The St. Paul Unions: Minnesota’s First Fling in the Majors

This article was written by Stew Thornley

This article was published in the 1980 Baseball Research Journal


Contrary to popular belief, so goes the old joke, the Minnesota Twins are not actually twins; one is adopted. Contrary to another commonly held belief, the Twins are not Minnesota’s first representative in major league baseball. That distinction belongs to the St. Paul Base Ball Club, which, in 1884, played nine games in the ephemeral Union Association.

In 1884 five national baseball associations were in existence; the National League, American Association, Northwestern League, Eastern League and Union Association. The first four were allied organizations and the latter was independent. The allied organizations were determined to wipe out the Union Association and threatened expulsion to any member of their various clubs who engaged in a game with clubs of the UA.

Founded by St. Louis millionaire Henry V. Lucas, who served as league president and manager of the St. Louis team, the Union Association joined the National League and American Association as major leagues, the first-time organized baseball had three major leagues. The new association challenged the reserve rule (now known as the reserve clause) and was able to lure players from the other leagues. In the end it was this theft that caused the UA’s downfall as their own players were, in turn, raided by the other leagues.

Although Macmillan’s Baseball Encyclopedia states that 12 teams started the season, only eight, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Boston, Baltimore, Chicago, Washington, Philadelphia and Altoona (Pa.) were in the UA in the beginning. Only five of the original eight, Washington, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Baltimore and Boston were still existing at the end. Altoona, after only 25 games, was the first team to fold.

The Union season opened April 18 with two games. Baltimore defeated Washington, 10-8, in Baltimore, and Philadelphia, playing at home, downed Boston, 9-6. Two days later St. Louis opened their season before 10,000 fans at the new Union Grounds in St. Louis with a 7-2 win over Chicago. They went on to win their next 19 games, as well, and quickly killed interest in the championship race.

On July 1, at a meeting of Union Association managers in Baltimore, it was decided that the UA would not respect any of the American Association contracts with players since managers of that organization had seemed determined to injure the Union clubs by seeking to get their best players. Union managers, at this time, were permitted to get players from other associations under any circumstances.

Less than three weeks later friction between the two pitching aces of the Providence Grays (N.L.) led to internal problems on the Grays that almost allowed the St. Louis Unions to pull off a major coup. Feelings of jealousy mounted between Old Hoss Radbourn and Charlie Sweeney, and on July 16 the Grays suspended Radbourn, charging him with throwing a game the previous week because “everything did not go to suit him.” Within a week of Radbourn’s suspension Sweeney left a game against Philadelphia, causing the Grays to finish the contest with only eight players on the field. Sweeney was expelled by the Grays and his name placed on the league’s blacklist.

At this time a story appeared in The New York Times reporting that Radbourn was going to jump the Grays and sign a $5,000-dollar contract with the St. Louis Unions for the remainder of 1884 and all of 1885. With southpaw Cyclone Miller the only pitcher left on the staff, the Grays faced the prospect of being forced to disband. Instead, they reinstated Radbourn, who ended up pitching Providence’s final 27 games of the season, winning 26 of them and finished the season with a won-lost record of 60-12 with 73 complete games in as many starts. St. Louis did wind up signing Sweeney, who won 24 games for them in 33 games pitched.

Meanwhile, the Northwestern League, a minor league composed of 12 teams scattered through Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois and Indiana, opened its season May 1.

The St. Paul club, decked out in white caps, shirts and stockings with red neckties and belts, received a rude welcome in their inaugural in Milwaukee. They were defeated, 13-1, in a game stopped after six innings by rain. They didn’t open at home until June 9, when they were greeted by 2000-2500 fans at the newly erected Fort Street Grounds. Quincy defeated St. Paul, 6-1, to spoil their home debut.

Most of the Northwestern League teams were financially unstable. Bay City, with a 40-13 record, was the first team to disband, on July 25, and was immediately replaced with a team in Evansville.

By August 11 only six teams, St. Paul, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Saginaw, Quincy and Evansville remained. One-week later Saginaw, Quincy and Evansville were gone. Evansville was excluded, not expelled, on account of its remoteness from the scenes of other games. The other teams were expelled for non-payment of league dues and guarantees to visiting clubs.

Winona, Minn., was added to the extant Milwaukee, Minneapolis and St. Paul franchises, and the teams’ previous won-lost records were wiped out; in effect, a new season was started.

On September 3 the Minneapolis club disbanded, leaving only three teams, and four days later the final Northwestern League game was played in Milwaukee, with the home team beating St. Paul, 3-1.

St. Paul immediately left for Omaha to begin a tour playing local teams while Milwaukee indicated a desire to finish its season in the Union Association. At that time the Wilmington Unions, in financial trouble, disbanded. Wilmington, with a 50-18 record in the Eastern League, had jointed the UA August 18; however, its best players jumped to other clubs, and it won only two of 18 games. It was rumored that the team’s collapse was caused by President Lucas’ failure to fulfill a contract which called for the league to pay Wilmington’s salaries and expenses while the club was on a western trip. The meeting of the Union Association, which was to furnish the necessary cash, was postponed from day to day, purportedly with the intent of freezing out the Wilmington club to make room for Milwaukee.

