November 29, 2006
While in South Dakota last week, I found a new book in the local library: Baseball in Minnesota: The Definitive History, by Stew Thornley. It has a number of fine old photos of The Met, Nicollet Park, Lexington Park, and other old ballparks in the Twin Cities. Most of it is devoted to retelling the ups and downs of various minor league teams from the mid-19th Century on, and about the deal-making involved in building new stadiums. For example, when Hubert H. Humphrey was mayor of Minneapolis in 1948, he came out strongly in favor of a new publicly-financed baseball stadium. It is fascinating to read about how the rivalry between Minneapolis and St. Paul undermined the effort to bring a major league team to Minnesota. In 1954, St. Paul had already committed to building a stadium that was explicitly designed to be expanded with a second deck for major league use. "Midway Stadium" (home of the St. Paul Saints) was not finished until 1957; it had a single deck with no roof, much like Colt Stadium. This is what spurred Minneapolis leaders to hastily get a new stadium built on their side of the Mississippi River, although the Bloomington site they eventually chose was less than satisfactory. Metropolitan Stadium was home of the Minneapolis Millers for five years, before the Senators/Twins arrived. As the ill-fated Continental League was getting organized in 1959, St. Paul leaders circulated a petition demanding that half of any games in the Twin Cities area should be played at Midway Stadium. Just think: two stadiums built "on speculation" almost simultaneously! (By way of comparison, the author claims that County Stadium in Milwaukee was built without the intention of attracting a major league team, but I'm a little dubious of that.) The book also details the escape clause in the Metrodome lease agreement, under which the Twins could leave if annual attendance was below 1.4 million. To prevent that from happening, local businesses bought many thousands of tickets for "phantom fans." On May 16, 1984, paid attendance was 51,863, but the turnstile count was only 8,700 or so. Those were the bleak circumstances that led Calvin Griffith to sell the Twins to Carol Pohlad the very next month. Things improved quickly after that...
The Nationals had offered in the neighborhood of $10 million a year to Alfonso Soriano, and last week he signed a contract with the Chicago Cubs by which he will get paid nearly twice that: $136 million over eight years. S-weet! No one was surprised that Soriano signed with another team, but I was caught off guard by the team that won in the bidding frenzy. The Phillies were rumored to be the most likely destination; is it possible that Soriano was looking for a team whose ballpark has homer-friendly dimensions? Anyway, very best wishes to a real superstar who brought excitement to an otherwise glum year of baseball in Washington -- even though he didn't play in either of the games I saw! I certainly hope that the Cubs get their money's worth from this deal, as they sure need a break. Fred Claire analyzes the market trends for high-value free agent players at MLB.com. Clearly, things have changed since Charley Finley's stubborness unleashed the free market era.
Speaking of which, Thomas Boswell sees the Soriano deal, the $51 million bid by the Red Sox for Daisuke Matsuzaka, and the signing of Manny Acta to be the Nationals' new manager as part of the same scramble to compete in the newly globalized marketplace that baseball has become. Frankly, I'm dubious of any such speculative bidding wars. What did the Rangers ever get for the $100+ million they paid for Alex Rodriguez?
By amazing coincidence, Bruce Orser came across a Web page full of old photos of some of the same ballparks as in the book cited above, as well as artists' conceptions of the future home of the Twins. See: edinarealty.com.
Mike Sommer pointed out that the 1937 version Yankee Stadium diagram is not quite right because only one of the three monuments was built prior to then. "The Huggins monument went up in 1932, the Gehrig in 1941 and the Ruth in 1949." True, but my diagrams are intended to represent the entire historical period in question (in this case, 1937-1973), which may or may not be the same as the "labeled" year. See the FAQs for more.
I've got several more e-mails to catch up on, and more diagrams to finalize. Thanks for your patience!