Friday night in Miesville, Minnesota: Home of the Mudhens.
Moonlight Graham would approve.
As I said to Bella in yesterday’s comment section. Perhaps all I needed to get hooked on a computer game was to find one appropriately pretentious enough. Which is why it’s not enough to just play Strat-o-matic baseball. No, I am playing the games using the major league teams from the 1909 baseball season. Oddly enough, having read several books about the dead ball era, like The Glory of Their Times, and Crazy 08, I am more familiar with the players from 1909 than I am with the current major leaguers. If that’s not pretentious, then I don’t understand the meaning of the word.
Which is all a lead in to saying that I spent my hour of free time last night playing games instead of writing a blog post. So today’s posting is going to be light on words, and heavy on pictures. I’m turning the dial of the Wayback Machine to 1909. It’s time to put on your bowler hats folks, we’re gong to the ball game.
and that’s enough for one day. All photos are from the Library of Congress. I’ve downloaded them over the years because, obviously. Click on them. Some of them have amazing detail.
OK, yeah, I know I said I was on hiatus, but I have been thinking about the pending move of the Muckdogs out of Batavia and what the future might hold. So I felt the need to post on it, since I have already posted several times on the subject.
Judging from the tone of some of the recent articles, and interviews with the staff of the Red Wings who are currently operating the ‘Dogs, it is becoming apparent that the Muckdog’s days are numbered. The trend within Minor League baseball has been to move small, Class A affiliates out of small towns and rural areas, and put them in suburbs of larger urban areas to reach a larger fanbase, sell more tickets, and consequently make more money. This trend began back in the 90’s when MLB placed new requirements on the minor league clubs that their stadiums meet certain minimum specs. The result of the rule was that many of the clubs in smaller towns were forced to either rebuild their stadiums, or move to an area with newer facilities. For a lot of these small towns the $ required to build new parks were just not feasible. Meanwhile, other towns scrambled to update their stadiums to keep their teams. (Batavia and Auburn are two examples of rebuilt stadiums from this time).
As the years have progressed, the costs of owning and operating a minor league club have risen to the point that the small NY Penn league teams have struggled to keep their head above water. Gradually MLB woke up to the possibilities of milking more $$ out of their minor league system. The result has been a steady “corporatization” of minor league ball that has driven up the interest in owning and operating minor league clubs. This demand for minor league teams has resulted in the sale and move of many of the remaining small town teams. Last year it was Oneonta club that was sold and relocated to suburban Connecticut. Batavia seems to be the next in line with Auburn not far behind.
I have lamented this corporatization before, but in the last year have come to grudging acceptance of the fate. Economic trends like this do not change quickly. They move in like a tide, and recede only gradually. I can’t foresee it changing. The Muckdogs will be moved, this year, or next, or the year after. It is inevitable. So I began to think, what would life be like after the Muckdogs? Would Dwyer Stadium sit vacant, hosting only high school, and community college baseball, or is there future life in it yet? It’s a wonderful little facility, and it would be a shame to see a community asset like that go to waste. So I decided to do some investigation, and see what has become of the other towns that were once a part of the NY Penn league, but have lost their teams through the years.
So what has become of Oneonta, Geneva, Niagara Falls, Elmira, Little Falls, Watertown, Hornell, and the other 12 cities that once were home to NY Penn league franchises. The result surprised me. The New York Collegiate Baseball League has been around since 1978. (Who knew?) It is a summer wood bat league for collegiate baseball players to get a feel for the demands and style of minor league baseball while maintaining their amateur status. There are actually quite a few of these leagues in existence.
Perhaps it shouldn’t have surprised me. Collegiate Summer baseball is about the only “minor” league baseball left in Minnesota and Wisconsin, aside from the Independent St. Paul Saints. Such classic minor league stadiums and cities as Eau Claire, Wisconsin have hosted Collegiate Summer teams in the Northwoods League since the mid 90’s. Collegiate Summer baseball has grown to fill in the void left by Minor League Baseball as the farm clubs have moved out of small cities and towns in rural areas as the operating costs of running a team are lower. Attendance seems to fall into the Mouckdog average of 1,400 / game, for communities of similar size. The quality of the baseball is surprisingly good, and many of the players in the Northwoods League have gone on to the majors.
