How would you like a starting outfield of Willie Mays, Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski?
You could have that trio if you were selecting an all-star team of the one-time Minneapolis Millers — the city’s Class AAA minor league franchise before the Twins arrived in 1961. St. Paul had its own AAA franchise, and the two teams were bitter rivals in the American Association for 59 years. For more than a decade in the 1940s and ’50s, the Saints were the top farm club of the Dodgers and the Millers of the Giants, and it’s been said that much of the animosity between the major league organizations started in the Twins Cities.
The Saints and Millers had the best winning percentages in the AAA league and shared the league record by each winning nine pennants. The Millers played at Nicollet Park and the Saints at Lexington Park, only seven miles part. The highlights of every season were the holiday doubleheaders, with a morning game at one ballpark and the afternoon game at the other.
In a league only a step below the majors, more than 20 former Millers and Saints are enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Picking all-time teams for the Millers and Saints is a delicate balance of those who achieved greater prominence in the majors, and players who were outstanding locally even if they aren’t widely remember for achievements in the big leagues.
Here’s one person’s look at the all-time teams for each franchise:
Outfielders: Yastrzemski, Williams, Mays.
Mays’ stay in Minneapolis was brief because it was so spectacular. He was batting .477 after 35 games in 1951 when the Giants called him up. Williams won the league’s Triple Crown in 1938, and 22 years later Yastrzemski had a big year for the Millers before taking Williams’ spot in left field for the Red Sox. Others, such as Spencer Harris and Ab Wright, had longer and more notable careers with the Millers, but it’s tough to top a trio of Hall of Famers.
First base: Joe Hauser.
Hauser had one big year in the majors, finishing second to Babe Ruth in home runs in 1924 before breaking a leg the following year. He later became the greatest slugger in the minor leagues, hitting 63 for Baltimore in 1930 and topping that with 69 for Minneapolis three years later. In five seasons for the Millers he averaged more than 40 home runs per year.
Second base: Elijah “Pumpsie” Green.
He edges out earlier stars Andy Cohen and Jimmy Williams, both for having one of the all-time great nicknames and also for his call-up from Minneapolis to Boston in 1959. He became the first black player on the Red Sox, the last team in the majors to integrate.
Shortstop: Dave Altizer.
Altizer played for the Millers from 1910 to 1918 and was one of the biggest stars on the team that won four pennants during that time.
Third base: Ray Dandridge.
Possibly the best third baseman in baseball, Dandridge spent his prime years in the Negro and Mexican leagues. After the color barrier was broken, he spent four seasons with the Millers and was the league’s Most Valuable Player in 1950. Although he never got his chance in the major leagues, Dandridge was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1987.
Catcher: Wes Westrum.
A Minnesota native, Westrum had a few stints with the Millers, including 1947, when he hit 22 home runs. He played 11 seasons with the Giants, a team he later managed. Westrum also managed the Mets, succeeding Casey Stengel in 1965. He nudges out Bubbles Hargrave, who played for both the Millers and the Saints, and was one of the best catchers in the majors during the 1920s.
Righthanded pitcher: Hoyt Wilhelm.
The knuckleballer was a starter in Minneapolis in 1950 and 1951 before becoming one of the great relievers in the majors. He was the first pitcher to appear in 1,000 games and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1985.
Lefthanded pitcher: Rube Waddell.
The Hall of Famer pitched for the Millers in 1911 and 1912, after a decade of being the top southpaw in the majors.
Manager: Donie Bush.
Bush skippered the powerful Millers teams of the 1930s. He had been a shortstop and teammate of Ty Cobb’s on the Tigers for many years and managed the Pittsburgh Pirates to the pennant in 1927. He’s the pick over Gene Mauch, who took Minneapolis to the Junior World Series in 1958 and 1959 before a long career managing in the majors.
St. Paul Saints
Outfielders: Duke Snider, Eric Tipton, Ginger Beaumont.
Snider played for St. Paul in 1947 after being sent down by the Dodgers. He eventually made it in Brooklyn, hitting at least 40 home runs in five consecutive seasons, and he was elected to the Hall of Fame. Tipton, though not notable for his major league résumé (he might be better known for his football career at Duke), he was a favorite in St. Paul in the 1940s. He reached 100 RBI with the Saints four times and hit 28 home runs in 1940. Beaumont gets the third spot, over Ben Chapman and Ben Paschal. A turn-of-the-century star with Pittsburgh, Beaumont has the distinction of being the first batter in the World Series, in 1903.
First base: Jim Gentile.
After hitting 27 home runs for St. Paul in 1959, Gentile had a nine-year career in the majors. He had 46 home runs and 141 RBI for Baltimore in 1961.
Second base: Wayne Terwilliger.
Terwilliger, who played in 1952 for the Saints, gets the nod for his 60 seasons in professional baseball as a player, coach and manager. He coached for the Twins and then for the St. Paul Saints in the Northern League.
Shortstop: Leo Durocher.
He played 171 games for St. Paul in 1927 and had a 17-year playing career in the majors, where he also managed from 1939 to 1973. His Hall of Fame plaque gives him the edge over another Saints shortstop who became a noted manager, Don Zimmer, who survived a serious beaning while playing for St. Paul in 1953 and came back to play with the Saints in 1954.
Third base: Bill McKechnie.
The infield is completed with another Hall of Famer who got to Cooperstown based on his managerial career. McKechnie played for the Saints in 1912 and 1913.
Catcher: Roy Campanella.
Campanella had a spectacular six weeks with St. Paul in 1948. He not only integrated the American Association, but he also hit 13 home runs in 35 games with the Saints before being called back up by the Dodgers. He won the National League Most Valuable Player award three times and is in the Hall of Fame.
Righthanded pitcher: George Pipgras.
Part of Murderers’ Row in 1927 and other great New York Yankees teams, Pipgras won 22 games for the Saints in 1926. Two years later, back in New York, he led the American League with 24 victories.
Lefthanded pitcher: Lefty Gomez.
After pitching for the Saints in 1931, Gomez was back in the majors for good the following year. He pitched all but one game of his Hall of Fame career with the Yankees, had a 6-0 record in the World Series, and was the winning pitcher in the first All-Star Game in 1933.
Manager: Walter Alston.
Alston, who managed the Saints in 1948 and 1949, later managed the Dodgers, in both Brooklyn and Los Angeles, from 1954 to 1976. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1983.
Stew Thornley is a Twin Cities author.