With the opening of a new City of Baseball Museum at CHS Field, the St. Paul Saints (independent; American Association) extend the Minnesota capital’s rich diamond history in an entertaining ballpark space.
St. Paul’s baseball history goes back to the mid-1860s, with the North Star Base Ball Club of St. Paul winning the first state tournament in 1867. After that teams like the St. Paul Red Caps (shown in the exhibit above) entertained crowds in the mid-1870s, opening Red Cap Park in 1876.
But things got interesting in 1894, when Charlie Comiskey moved his Sioux City Cornhuskers to St. Paul and set up shop as the St. Paul Saints. Those Saints played in the Western League, and Comiskey ended up as a key player in the formation of American League, moving his St. Paul Saints to Chicago and establishing the Chicago White Stockings in 1900. Those White Stockings were a charter member of the American League in 1901 and still play as the White Sox.
Comiskey’s White Sox were replaced by a new Saints team in 1902 as a charter member of the American Association, staying in business until 1960. Those were the first glory days of Saints baseball. Yankees skipper Miller Huggins secretly owned the Saints and scheduled his Bronx Bombers to play an exhibition game at Lexington Park in 1927, and during the team’s time as a Dodgers affiliate the likes of Roy Campanella, Leo Durocher and Duke Snider suited up for the Saints.
But when the Minnesota Twins came to town in 1961, the Saints franchise shifted to Omaha and professional baseball left Minnesota’s capital.
Until 1993, when the modern-day St. Paul Saints debuted as part of an independent Northern League, playing out of Midway Stadium II. That was rebel baseball, to be sure: the game-day experience was stressed over the play on the diamond (which, thanks to the likes of Kevin Millar and Leon Durham, could be surprisingly good), and wacky promotions were the order of the day. Today those wacky promotions and game-day shenanigans are still led by the like of Mike Veeck and the Goldklang family, and a Saints game at CHS Field in downtown St. Paul is still an essential baseball experience.
The City of Baseball Museum tells the stories of these Saints teams, plus so much more. There is plenty of Saints memorabilia, including some nifty turn-of-the-century trophies, a bat used by former Saints catcher Roy Campanella, and a great map showing historic city baseball sites. But that’s only part of the story: You’ll also see a baseball signed by Toni Stone, the Twin Citian considered to be the first woman to play pro baseball during her time in the Negro Leagues, as well as a Minneapolis Millers uniform worn by Carl Yastrzemski when Nicollet Park hosted Red Sox prospects. (Ted Williams also spent time as a Miller; Willie Mays did when the Giants’ Horace Stoneham owned the team.) Displays highlighting the history of African-American baseball in St. Paul, including info about the St. Paul Colored Gophers, is a window to undertold stories. Additional Hall of Famers who spent time with the Saints: George Halas and Bill Sharman. Halas was a skinny kid who washed out of pro baseball and ended up as founder of the Chicago Bears and a founder of the NFL. Sharman was elected twice to the Basketball Hall of Fame as a player and as a coach; he’s represented by a signed basketball.
Built around an impressive collection developed over the years from Taylor Simons, the City of Baseball Museum was expertly curated by Dave Kaplan (founding director of the Yogi Berra Museum in Montclair, NJ), team owner Marv Goldklang and his son, Mike Goldklang, with design from Amanda Wambach of Arden Hills’ Split Rock Studios and additional artwork from noted baseball artist Graig Kreindler. The museum itself is approximately 2,000 square feet, but access is limited during Saints games to allow those inside plenty of time and space to mill around in a leisurely fashion. (Yes, there were lines opening night.)
The City of Baseball Museum is part of a $2-million CHS Field addition that also includes a large rooftop deck. Speaking of CHS Field: the Saints home is looking as good as ever. Here are some shots from Opening Night:
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