So, will Batavia follow in the footsteps of Oneonta, Geneva, Niagara Falls, Elmira, Little Falls, Watertown, and Hornell, and make the jump from the NY Penn to the NYCBL? It’s an interesting thought, and an idea that excites me the more I think about it. Is there an ownership group out there that would step forward to bankroll the startup of a team? Could Batavia pull it off without missing a season? I see no reason why we couldn’t. B-town is every bit as capable of supporting a team as any of the towns mentioned above. Heck, Batavia is even more capable as it brings with it a more modern, and up to date facility than many of the towns that have NYCBL clubs.
Best of all, it wouldn’t take a million dollars to make it happen. Anyone out there willing to go in on putting an ownership group together drop me a line. I’m in.
OK, I said I wasn’t posting this week, but I came across a great article in today’s Red Star Tribune on the history of the Minneapolis Armory. Since this is one of the few remaining “old time” sports stadiums left in the Twin Cities, I had hoped to eventually do a posting on it. Now I don’t have to! Enjoy…
In the spirit of equal opportunity, I would be remiss if I didn’t write a post about the long time home of the Minneapolis Millers. So as a follow up to my posting on the St. Paul Saints ballparks, here are some pictures, as well as a little story telling about the most beloved home of the Millers, old Nicollet Park.
As I mentioned in the previous posts, the Millers have been around in various forms since their founding in 1884, as part of the short lived Northwestern League. When the league folded the Millers were absorbed into the newly formed Western League. This version of the Millers lasted until 1891, when they folded. The name was resurrected in 1894 with the re-founding of the Western League by Ban Johnson and Charles Comiskey.
During these years the Millers kicked around to a lot of different places in town before finding a home at Athletic Park in 1889. Athletic Park was on the corner of Sixth Street and First Avenue North, behind the opulent West Hotel which opened in 1884. A location that is only a few blocks away from Target Field, the new home of the Minnesota Twins. According the definitive historian of Minneapolis Baseball, Stew Thornley, Athletic Park was a tiny little bandbox of a place with outfield distances only 250 ft. at the foul lines.
The Millers were evicted from this prime piece of real estate in mid season in 1896. As a result they moved to a residential area on the corner of Nicollet Ave. and Lake Street. This new field would become their home for the next 59 years, and the Millers opened it by winning the Western League pennant in their first season at Nicollet Park.
When the Western League made the jump into the majors in 1900, and renamed itself the American League, Minneapolis was one of the franchises that was abandoned. In 1902 the team was reborn as a charter member of the minor league American Association where it would remain until the Twins came to town.
To my eyes, the park didn’t look like much. Just the prototypical square of grass, with wooden bleachers crammed inside of a city block, and a high right field fence to make up for the short distance. But to Minneapolitans, the place seems to be the one park that they are the most nostalgic for.
As for distinguishing features, the one that sticks out the most is the red tile roofed, English-Tudor style building that served as the entrance to the park. An odd choice of architectural style for a ball park, but one that fit well with the period houses in the neighborhood.
The park played host to many home & home double headers against the cross town Saints. By the late 40’s and 50’s the Millers were the AAA club of the NY Giants, and the Saints represented the rival Brooklyn Dodgers. These trolley series a a big part of local baseball lore.
The park initially sat around 4,000 but would be expanded to 10,000 by 1911, and added onto several times over the years. By the 1950’s, the AAA Millers had outgrown the place and began searching for a place to build a new, modern stadium. A site was purchased in St. Louis Park, but opposition by the neighborhood prevented the team from breaking ground. Finally, local businessmen led a bond drive, to raise funds to build a stadium in suburban Bloomington and Metropolitan Stadium was born.
