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Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Millers and the Saints: A Review

Fans have traditionally been drawn to the game of baseball for many reasons but one that keeps them coming back over and over again is the fantastic rivalries that develop between teams. These are created by regionalism, annual competitiveness and star players that are compared and contrasted against each other. Not reserved to just the Majors Leagues, all levels of baseball are rich with these rivalries. Author Rex D. Hamann has captured one of the best with his 2014 book, The Millers and the Saints: Baseball Championships of the Twin Cities Rivals, 1903-1955 (Publisher- McFarland * * Order Line- 800-253-2187).

The Minneapolis Millers and the St. Paul Saints are two of the most storied franchises in baseball history; both dating their inaugural seasons back to the 1880s. Although they weren’t always in the same circuit at the same time, they were both powerhouse members of the American Association between 1902 and 1960, providing the time frame for Hamann’s examination. During that time, they won a collective 17 championships (nine for St. Paul and eight for Minneapolis) and along the way developed a terrific regional rivalry that became known as the “Streetcar Series.”

Until the Twins came along in 1961, the Millers and the Saints were the “big leagues” for Minnesota. Hamann has captured what their matchups meant to the two most prominent cities in the state and the surrounding communities by compiling a synopsis of each of the 17 championship seasons and the 1934 campaign (where the Millers finished in first place but lost in the postseason).

Even for the sturdiest of baseball fans, digesting large chunks of history of not one but two franchises is a tall order. However, Hamann has done a neat trick of consolidating a lot of information in the 312 pages. There are not only brief accounts of the games played between the Millers and Saints during the highlighted seasons but also a liberal helping of statistics and vintage photos.

The diversity of players and managers (Hall of Famer Walt Alston sharpened his skipper skills with the Saints before being hired by the Los Angeles Dodgers) that graced the rosters of the two teams is something to behold. In true minor league tradition there were plenty of prospects (Ted Williams was a Miller in 1938) and also many former major league players finishing out their careers. Prominent among those was Joe Hauser, who was a rising slugger in the American League during the 1920s but saw his star dip due to a serious knee injury. Finding a home with the Millers, he became one of the greatest hitters the minor leagues has ever known, bashing 69 home runs alone during the 1933 season.

As with any history book worth its salt, one must look at the sources and notes. Hamann shines in this regard, as his copious end notes and bibliography reflect the tremendous amount of research that must have gone into this work.

Sadly, the arrival of the Twins spelled the end of the rivalry as it had been known for decades. The Millers and the Saints were to Minnesotans what the Red Sox/Yankees and Dodgers/Giants were to their own parts of the world. The Millers/Saints may not have received the same large-scale national attention but were every bit as important for the region they represented. The intensity of the matchup and the talent and colorful nature of the personalities that represented each team is on full display. They may be gone (The Millers folded in 1960 and the Saints play on in the independent American Association) as they were once known but they leave behind a rich legacy that did Minnesota and baseball proud.

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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