Minnesota Baseball History

By Stew Thornley
Author of On to Nicollet: The Glory and Fame of the Minneapolis Millers
for the Minnesota Twins Media Guide

The roots of baseball in Minnesota are part of the post-Civil War baseball boom in America. The area’s earliest teams were amateur nines, representing cities of all sizes throughout the state, a few of them even organized before the Civil War.

Professionalism crept into Minnesota baseball through the 1870s. In 1884, a fully professional minor league, the Northwestern League, had teams in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Stillwater, and Winona. Most of the clubs were on shaky financial ground and disbanded during the season. Eventually, only St. Paul and Milwaukee remained. The two survivors finished their seasons by transferring to the Union Association, a major league that was in its only season of operation. By playing nine games in the Union Association, all on the road, St. Paul ended up with the distinction of being Minnesota’s first major league team.

Minnesota was without professional baseball in 1885, but Minneapolis and St. Paul came back with teams in various leagues over the next decade, and both were a key part of the Western League in the 1890s, an organization that had some lofty aims. The league’s creator, a Cincinnati sportswriter named Ban Johnson, hoped to eventually transform the Western League into a major league to challenge the established National League.

The Minneapolis Millers then played in a tiny downtown ballpark called Athletic Park, which was so small was that the Millers produced some impressive offensive numbers while playing there. The team’s slugger, Perry “Moose” Werden, hit 42 home runs in 1894 and topped that with 45 the following year, establishing a professional single-season home run record that stood until Babe Ruth took up the business. The Millers won the city’s first professional baseball championship when they captured the Western League flag in 1896, a season that also marked the end of Athletic Park and the beginning of Nicollet Park, a structure that seemed spacious in contrast to its predecessor but one that would eventually also be considered a great park for hitters.

Meanwhile, St. Paul got a team in the Western League when Charles Comiskey, a confidant and close friend at the time with Ban Johnson, purchased the Western League’s Sioux City franchise and moved it to St. Paul for the 1895 season. Comiskey owned and managed the Saints, who played in a small ballpark off of University Avenue and Dale Street before moving a mile west to Lexington Park in 1897. Three years later, Comiskey moved the team again, this time taking it to Chicago, where it became (and still exists as) the White Sox.

The Millers lasted a year longer than the Saints but were among four teams dropped from the league when Johnson finally reached his goal, turning the Western League (by this time renamed the American League) into a major league in 1901. Both the Minneapolis Millers and St. Paul Saints became charter members in a new minor league, the American Association, that began in 1902. Managed by Mike Kelley, who also played first base in an infield that included future Hall-of-Famer Miller Huggins at second, St. Paul got off to a good start, winning pennants in two of its first three years in the Association. The Millers had a rockier beginning in the Association, finishing seventh (out of eight teams) their first two years. But the Minneapolis club came alive in 1910. Under a new manager, Pongo Joe Cantillon, the Millers rattled off three consecutive American Association championships.

Minneapolis and St. Paul played in the American Association for 59 seasons. The Millers ended up with the best winning percentage of all the teams to play in the league over that period. The Saints had the second-best record. In addition, the Minnesota teams shared the Association record with nine pennants apiece.

The 1920 championship for St. Paul was especially notable. Led by the pitching of 27-game winner Charley “Sea Lion” Hall and the offensive contributions of players like Joe “Goldie” Rapp, Lee Dressen, and Joe Riggert, the Saints won 115 games and produced a winning percentage of .701, Association records that were never matched. Unfortunately, the Saints lost that year to the Baltimore Orioles in the Junior World Series, a post-season matchup of the champions of the American Association and International League that had been played off and on since 1904.

Minneapolis made its first appearance in the Junior World Series in 1932. Mike Kelley, who had been with the Saints when the Association began, by this time owned the Millers. Kelley is remembered for his “retooling factory”—buying aging major leaguers, then selling them back to the majors after they had padded their averages in cozy Nicollet Park. But he also proved to be a shrewd judge of young talent. Kelley assembled a fencecracking crew of greenhorns and veterans, along with an ancient but crafty pitching staff, that won three Association championships in the 1930s.

The Millers lost the 1932 Junior World Series to the Newark Bears, a powerful farm club of the New York Yankees, but they won pennants again in 1934 and 1935. The leader of the Millers was Joe “Unser Choe” Hauser, a strong lefthanded hitter who took advantage of the short distance down the right-field foul line at Nicollet Park. In five seasons in Minneapolis, Hauser connected for 202 home runs, an average of better than 40 a year. Hauser was at his best in 1933, when he blasted 69 home runs, setting a professional record. Three years before, Hauser had hit 63 home runs with Baltimore in the International League and was the only player in organized baseball history to twice hit more than 60 in a season until Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa matched the feat in the late 1990s.