The Millers moved in for the 1956 season, but their days were numbered. The Met had been built with the purpose of luring a major league team to the Twin cities. After several failed attempts, the local business leaders finally convinced Calvin Griffith to move his Washington Senators franchise to town, the Met was expanded, and the Minnesota Twins were born. As stadiums go, the Met was a very functional place, but it lacked the charm of Nicollet Park. Few of the erector set stadiums of the 1950’s ever developed much of a following. The lone exception being the late County Stadium in Milwaukee, which I once had the great pleasure of catching a game at. But that’s a post for another time.
As I said in a previous post, the St. Paul Saints baseball club have been around in various incarnations since the 1880’s. As early as 1884 they were a part of the major league “Union Association” which lasted just one year before disbanding. They reappeared as a minor league team in the Western League in 1894, and almost made the jump to the American League. But history would pass them by, and they would remain as a founding member of the Minor League version of the American Association in 1900.
Throughout their existence they played in several different parks around St. Paul. Their first home in 1884 was the Fort Street grounds, located near what is now West 7th Street and St. Clair Avenue. From 1888 to 1892, the minor league version of the Saints played across the river from downtown St. Paul, in a park on State Street. When Charles Comiskey moved his Western League incarnation of the Saints into St. Paul, they played their games at the Dale and Aurora Grounds, also known as “Comiskey Park”. This wooden ball park was built by Comiskey between Dale and St. Albans street, and Aurora and Fuller Avenues. The neighbors in the area weren’t too happy about games being played on Sunday, and by 1897 the Saints had moved again to Lexington Park, at the corner of Lexington and University Ave., the place that would be their home for almost 60 years, with the exception of stint from 1902 to 1909 when they played their weekday games at a tiny little park known as the Pillbox, near the State Capitol.
Lexington Park was located on the southwest corner of University and Lexington Ave. Like most wooden parks at the time, Lexington Park burned in 1908, and again in 1915. After 1915 it was rebuilt in the configuration it would remain in for another 40 years. The one shown in these pictures.
The park would receive lights in 1937 for night baseball, and grow in little increments, but for the most part it remained unchanged until the Saints left in 1956. By the mid 50’s St. Paul was the AAA franchise of the mighty Brooklyn Dodgers, and their crosstown rivals the Millers were the franchise of the NY Giants. This only served to increase the rivalry.
As both cities began to lobby for a major league franchise, first the Millers and then the Saints broke ground for new, modern facilities that could be expanded to accommodate a major league team. The Saints opened their new park, Midway Stadium, in 1956. It was located on the east side of Snelling Avenue, between the railroad tracks near what is now Energy Park drive.
The park seated a little over 10,000, and was built with the intention to expand it for accommodating a major league team. It opened on Thursday, April 25, 1957.
As the 50’s came to a close, both Minneapolis and St. Paul were trying to obtain a franchise in the soon to be formed Continental League, a planned 3rd major league being planned to start play in 1961. A franchise was granted to Minneapolis-St. Paul, and disputes began about whether the team would play at Midway Stadium, or the Millers new Metropolitan Stadium in suburban Bloomington. Ultimately it didn’t matter. The Continental League folded before it began, when the American League announced it would move the Washington franchise to Minnesota, and replace them with an expansion franchise in D.C. (Senators), and add an expansion team in Los Angeles (Angels). The National League also announced the addition of expansion teams in New York (Mets) and Houston (Colt .45’s).
Metropolitan Stadium was chosen by Calvin Griffith as the new home for his Washington Senators, and renamed them the Minnesota Twins. As a result both the Minneapolis Millers and the St. Paul Saints would disband. Midway Stadium continued to play host to local high school and college baseball and football games until 1981 when it was finally torn down. A concrete new stadium was built on the west side of Snelling Ave. , to serve the same purpose. Originally called Municipal Stadium, it was later renamed Midway Stadium, and became the home of the new St. Paul Saints independent minor league baseball team in 1993.
