis Tribune, April 1, 1955, 1.
Hertz, Will, “Work Starts on New Baseball Stadium,” Minneapolis Tribune, June 21, 1955, 1.
Hoffbeck, Steven R., “Instamatic Memories: The Beatles in Minnesota,” Minnesota History, Spring 2007, 191-201.
Rybak, R.T., “Bid Farewell to the St. Louis Park Giants,” St. Louis Park (Minnesota) Sun, December 13, 1978.
“Millers Pick Park for Baseball Park, Will Construct All-purpose Stadium,” St. Louis Park Dispatch, December 17, 1948, 1.
“Ballpark Location Draws Fire,” Minneapolis Tribune, June 11, 1949, 22.
“Northwestern Bank Buys Nicollet Baseball Park,” Minneapolis Star, June 27, 1951, 1.
“National League Moves Braves to Milwaukee,” Minneapolis Tribune, March 19, 1953, 1.
“Fire Sweeps Stadium in Bloomington,” Minneapolis Tribune, February 27, 1956, 1.
Stadium Damage Estimated at $50,000,” Minneapolis Star, February 27, 1956, 1.
“2nd Fire Strikes New Stadium,” St. Paul Pioneer Press, March 20, 1956, 1.
“You Can’t Sit Behind Posts in New Stadium,” Minneapolis Tribune, April 22, 1956, 16.
“Take Me Out to the Ball Park,” Construction Bulletin, May 3, 1956, 52-55.
“‘Metropolitan Stadium’ Is Now Official Name,” Minneapolis Tribune, July 20, 1956, 15.
“New Look in Minneapolis,” Sports Illustrated, August 20, 1956, 36.
Correspondence with Bob Buege, February 2004.