While the Millers and Saints each won many Association titles, they battled for the league championship only once, in 1915 with the Millers coming out on top by a game-and-a-half. But no matter where the teams were in the standings, the Millers and Saints ignited the passions of the local partisans with their 22 inter-city games every year. Interest peaked each season with the holiday doubleheaders at Lexington Park in St. Paul and Nicollet Park in Minneapolis; a morning game at one park followed by a streetcar ride across the river for the afternoon game in the other was the Twin Cities’ primary entertainment on Decoration Day, the Fourth of July, and Labor Day.

Ab Wright of the Millers saved his biggest 1940 fireworks for the morning game on Independence Day. En route to winning the American Association Triple Crown that season, Wright belted four home runs and a triple against the Saints for 19 total bases, a league record never equaled.

And the explosions heard on the Fourth of July in 1929 were from a Nicollet Park brawl between the rivals, described by one writer as “the most vicious affair ever witnessed at Nicollet” and one that “required fully a dozen policemen to quell the disturbance.” Millers reserve infielder Sammy Bohne came out of the coaching box to land some of the hardest punches, and the next day the headline over Halsey Hall’s story in the Minneapolis Journal read, “Sammy Bohne Doesn’t Play, But Gets More Hits Than Those Who Do.”

Hostilities even extended into the stands at times. In 1959 Minneapolis manager Gene Mauch scaled the railing at Midway Stadium in St. Paul to confront a fan whose remarks Mauch deemed “a bit too personal.” In 1911, Millers’ skipper Joe Cantillon took a bat with him to silence a heckler in the box seats at Lexington Park. Minneapolis and St. Paul professional teams had their share of great players. Sixteen members of the Baseball Hall of Fame once played for and/or managed Minneapolis while St. Paul had five players and one manager who are now enshrined in Cooperstown.

St. Paul’s list of Hall of Famers includes Miller Huggins, Lefty Gomez, Walter Alston, Duke Snider, and Roy Campanella, who became the first black player in the American Association in 1948.

For Minneapolis, the honor roll includes Rube Waddell, one of the top southpaw’s in baseball in the first part of the 20th century, who pitched for the Millers in the American Association in 1911 and 1912 (as well as briefly in 1913 for the Minneapolis team in the Northern League in 1913). Another Minneapolis great was Ted Williams, who became the first player to win the American Association triple crown in 1938 before going on to his Hall of Fame career with the Red Sox. The man who replaced Williams in the Boston outfield 22 years later, Carl Yastrzemski, also made Minneapolis his last stop in the minors en route to the Red Sox.

In 1951, the Millers had three players who are now in the Hall of Fame—Hoyt Wilhelm, Ray Dandridge, and Willie Mays. Wilhelm pitched two seasons for Minneapolis, and Dandridge—the Millers’ first black player—played with the team from 1949 to 1952 and was the Association’s Most Valuable Player in 1950. For Mays, though, the stay in Minneapolis was brief. The Millers’ new centerfielder was hitting .477 and tearing up the American Association in early 1951 when he was sudden taken away, called up to the New York Giants after only 35 games with the Millers.

New York had purchased the Millers—the last of the independently owned teams in the Association—from Mike Kelley in 1946. By this time, the Saints were a farm team of the Brooklyn Dodgers. The parent clubs gave a Big Apple flavor to the Minneapolis-St. Paul rivalry, but it also marked a turning point in the operation of the Twin Cities’ minor league teams. In the past, players were locally controlled and often returned to the same team year after year, affording fans an opportunity to build a strong sense of loyalty and identification with the players. Better than any other event, the abrupt departure of Mays in May of 1951 signaled this change in how minor league teams were operated.

The Millers and Saints carried on for several more years. St. Paul didn’t win any more pennants, but Minneapolis had a big season in 1955 when it won the American Association pennant and went on to win its first Junior Series championship, beating the Rochester Red Wings, 4 games to 3. Al Worthington, later a mainstay in the Minnesota Twins bullpen, won three games in the Junior World Series and also saved the seventh and decisive contest, a game which also marked the end of 60-year-old Nicollet Park.

The Millers, playing in Metropolitan Stadium in suburban Bloomington, ended up in two more Junior Series, both under the leadership of player-manager Gene Mauch. In 1958, Minneapolis swept the Montreal Royals. The following year, the Millers lost in seven games to the Havana Sugar Kings in a series that was tense not just because of the closeness of the games but also because of the political atmosphere. The final five games were played in Havana, and new Cuban premier Fidel Castro was on hand for all of them.

The end for the Millers and Saints came after the 1960 season. That October, Calvin Griffith announced he was moving his Washington Senators to Minnesota, where they would become the Twins. A new era of major league baseball was about to begin, and a rich tradition of minor league ball on its way out.

