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Wednesday
Jul032019

Millers vs. Saints: A Streetcar Rivalry

Article by Michael Rainville, Jr.

Baseball runs deep in the Twin Cities. Currently, the Minnesota Twins and St. Paul Saints sit atop their respective divisions and are having historic seasons. They might be in separate leagues now, but there was a time when Minneapolis and St. Paul had one of baseball’s most heated rivalries. Since the 1890’s, various teams have used the nicknames Millers and Saints, but it wasn’t until 1902 when a minor league baseball league, the American Association, was founded with the Minneapolis Millers and St. Paul Saints being two of the eight inaugural teams.

The first iteration of the Minneapolis Millers started playing baseball in 1884, and from then until the first season of the American Association in 1902, they were in four minor leagues and one major league, the American League. However, before they could play a game in the American League, the Minneapolis team was abandoned for a team in Baltimore. The St. Paul Saints were also in multiple leagues before joining the American Association. The Saints, too, were one of the first members of the American League, but before the first major league season kicked off, the owner, Charlie Comiskey, moved the team to his childhood neighborhood in Chicago and changed their name to the Chicago White Stockings. So, technically the three World Series titles the White Sox have from 1906, 1917, and 2005 have roots in St. Paul.

On April 23rd, 1902, the longest lasting and most well-known iterations of the Minneapolis Millers and St. Paul Saints opened the first season of the American Association on the road in Ohio. The Millers shutout the Columbus Senators 5-0, and the Saints lost a close one to the Toledo Mudhens 8-7. As the years and decades rolled on, the rivalry between the two teams grew to become the hottest ticket in the cities. “Streetcar double-headers” were very common during the season, with the teams playing a game in the morning, the fans taking the Lake Street – Marshall Avenue trolley line to the next city over, and then watching an afternoon game.

The ballparks of the Millers and Saints were arguably as iconic as the teams themselves. Located on the block between Nicollet and Blaisdell Avenues and 31st and Lake Streets, Nicollet Park, home of the Millers, was built in 1896 and upgraded from wood to steel and concrete in 1912. Initially the ballpark was known as Wright Field, in honor of one of the founding fathers of baseball, Harry Wright. While the name was not the most creative, the local newspapers would have fun with it. A reporter noted a homerun during a game by saying the ball was “knocked by the right-fielder, across right field, out of Wright Field.” What a zinger. In 1955, the Millers won the American Association in their final year at Nicollet Park, and they played their last five seasons as a franchise at the new Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington.

Installation of lights at Lexington Park in 1937

Entrance to Nicollet Park in 1955 

The Saints played in the legendary Lexington Park, located between University and Fuller Avenues and Lexington Parkway and Dunlap Street. Opened in 1897, the wooden structure caught on fire in 1915 and was quickly replaced with steel and concrete. In 1937 both Lexington Park and Nicollet Park added lights to their stadiums, and on July 15th and 16th, the Millers and Saints played against each other for their stadium’s first night games. In the final game at Lexington Park 1956, the Saints defeated the Millers. The Saints would play their last four season in the new Midway Stadium, which later became the first home to the current iteration of the St. Paul Saints.

Willie Mays in a Millers jersey in 1951

Throughout the seasons both teams have seen many hall-of-famers come and go. The Millers were minor league affiliates to the Boston Red Sox and the New York Giants, and saw legendary players like Ted Williams, Willie Mays, and Carl Yastrzemski play for them and make their way up to the majors where they became some of the best outfielders to ever play the game. The Saints were affiliates to the Chicago White Sox and the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers, and saw players like Lefty Gomez, Roy Campanella, and Don Zimmer grace the field at Lexington Park.

Roy Campanella rounding the bases after hitting a home run at Nicollet Park in 1948

The Millers-Saints rivalry was always intense, but their affiliations with the Giants and Dodgers only added fuel to the fire and raised the stakes for the streetcar double-headers. The two teams were beloved by everyone in the Twin Cities for sixty plus years, but the arrival of the Minnesota Twins was their ultimate demise. The Millers folded and the Saints moved to Omaha, but all good things must come to an end. The Twins have won the World Series two times, maybe three, ask me in four months, and the Saints have one of the most beautiful ballparks in the country in CHS Field. Minneapolis and St. Paul may not have the baseball rivalry they once had, but now is a tremendous time to be a baseball fan in the Twin Cities.

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About Michael Rainville, Jr.

A 6th generation Minneapolitan, Michael Rainville Jr. received his B.A. in History from the University of St. Thomas, and is currently enrolled in their M.A. in Art History and Certificate in Museum Studies programs.

Michael is also an intern at the Hennepin History Museum and a lead guide at Mobile Entertainment LLC, giving Segway tours of the Minneapolis riverfront for 6+ years.

He can be reached at mrainvillejr@comcast.net.

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