ALL STAR GAME: 1965 WORLD SERIES: 1965
BEEN THERE (TOO LATE): I photographed the home plate historical marker (see below) while at the Mall of America on January 7, 2014.
Like Municipal Stadium in Kansas City and Milwaukee County Stadium, Metropolitan Stadium was hurriedly expanded to accommodate a relocated major league team. When it opened as the home of the Minneapolis Millers in April 1956, the triple-deck grandstand extended only from first base to third base. Later that year and into the next year, bleachers were built extending to both foul poles, raising capacity from about 15,000 to about 21,000. The outfield fence was a continuous arc, another strong similarity to Milwaukee County Stadium. The triple-decked structure left no doubt that the stadium was built for the express purpose of attracting a major league club to Minnesota, one of those "On-speculation" stadiums. In fact, the New York Giants briefly considered the offer before opting for San Francisco.
In 1961, the Senators' owner Calvin Griffith followed through on his threat to leave Washington, moving his team to Minnesota and renaming them the "Twins," after the Twin Cities. In preparation for their arrival, the first two decks of Metropolitan Stadium were extended out to the right field corner, but it is not clear whether construction was finished before the start of the season. Also, the semi-permanent bleacher section on the third base side was greatly expanded, with twice as many rows as before. Meanwhile, temporary bleacher sections of various sizes were strewn about beyond the outfield fence. The whole arrangement looked rather tacky, and it is unfortunate that the Twins never built a permanent grandstand along the third base side to match the extension on the first base side. Aside from the haphazard, improvised architecture, there was really nothing to distinguish Metropolitan Stadium. At least it was an authentic baseball stadium, however, unlike the Metrodome, which the Twins left after the 2009 season, and which was demolished in early 2014.
Metropolitan Stadium was only the second triple-deck major league stadium -- the first being Yankee Stadium, of course. (Forbes Field only had a very small third deck.) The third deck of Metropolitan Stadium was also on the small side, but it extended much further, comparable to Oakland Coliseum.) Another unique feature was the lack of any roof, which would have been counterproductive since baseball fans in the northern latitudes usually need all the sun warmth they can get. In order to position the lights closer to the field, the two main light standards atop the main grandstand extended thirty or so feet forward from the back of the third deck. The Rogers Centre has similar light standards that hang over the upper deck. Built in the suburban/rural fringes of Bloomington, ten miles south of downtown Minneapolis, the location of "Metropolitan" Stadium was always problematic.
The outfield dimensions at Metropolitan Stadium changed slightly from time to time, but part of that seems to be the result of moving the distance markers or just plain measurement errors. The left field and right field fences remained in virtually the same location for as long as the Twins played there. The center field fence was moved back and forth a few times, some of which are reflected in the diagrams above. During the 1970s, when metric standards were all the rage, the outfield distances were marked in meters as well as feet. The 1965 expansion was aimed in part at making Metropolitan Stadium suitable to host that year's All Star game. Later that year, the World Series was held there as well. Permanent double-decked bleachers were installed in left field, raising the total capacity to over 45,000. Fans used to gather in the gap between those bleachers and the fence, right in back of the left fielders. This expansion was mostly funded by the Minnesota Vikings, who began playing football there in 1961. It was a miserable arrangement for football fans, however, as the closest seats on either side sat over thirty yards from the sidelines. Note that the position of the gridiron was altered in some years, and that the infield dirt remained at least through September. The capacity for football games was over 48,000, with the extra 2,500 seats located in the center field (batter's eye) bleachers and five or so additional rows extended forward from the left-field grandstand.
Like the Milwaukee Braves, the Minnesota Twins quickly became a sensation all across the sports-entertainment-deprived Upper Midwest. Former Senator slugger Harmon Killebrew was the Twins' greatest player during the 1960s, eventually racking up 573 liftime home runs. In 1967, Killebrew hit a home run into the upper deck of the left field bleachers, estimated at 530 feet from home plate. Other Twins stars of that era included infielders Rod Carew and Zoilo Versallies, and pitcher Jim Kaat. Since Minneapolis-St. Paul was the closest major metropolitan area to South Dakota, the Twins became my second favorite team when I was growing up in the 1960s, but somehow my family never managed to make a trip to see a baseball game there.
As football gained a greater share of the sports audience during the 1970s, the Vikings exercised their growing leverage by threatening to move out of Minnesota if the state government didn't help to pay for a new football stadium. Such an expenditure for just one team could not be justified, so they persuaded the Twins to go along with a latter-day football-plus-baseball hybrid stadium with phoney baloney Astroturf. In a tragic concession to prevailing trends, the Twins went along with the scheme by which the grotesquely ill-suited Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome was built.
The Beatles held a concert at Metropolitan Stadium during their second tour of the United States, on August 21, 1965. The Twins moved out of Metropolitan Stadium after the 1981 season, and four years later (in 1985) the disjointed structures that comprised it were demolished, replaced by the Mall of America.
SOURCES: Lowry (2006), Ritter (1992), Pastier (2007), Gershman (1993), Rosen (2001)
WEB LINK: Rick Prescott's Metropolitan Stadium Web page.