A regular PGA Tour event returned to Minnesota this past week for the first time in 50 years. The admiration for round numbers in celebrating anniversaries sent me back another decade for a topic last Thursday:
The 1959 PGA Championship at Minneapolis Golf Club that basically introduced a national TV audience to Minnesota as a sports market.
There is an ulterior motive for such historic pieces, in that it offers an incentive to look at pages from old sports sections, to see what else was in the news at those moments.
The PGA dominated the local sports sections that week. Meantime, what was happening nationally would soon transform the Twin Cities into a true major league market.
On July 27, 1959, New York lawyer William Shea announced plans for the formation of the Continental League, a collection of franchises (including Minnesota) to bring baseball to areas not adequately served by the 16 teams in the American and National Leagues.
Shea was the head of a committee to bring the NL back to New York after the losses of the Giants and the Dodgers. And by the summer of 1959, he knew that a viable threat was required to get through to the Lords of Baseball.
Charley Johnson, writing in the Minneapolis Star, laid it out in his first paragraph: “If the Continental League never plays a game, it will have contributed more to the sport and the business of baseball than anything that has happened in decades.”
Yup. The threat of competition landed the Twins here in 1961, and the Mets in New York in 1962.
One day after Shea’s revelation, NFL Commissioner Bert Bell appeared before a Senate committee overseeing antitrust legislation. Asked about the newly proposed rival league (the AFL), Bell said: “The more teams and the more competition, the better.’’
Bell died of a heart attack that October. Might have been caused by the stress of fibbing to Congress. But, hey, Minnesota wound up with the Vikings, as part of the NFL’s early attempts to roadblock the AFL.
July 27-Aug. 2, 1959: Quite the sports week here. Bob Rosburg rallies to win the PGA, and we’re going to wind up with the Twins and the Vikings.
Read Reusse’s blog at startribune.com/patrick.
Baseball notes from that week:
• The Minneapolis Millers were down to 17 players and fading in American Association due to “raids” (aka, promotions) by the Red Sox. Manager Gene Mauch remained calm, saying, “We can be good again.”
• Mauch was right. The Millers went to a second consecutive Junior World Series. They lost in seven games to International League champion Havana, with new dictator Fidel Castro’s fighters wandering near their dugout with machine guns.
• San Francisco was excited by the four-game debut of a rookie first baseman: 9-for-18, including a 500-foot home run (off Ron Kline). Wasn’t a fluke. He was Willie McCovey.