During this period, the Millers and Saints were not the only teams providing outstanding baseball to Minnesotans. Another professional organization, the Northern League, had a number of Minnesota teams in its ranks before finally folding in 1971. Through the years, 14 Minnesota cities were represented in the league, including the St. Cloud Rox, Duluth Dukes, Crookston Pirates, and Fargo-Moorhead Twins. In 1913 Minneapolis and St. Paul even had franchises in the league at the same time that each city had a team in the American Association. The Northern League produced its share of stars who went on to greatness in the majors, including Lou Brock, Hank Aaron, Gaylord Perry, Jim Palmer, Orlando Cepeda, Jim Perry, Vada Pinson, Joe Torre, Matty Alou, and Roger Maris.

One of the best-remembered incidents in Northern League history is an unfortunate event that occurred off the field. In July of 1948, while on its way from Eau Claire to St. Cloud, the Duluth Dukes team bus was involved in a crash that killed five team members and injured 13 others. The bus collided with a truck on Highway 36 north of St. Paul. Duluth manager George Treadwell—who was driving the bus—was killed, as was the truck driver. Among the players injured was Elmer “Red” Schoendienst, brother of the St. Louis Cardinals’ Red Schoendienst. The Dukes were able to continue as their roster was stocked with new players from the Cardinals organization (the Dukes had a working agreement with St. Louis) and from other organized baseball teams.

Another pro team was the Minneapolis Millerettes, who played in 1944 in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, which became the subject of the 1992 movie A League of Their Own.

The Millerettes were led by right-fielder Helen Callaghan, who hit .287 with three home runs in 111 games. Baseball ran in the Callaghan family. Callaghan’s sister, Margaret, was also a star in the league, and Helen’s son, Casey Candaele, later played with the Montreal Expos, Houston Astros, and Cleveland Indians.

Callaghan wasn’t the only Millerette with a relative in the major leagues. The Minneapolis pitching rotation included Annabelle Lee, the aunt of Bill “Spaceman” Lee, who pitched with the Expos and Boston Red Sox in the 1970s and 1980s. In fact, Lee credits his aunt with teaching him how to pitch.

The Millerettes played respectable baseball in the season’s early weeks, but a slump that followed dropped them to the cellar, where they stayed, and they closed out the first half of the season with a dismal record of 23-36. Things didn’t get any better in the second half. Few fans were turning out to Nicollet Park to see the Millerettes, and the other teams began complaining of the long road trips to Minneapolis to play before such small crowds. As a result, in late July the remainder of the Millerettes’ home games were switched to other cities and the team, which became known as the Orphans, was forced to play the rest of the season on the road. The team moved to Fort Wayne for the 1945 season.

No official Negro League teams ever represented a Minnesota city, but the state did have some all-black teams in the early part of the century, the most notable being the St. Paul Gophers and Minneapolis Keystones. Bobby Marshall—who had competed in baseball, track, and football at the University of Minnesota—played for both the Keystones and Gophers. Marshall was a key member of the 1909 St. Paul Gophers team that defeated the Chicago Leland Giants for the unofficial championship of Negro baseball. The Leland Giants were led by Andrew “Rube” Foster, the great pitcher who later founded the organized Negro Leagues. Although he pitched against the Gophers in the 1909 championship series, Foster also pitched for the Gophers on several occasions. Foster was brought in—essentially as a “ringer,” according to local historian Fred Buckland—to pitch for the Gophers in key games over the years.

Semi-professional leagues also provided great entertainment for some smaller towns. The Southern Minnesota League was often considered to be as strong as most Single-A professional leagues and even as strong as some Double-A leagues.

The “Southern Minny” lasted from 1912 until the early sixties, playing games on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays from May through September of each year. Over thirty cities covering southern Minnesota and northern Iowa were represented in the league. Teams included the Mankato Merchants, Faribault Lakers, Winona Chiefs, Austin Packers, Owatonna Aces, and Fairmont Martins.

Bill “Moose” Skowron played for Austin in 1950. He intended to return that to Purdue University, where he played football and baseball. But Skowron did so well with the Packers that he was scouted and signed by the New York Yankees. He went on to hit 211 home runs in 14 major league seasons and played in seven World Series.

Johnny Blanchard and Howie Schultz—stars from Minneapolis and St. Paul, respectively—also played in the Southern Minny and had credible major league careers. Another major leaguer who made a stop in the Southern Minny was Sam Jones, who pitched for Rochester and threw two no-hitters in 1949, including one in the playoffs. Five years later, “Toothpick” Sam became the first black to hurl a no-hitter in the major-leagues.

Minnesota semi-professional leagues even provided haven for exiles. Swede Risberg had been banned from organized baseball for his part in the 1919 Black Sox scandal, but he found a home with the Rochester Royals in the 1920s.

