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.