Millers Topped Minors in Odd Protested Games

This article was written by Stew Thornley

This article was published in 1984 Baseball Research Journal

When the Minneapolis Millers packed up their spikes and shin guards for the final time following the 1960 American Association season, they had racked up 4,800 victories against 4,366 losses since the formation of the league in 1902. This represented a .524 winning percentage, best by far of all the teams which had ever played in the Association.

The Millers held the top spot in the league with 37 first-division finishes over the years and shared the lead for pennants won nine – with the St. Paul Saints. Minneapolis hosted the American Association All-Star Game four times, more than any other city. In addition, the Millers held the distinction of being the only Association team never to finish in the cellar.

There is one category — protested games – for which no official statistics were kept. Had there been, the Millers might have found themselves No. 1 in this department as well.

Over the years, the Millers displayed an uncanny knack for winding up in the middle of games which were formally protested. By the mid-1950s, they had even found a partner, the Omaha Cardinals, in what almost seemed a determined effort to make league president Ed Doherty’s job as difficult as possible.

The teams’ first encounter in this activity occurred on August 23, 1955. Trailing by 13-8 entering the top of the ninth inning, the Millers rallied for eight runs to post an apparent 16-13 victory. But, during the ninth-inning uprising, Omaha skipper Johnny Keane lodged a protest when Minneapolis player-manager Bill Rigney entered the game as a pinch-hitter.

The National Association’s rules at the time stated: “A player-manager cannot be placed on the active list more than once during a season.” Rigney had been activated by the Millers as a spare infielder and pinch-hitter on three separate occasions in 1955. President Doherty, while acknowledging his part in allowing Rigney’s name on the active roster when it actually was illegal, declared Rigney ineligible and ordered the game replayed from the point of protest.

(Had the Toledo Sox been as familiar with the National Association rules as Keane was, they might have avoided a loss two weeks earlier when Rigney beat them with a pinch-homer in the ninth, knocking the Sox 4½ games out of first place and giving the Millers their eighth victory in what was to become a 15-game winning streak that vaulted Minneapolis into first place to stay.)

But even Keane’s rule-book acumen was not enough to save the Cardinals, for when the protested game resumed two nights later, Don Bollweg’s three-run homer gave the Millers a 16-14 win.

This protest, however, turned out to be only a warmup for what was to come a month later. After capturing the American Association pennant, the Millers swept the Denver Bears in the opening playoff round, then faced Omaha to determine who would advance to the Junior World Series against the champions of the International League.

After the Millers won the first two games at Nicollet Park in Minneapolis, the series shifted to Omaha for a Saturday night game. In contrast to the slug-fests of the two earlier contests, game three was a tight pitching duel. It was scoreless after six innings, and Cardinal starter Stu Miller had yet to allow a hit when he faced Monte Irvin leading off the Minneapolis seventh. Irvin took a half-swing at an 0-1 pitch, and third-base umpire Bob Stewart, without waiting for a request for help from plate umpire Eddie Taylor, signaled that Irvin had gone far enough with his swing for the pitch to be called a strike. Taylor nevertheless stuck to his guns and ruled the pitch a ball, bringing Stu Miller off the mound to ask why he refused to accept Stewart’s call. Invoking a league rule calling for the automatic ejection of any pitcher protesting a ball or strike decision, Taylor threw Miller out of the game.

The Omaha fans, seeing their pitcher ejected while working on a no-hitter, began hurling seat cushions and other debris on the field. It took three policemen to pack off one large, unsteady fan who charged onto the diamond. Even general manager Bill Bergesch (now general manager of the Cincinnati Reds) got into the act, asking the arbiters to consult with Doherty, who was in the box seats. The umpires consented, and Doherty, overruling Taylor, allowed Miller to stay in the game. This brought Rigney out of the Minneapolis dugout to announce his intent to protest the game should the Millers lose.

When play resumed, Stu Miller retired Irvin and Rance Pless, but lost his no-hitter and shutout when Bob Lennon, who had hit 64 home runs for Nashville in the Southern Association the previous year, sent a towering fly over the 380-foot mark in left-center.

The Millers’ Whitey Konikowski, also pitching well, had given up only two hits until Omaha catcher Dick Rand homered with one away in the eighth to tie the score. One out later, Wally Lammers singled and Don Blasingame homered to right. The scoring ended there, Omaha coming away a 3-1 victor to pull within one game of the Millers in the series.

With Minneapolis’ protest still pending, president Doherty called the opposing managers and the four umpires together for a midnight conference at a downtown hotel. At that point Doherty overturned his earlier decision and upheld the protest, ordering the game replayed from the seventh inning on, with a one-ball, one-strike count on Irvin and Stu Miller ejected from the game. Ironically, this meant that Miller’s no-hitter was once again intact, although he would not be allowed the chance to complete it.

