For a Twin Cities sports fan in 1917, it was a weekend when big-time major league baseball came to our town(s).
In something of a Chicago invasion, both the White Sox and the Cubs came to Minnesota on April 7 for a weekend of exhibition baseball against the Minneapolis Millers and the St. Paul Saints.
“To get two major league teams?” said local baseball historian Stew Thornley. “This was a big deal.”
The White Sox were about to embark on a 100-win season that ended with a World Series victory over the New York Giants.
The Cubs were one year away from winning the 1918 National League pennant.
The White Sox had a Minnesota history.
In 1894, Charles Comiskey bought the minor league Sioux Cornhuskers of the Western League and moved the team to St. Paul, where they became the Saints.
In 1900, Comiskey moved the team to Chicago, where they became the White Stockings. A year later the team became a charter franchise in the new American League.
The 1917 version was a team of stars who ultimately became infamous with the Black Sox scandal that grew out of the 1919 World Series.
All eight men ultimately banned from organized baseball by Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis — pitchers Eddie Cicotte and Claude “Lefty” Williams, infielders Chick Gandil, Swede Risberg, Buck Weaver, Fred McMullin and outfielders “Shoeless” Joe Jackson and Happy Felsch — were on that 1917 roster.
The Cubs had standout players such as Fred Merkle, Larry Doyle and Cy Williams, and pitcher Hippo Vaughn, one of the NL’s best in 1917.
There was precedent here. The year before the White Sox had come to Minneapolis to play the Millers before the regular season started, and it went OK despite difficult weather. A year later they returned.
According to Thornley, the Cubs had been on a cross-country tour that had taken them as far as San Francisco.
On Saturday, April 7 — the day after the United States officially entered World War I — about 3,500 fans saw the White Sox beat the Millers 9-1 at Nicollet Park.
Across town at Lexington Park, the Saints beat the Cubs 2-1.
On Sunday the Cubs beat the Millers 1-0 at Nicollet Park while the White Sox beat the Saints 7-4 at Lexington Park.
According to Thornley, local papers estimated the Sunday Millers-Cubs game crowd at 6,000 while Chicago papers estimated a smaller crowd of 3,000.