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Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Minneapolis Millers of the American Association: A Review

The big leagues may get the lion’s share of recognition but make no mistake about it; minor leagues have been the essential lifeblood of baseball since the game became a profession. Preserving the history of these leagues is just as important as the meticulous record keeping and story collecting of the majors. Fortunately, there are researchers doing fine work in this regard. Rex Hamann has produced one of the best most recent efforts, with his new book, The Minneapolis Millers of the American Association ($21.99, Arcadia Publishing. Available at local retailers, online bookstores, or through Arcadia Publishing at or (888) 313-2665).

Today, minor league baseball primarily functions as a farm system for cultivating major league ballplayers out of young prospects who have come from high school and college. However, its purpose was much different in the past, particularly during the lifetime of the Millers (1902-1960). With the majors primarily located on the East Coast, such teams helped fulfill the demand for baseball around the country by providing top-notch play. Not only did they utilize up-and-coming young players, but they also were a popular landing spot for former major leaguers whose talents may have slipped but still had something left in the gas tank.

Hamann has assembled a tremendous collection of vintage photographs encapsulating the history of the Millers. Ranging from player action shots to team photos to candid moments, there is a little of everything here. Each picture is accompanied with a brief description, which typically includes some statistics or an intriguing tidbit or two, making it an effortless way to learn the team history and see how many fascinating people and events passed through their nearly six-decade run.

At 127 pages, this is not a lengthy read but there is a lot packed. The photos are striking and tell the first part of each story, while Hamann’s commentary ties it all together. If Major League Baseball hadn’t come to Minnesota in the form of the Twins in 1961, it is hard to imagine that the Millers wouldn’t still be plugging away as a popular and successful franchise.

It’s interesting to see the wide swath of players and personalities who were connected to the Millers over the years. For prospects, the likes of Ted Williams and Willie Mays made successful stops there before vaulting to legendary careers on the national stage. But for every once-in-a-lifetime youngster like them, there were hundreds whose careers peaked during the hot summer months they spent playing baseball in Minneapolis.

On the other end of the spectrum, numerous quality veterans played out the string on their careers. Negro League great third baseman Ray Dandridge and first baseman George “High Pockets” Kelly each played some of their final professional games in a Minneapolis uniform before their eventual retirements and enshrinement in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Naturally, not everyone who passed through Minneapolis has remained part of baseball’s collective memory but that doesn’t make their stories any less interesting. Outfielder Henri Rondeau hit .295 during his career as an outfielder but his greatest feat as described by Hamann was his saving the life of a young girl whose clothing had caught fire in a fireworks accident.

Red Downs had 13 professional seasons as a heavy-hitting second baseman, including 1909 with the Millers. Unfortunately, we find out that in retirement his life took a downward turn, particularly during the Great Depression, as he was apprehended for robbing a Los Angeles jewelry store in 1932 and subsequently served a prison sentence.

There is nothing fancy with this work of Hamann, but that isn’t an insult. To the contrary, he has accumulated a team history that has more than enough detail to draw in baseball fans wanting to learn more about this former pillar of the minor leagues. Whether your interest is baseball or history, this amply covers both and I suspect anyone who picks it up will be pleased on all accounts.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of this book, but received no payment or other consideration for this review.

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