Omaha immediately protested Doherty’s action, appealing the ruling to the directors of the other Association clubs, but the directors backed Doherty. Just before the start of the game the following afternoon the Cardinals protested again on the grounds that “not sufficient time was taken in arriving at a decision on Rigney’s original protest.” This final challenge did not worry the Millers because it would require a meeting of the National Association executive committee to rule on Omaha’s latest appeal, and that body was not scheduled to convene for several months.

This bizarre series of protests sparked memories among old-timers of the grand-daddy protest of them all the infamous “Play of Six Decisions” which occurred in the 1932 Junior World Series between the Millers and Newark Bears. It was the first time that Minneapolis had represented the American Association in the inter-league series.

The fifth game of that deadlocked series was tied, 8-8, in the top of the ninth inning at Nicollet Park. With two out and runners at the corners, Newark’s Johnny Neun laced a low liner into short left-center. Center fielder Harry Rice seemingly captured the drive with a diving, backhanded stab and slid on the ground for a considerable distance before coming up with the ball. Both the second and third base umpires signaled out. This brought a group of protesting Bears, led by Manager Al Mamaux, out of the Newark dugout. After listening to the Newark arguments, the umpires huddled and reversed their decision, ruling that Rice had dropped the ball, which allowed the go-ahead run to score. Out charged Miller skipper Donie Bush demanding an explanation. Again the umpires called an impromptu conference, and again they came out with a different decision, ruling once more that Rice had caught the ball, which, of course, brought a return of Mamaux to the field.

This scene continued – the arbiters listening to the remonstrations of the offended manager, huddling and emerging from the convocation with a ruling opposite of their previous call -until a total of six decisions had been made and the game had been delayed 40 minutes. Bush finally ended the rhubarb by announcing his intent to formally protest the ruling, rather than trying to persuade the men in blue to reverse their decision one more time. A pursuit of the latter option might have proven more productive because a vote of the league executives, composed of an equal number of representatives from the American Association and International League, ended in a partisan deadlock, allowing the Bears’ 12-9 win to stand. The next day a three-run, ninth-inning rally gave the Bears the game, 8-7, and the series, four games to two.

The 1955 Millers, receiving a more agreeable ruling on their protest, took advantage of it. When the protested game in Omaha resumed, Bob Tiefenauer took Stu Miller’s place on the mound and induced Irvin to ground his first pitch to shortstop Dick Schofield. But Schofield booted the ball for an error and Irvin was safe at first. Pless followed with a sacrifice, bringing up

Lennon, whose home run the night before (which was erased from the official records by the protest) had been the first hit for the Millers. This time he tripled off the center-field fence 400 feet away – narrowly missing another home run – to score Irvin and give himself the possible distinction of being the first player ever to break up a no-hitter twice in the same game. Lennon was squeezed home by Dave Garcia, and the Millers added five runs in the eighth en route to a 7-2 win. Minneapolis then took the regularly-scheduled game, 7-3, to sweep the four-game series and move on to the Junior World Series for the first time since the 1932 encounter with Newark.

Aided by’ the protest, the Millers became the first team in American Association history to win eight straight playoff games. They made it nine in a row with an opening victory in the Junior Series versus the International League champion Rochester Red Wings. The series went the limit with the Millers winning the decisive seventh game, 9-4. The contest also marked the last hurrah for 60-year-old Nicollet Park, which was slated for the wrecking ball at season’s end.

In 1959, with the Millers then playing at spacious Metropolitan Stadium in suburban Bloomington, Minneapolis and Omaha decided to give Ed Doherty one last headache before departing.

Meeting in the opening round of the American Association playoffs, the teams split the first four games. In game five at the Met on September 15, a young second baseman activated by the Millers just before game time to replace service-bound Lee Howell hustled home with the winning run in the last half of the tenth inning. The incident sparked a rhubarb in which Omaha pitcher Frank Barnes had to be restrained from attacking umpire Tom Bartos, who had made the call on the close play at the plate.

The arbiter’s decision on the play stood, but after the game Omaha general manager, Bergesch announced he was protesting the game for another reason: the eligibility of the new second baseman. Ruling that the player had not been certified for eligibility until September 18, president Doherty upheld another Minneapolis – Omaha protest and ordered the entire game replayed.

The next night the Millers won the replay, as well as the regularly-scheduled contest, to capture the league semi-final series without the services of their new second baseman, Carl Yastrzemski.

With Yaz officially eligible two days later, the Millers went on to defeat the Fort Worth Cats for the league championship before bowing to the Havana Sugar Kings in seven games in the Junior World Series.

Omaha dropped out of the American Association following the 1959 season. Thirteen months later, Calvin Griffith’s announcement that he would transfer the Washington Senators’ franchise to Minnesota signaled the end of the Minneapolis Millers. Ed Doherty was one man who would not miss them.