Milwaukee was admitted to the Union Association, along with St. Paul, and both teams played their first game Saturday, September 27.

St. Paul opened with a 6-1 loss before a small crowd in Cincinnati. Manager A. M. Thompson’s lineup and batting order for the first game was Scrappy Carroll, right field; Bill Barnes, middle field; Moxie Hengle, second base; Billy O’Brien, third base; Steve Dunn, first base; Charlie Ganzel, catcher; John Tilley, left field; Joe Werrick, shortstop; and Jim Brown, pitcher. Brown struck out nine batters in the game, but was victimized by four St. Paul errors, which accounted for five unearned runs.

Meanwhile, Milwaukee, playing at home, surprised Washington with a 3-0 victory, allowing the visitors only one hit. The next day, Milwaukee again shut out the Nationals, 5-0, on a no-hitter by Ed Cushman, the second gem pitched in the Union Association that year. Milwaukee went on to finish the season with an 8-4 record, good for second place behind St. Louis.

St. Paul did not enjoy the same success that fell upon their erstwhile Northwestern League adversaries. They dropped their next two games in Cincinnati before winning their first game October 5, when O’Brien shut out St. Louis, 1.0. They made it two in a row three days later when they came up with four runs in the eighth inning to defeat Kansas City, 9-5, in a game decided by fielding miscues. Kansas City committed 15 errors and St. Paul 13, six by O’Brien at third. Of the 14 runs scored in the game, only three were earned. Brown struck out seven batters and received credit for the victory.

St. Paul’s winning streak ended the following day when Kansas City beat them, 7-2. According to the Minneapolis-St. Paul Pioneer Press, Kansas City was “ably assisted by the umpire. . . Both sides played well, but the umpire (D. McManaway) was absolutely without knowledge of the game. He could not tell a foul tip from a two-base hit and was unmercifully guyed by the crowd and laughed at by the players.”

The Minnesotans played their final game October 14, losing 14-1 to St. Louis. They were scheduled to arrive in Milwaukee the following day for a series but didn’t arrive. The following day they showed up, but home in St. Paul. The Milwaukee series was called off at St. Paul’s request, and the season for the St. Paul Unions was over.

The Unions had played nine games, all on the road, and finished with a record of two wins, six losses and one tie to put them in ninth place, ahead of Altoona, Kansas City and Wilmington.

Of the 11 men who played for St. Paul, none achieved any great stardom, neither in St. Paul nor elsewhere. Ganzel played in the National League until 1897, recording a .259 batting average in 14 major league seasons, and O’Brien hit .256 over five seasons, leading the National League with 19 home runs in 1887 while playing for Washington. The major league experience of three of the players, Dunn, Barnes and reserve pitcher Lou Galvin, was limited to the time spent with the St. Paul Unions.

Siblings of a couple of the Unions achieved some notoriety. Charlie Ganzel’s borther, John, hit the first home run for the New York Highlanders (later the Yankees) franchise in 1903, and Lou

Galvin’s brother, Pud, was the first pitcher in the majors to reach the 300-victory plateau, accumulating 361 career wins in 14 seasons in the National League, American Association and Players League.

The Union Association ceased to exist after the 1884 season. The chief beneficiary of its brief appearance was Lucas, who bought what remained of the National League’s Cleveland franchise and moved it to St. Louis in 1885.

The St. Paul Base Ball Club disbanded at the end of the season. It was nearly 77 years before Minnesota would again have a major league baseball team.

 

GAME-BY-GAME RESULTS

Sep. 27 — At Cincinnati; Cincinnati 6, St. Paul 1

Sep. 30 — At Cincinnati; Cincinnati 6, St. Paul 1

Oct. 1 — At Cincinnati; Cincinnati 7, St. Paul 0

Oct. 3 — At St. Louis; St. Louis 8, St. Paul 5

Oct. 5 — At. St. Louis; St. Paul 1, St. Louis 0

Oct. 8 — At Kansas City; St. Paul 9, Kansas City 5

Oct. 9 — At Kansas City; Kansas City 7, St. Paul 2

Oct. 12 — At Kansas City; Kansas City 4, St. Paul 4

Oct. 13 — At St. Louis; St. Louis 14, St. Paul 1

 

FINAL UA STANDINGS

Team W L
St. Louis 94 19
Milwaukee 8 4
Cincinnati 69 36
Baltimore 58 47
Boston 58 51
Chicago-Pittsburgh 41 50
Washington 47 65
Philadelphia 21 46
St. Paul 2 6
Altoona 6 19
Kansas City 16 63
Wilmington 2 16

 

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