The story of the new Saints is well know, and several books have been written about how “Rebel” baseball in the early 1990’s gave new life to minor league baseball, and led to a renaissance of outdoor ballparks springing up all over the country. I moved to town the same year as the Saints return, and enjoyed many warm summer evenings in the mid 90’s drinking Pig’s Eye beer, and watching ball while the Twins struggled to fill out the sterile dome.
Since that time the Twins have enjoyed a renaissance of their own, and despite lobbying for a new Twins Stadium, and later a new Saints stadium on the riverfront in downtown St. Paul, the inelegant concrete bunker that is new Midway Stadium remains the home of baseball in St. Paul.
I’ve always loved this old Twins logo. Drawn in 1960 by Ray Barton for a reported $15, this logo has seen a rebirth at the new ballpark. The “Two Guys” are known as Minnie and Paul, and they represent more than just a pair of Twins. They also honor the history of professional baseball in the twin cities, which dates back to the 1800’s. Like all 19th century histories things get a little hazy where “pre-modern” baseball leagues are concerned. This is just one of the many reasons that the sport of baseball is so ripe for fiction and fantasy. Its beginnings are so obscure, and mystical that the sport lends itself well to legends and mysteries.
The Major Leagues as we know them really didn’t exist until the beginning of the 1900’s. Before that, there was a series of professional leagues that existed, overlapped, and interbred into what we now know as the American and National Leagues. While the current National League traces its roots back to 1876, when it was founded to replace the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, the American League wasn’t founded until 1901.
What became the American League, was initially a minor league known as the ‘Western League”. The Western League was founded in 1885, as a collection of minor league teams in the Midwest. As a native New Yorker, it always strikes me as odd that back then the Midwest was really considered to be “The West”. I guess back then the days of teepees and buffalo on the great plains were still fresh in everyone’s mind.
Minnesota’s connection to the Western League began with the founding of the Minneapolis Millers. In 1894 the Twin Cities became home to two franchises when none other than Charles Comiskey bought the Sioux City franchise, and moved them to St. Paul and christened them the Saints. The bitter rivalry between Minneapolis and St. Paul was immediate and lasting. Having cross town clubs playing in the same league made for great newspaper sales, and civic pride, and would eventually create some difficulty when the Major League finally did return in 1961.
In 1899 the National League decided to cut back from 12 to 8 teams, and disbanded its franchises in Baltimore, Cleveland, Louisville, and Washington. The Western League saw its opportunity and quickly expanded into those cities to fill the void. But Minnesota’s chance at the major leagues would have to wait for another 60 years. The league elected to abandon Minneapolis for larger eastern markets, and Charles Comiskey relocated his St. Paul club to Chicago, and the Chicago White Stockings were born. As a Twins fan, this is yet another reason to hate the Whities.
While the major leagues had left both of the Twin Towns behind, baseball never really left. Both the Saints and the Millers were reborn in minor league forms into the new American Association, and the rivalry continued. It is this rivalry that is represented by the “two guys” standing in the logo, shaking hands across the river. For when locals began angling for a major league team in the 1950’s there was much debate over where to locate the team. A peace accord was reached when Clark Griffith decided to move his Washington Senators team to Minnesota, and both the Saints and the Millers were disbanded. The new team was named Minnesota, rather than Minneapolis or St. Paul, to appease fans on both sides of the river. They would play their games in Bloomington, in an expanded version of the Millers new Metropolitan Stadium which had been built in 1956. The Saints new field in St. Paul, the 3 year old Midway Stadium, would sit vacant, and eventually be torn down in 1981.
Of course, the Twins would eventually leave the erector set of Metropolitan Stadium for the marshmallow roofed confines of the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, and now the glorious jewel box we call Target Field. But there is much more to the history of ballparks in Minneapolis-St. Paul than those three parks.
Coming soon. A short illustrated history of the Saints and Millers ball parks.