Introduction: Baseball in the North Star State

This article was written by Daniel R. Levitt

This article was published in The National Pastime: Baseball in the North Star State (Minnesota, 2012)

Summers in Minnesota are short but wonderfully pleasant. During the short season Minnesotans spend much of their time outside, and baseball has long been an important part of their summer schedule. Even before the inception of statehood in 1858, Minnesota’s residents played and watched baseball. In this volume of The National Pastime you will find the story of baseball in Minnesota: from the town of Nininger organizing a team in August 1857 to the Twins under general manager Terry Ryan.

Organized professional baseball leagues first came to Minnesota in the mid-1870s. Various professional leagues then struggled to gain a permanent foothold until the American Association—one step below the majors—was organized in the early 1900s. The  Minneapolis Millers and St. Paul Saints captured the interest of Twin Cities baseball fans for nearly 60 years, and their streetcar-connected holiday twin bills—a game in the morning in one city and the afternoon in the other—highlighted the rivalry between the two cities and their teams. Finally, in 1961 the state had only one team to root for at the highest level when the Washington Senators moved to the Twin Cities and became the Minnesota Twins. Popular and successful throughout the 1960s, the team finally rewarded its fans with World Championships in 1987 and 1991.

Of course, there was much more to baseball in Minnesota than the majors and top minor leagues. The Northern League generated a strong following in several of Minnesota’s outstate cities. The University of Minnesota can boast a terrific baseball tradition, as can a number of smaller public and private colleges. For many years black players struggled for opportunities to play, occasionally working their way onto some integrated teams outside of Organized Baseball. Women, also, found opportunities to play the game. Inside, you’ll find these stories, too.

One of the pleasures of working on this book was getting to work with some of area’s foremost baseball historians, as the authors of the articles were universally timely, courteous, and helpful. In many ways this publication is a product of the Halsey Hall chapter, one of SABR’s most active and involved—although I may be a bit biased. Bob Tholkes, Minnesota’s expert on early baseball, reviewed a number of articles and otherwise helped edit and improve this volume. Another nineteenth and early twentieth century historian who knows more about baseball in Northern Minnesota than anyone else I know, Rich Arpi, reviewed several articles. Twins blogger and noted authority John Bonnes reviewed several, as did Mark Armour, chair of SABR’s biography project and a terrific writer and historian, even if not from Minnesota. Lastly, I need to thank Stew Thornley, Minnesota’s preeminent baseball historian, for taking the time to review the vast majority of the articles in this volume and offer his insights and support.

Along with a terrific lineup of articles, you will find a great assortment of interesting and unique images and photographs. Foremost thanks go to the Minnesota Twins, the Minnesota Historical Society, and the Star Tribune for letting us dig through their archives and allowing us to use their photos. Others who helped with images and photos include Fred Buckland, who graciously allowed us to use some of his postcards, Joel Rippel, the National Baseball Hall of Fame, several of the colleges and universities mentioned in the book, and many of the authors who contributed photographs for their articles. In addition, Dave Jensen was a big help in finding photos and tracking down permissions.

From the national SABR team, Cecilia Tan was a great help, letting me bounce my many questions off her and offering guidance and support. Fact-checker Cliff Blau proved tremendously valuable; his ability to rapidly turn around articles and correct errors on every subject was truly astounding.

The book you are holding tells the story of baseball in Minnesota, from the grand scope to the fascinating vignette. Turn the page and dig.

DANIEL R. LEVITT is the author of “The Battle That Forged Modern Baseball: The Federal League Challenge and Its Legacy,” released in the spring of 2012 by Rowman & Littlefield under its Ivan R. Dee imprint. He is also the author of “Ed Barrow: The Bulldog Who Built the Yankees’ First Dynasty,” a Seymour Medal finalist and co-author of “Paths to Glory: How Great Baseball Teams Got that Way,” winner of The Sporting News-SABR Baseball Research Award. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife and two boys.