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Twin Cities baseball once meant streetcar doubleheaders

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The great rivalry of the Millers and Saints

startribune.com

Baseball is returning 1878 style! It will have a 60-game season, just like it did 142 years ago. There was no baseball in Minnesota at the time, but it came shortly after (1884 to be exact). The Minneapolis Millers came first, and then the St. Paul Saints would follow ten years later. However, it was evident from the start no love would be shown between the two fanbases.

The rivalry started in the 1890s (when the fans thought throwing rocks at the players would be a good idea.) The Western League would give the teams an opportunity to face off but the American Association in the early 1900s gave Minnesota a yearly treat.

Being in a new league would not slow the tension as on-field brawls would ensue into the late 1920s. Of course, I should go ahead and mention that both teams saw great on-field success. The American Association was home to the St. Paul Saints from 1901-1960 and the Minneapolis Millers from 1902-1960. The Millers would take home nine league titles, while the Saints would take eight. Even though the Millers had more success, the Saints had some of the greatest minor league teams ever in the 1920s. Most importantly, they took home the 1924 Little World Series.

The Little World Series was between champions of two of the three highest minor leagues. It was called this until 1932, then the name was changed to the Junior World Series. The Millers won that championship in 1955 and 1958. Was this the most underrated rivalry in baseball during the first half of the 20th century? I believe so.

Independence Day and Labor Day would bring a streetcar double-header. It was called this because fans rode streetcars between the team’s day/night doubleheaders (first night game in 1937). Imagine yourself in the late 1930s. During a day game, you’d witness a hard-fought game at Lexington Park. Then you could take a streetcar over to Nicollet Park and watch a wild night game. There was no way it would be boring as the fans believed the fight must go on. Yes, the issue of fans interfering with players went on for many years in this heated affair.

The good news is that both parks had a happy ending. In 1955, the Millers won the Junior World Series in their final game at the historic Nicollet Park. Even though Lexington Park did not have the same appeal, the Saints would win their final game there in 1956. The final win was against the arch-nemesis from Minneapolis.

The Millers would go on to play their last five seasons in the brand-new Metropolitan Stadium. St. Paul would finish out its last four seasons at Midway Stadium. After the 1960 season, the Millers and Saints ceased to exist. The news broke that the Washington Senators franchise was coming to Minnesota. This meant bad news for the two minor league teams in town. Although this became the best way for the Twin Cities to unite and rally behind one team.

A rivalry that started in the late 1800s ended abruptly. At least, it had for some of the fans that were not paying attention. Metropolitan Stadium was not built for a minor league team. The grand vision was to have a major league team come into Minnesota—and Calvin Griffith loved the idea of relocating to the Twin Cities (although his motivation for doing so was certainly questionable.)

This is the earliest roots of the Minnesota Twins. Without the Millers and Saints, we would not have the Twins. The streetcar double-headers paved the way for Minnesota to hold up two World Series crowns. So, close your eyes and take a trip back to 1937. It might be chaotic but you could have seen a one of a kind match-up between the Twin Cities.