Amateur baseball remains a proud tradition in many small towns in Minnesota to this day. In addition, the Minnesota Gophers continue to produce strong teams year after year. Under legendary coach Dick Siebert, who led the Gophers from 1948 to 1978, the Gophers won three national championships in 1956, 1960, and 1964.

But since 1961, the baseball spotlight in Minnesota has focused mainly on the major league game. Minnesotans were excited about the arrival of the Twins, even though the team, through most of its years in Washington, had not been a great one. But there were stars to get excited about, such as pitchers Camilo Pascual and Jim Kaat and the fearsome batting tandem of Bob Allison and Harmon Killebrew. With the Senators, Allison had been the American League’s Rookie of the Year in 1959. That same season, Killebrew hit 42 home runs.

The Killer connected for 46 home runs in 1961, and topped those totals in the ensuing years. Playing in Met Stadium, the Twins won only 70 games and lost 90 in their first season in Minnesota, but they quickly moved up in the standings. With Sam Mele as manager, the Twins finished second to the mighty New York Yankees in 1962. Killebrew led the league with 48 home runs, but the highlight of the season came on Sunday, August 26 when southpaw Jack Kralick pitched a no-hitter against the Kansas City Athletics, coming within two outs of a perfect game.

The Twins had another good year in 1963, but it was followed by a setback the following season. Harmon Killebrew hit 49 home runs in 1964, and Tony Oliva led the American League in batting average and was named the league’s Rookie of the Year. However, the Twins dropped to a tie for sixth place. It was disappointing, but the team bounced back. The world came to Minnesota in 1965. The Twins hosted the All-Star Game in July and an even bigger event in October as they ended the long dynasty of the New York Yankees by winning the American League pennant.

Although Killebrew’s home run total dropped to 25 as a result of an injury that caused him to miss several weeks, others picked up the slack that season. Jim “Mudcat” Grant won 21 games, Tony Oliva won the batting title again, and shortstop Zoilo Versalles—who hit .273 with 19 home runs out of the leadoff spot—was named the American League Most Valuable Player.

The Twins’ opponents in the World Series were the Los Angeles Dodgers, who had a superb pitching staff, led by Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax. But the Twins surprised the Dodgers by defeating Drysdale and then Koufax in the first two games of the series. The Dodgers came back with three wins in a row. In the sixth game, Mudcat Grant kept the Twins alive. He pitched a six-hitter and also hit a three-run homer, leading the Twins to a 5-1 win and forcing a seventh game. However, Sandy Koufax was too much for Minnesota in the finale. He pitched a three-hit shutout and beat the Twins, 2-0, to win the World Series for Los Angeles.

The Twins finished second the next year and then found themselves in a tremendous pennant race in 1967, along with the Chicago White Sox, Detroit Tigers, and Boston Red Sox. Dean Chance, a 20-game winner that season, added to the excitement in August. At Metropolitan Stadium on August 6, Chance pitched a rain-shortened, five-inning perfect game against Boston. Three weeks later, he pitched another no-hitter, against Cleveland.

Detroit, Minnesota, and Boston battled down to the final weekend, and the Twins finished the regular-season with a two-game series in Boston. One win would eliminate the Red Sox and two would clinch at least a tie with Detroit, if not the pennant. However, Boston won both games from Minnesota as Detroit won two of its final four, and it was the Red Sox who went to the World Series.

After a seventh-place finish in 1968, the Twins were primed for a good year in 1969. Both leagues had expanded to 12 teams and were split into divisions. The Twins had a new manager, Billy Martin, and the team exemplified their skipper’s fiery nature on the field. Cesar Tovar set a team record with 45 stolen bases while Rod Carew stole 19, including seven steals of home, and also won the batting title with a .332 average. Tony Oliva had a great season, knocking in more than 100 runs for the first time in his career. On the mound, Jim Perry and Dave Boswell both won 20 games. But the season belonged to Harmon Killebrew, who hit 49 home runs and drove in 140, leading the majors in both categories. Killebrew was named the American League Most Valuable Player.

The Twins were good, but they went up against an even better team, the Baltimore Orioles, in the American League playoffs. The Orioles swept the playoff series to eliminate the Twins.

The Twins fired Billy Martin as manager after the 1969 season even though Martin had led the team to first place in the Western Division. Bill Rigney was the new manager, and the Twins won the West again in 1970. Killebrew had another big year, homering 41 times. Jim Perry won 24 games to become the first Minnesota pitcher to win the Cy Young Award. Rookie Bert Blyleven, still a teenager, came up from the minors and won 10 games. But once again, the Twins couldn’t handle Baltimore in the playoffs and were swept for the second straight year.

The first decade of the Twins had some great moments, but the next decade was more challenging.

Tony Oliva won his third batting title in 1971, but he suffered a serious knee injury during the year and was never the same player again. In August of 1971, Killebrew hit the 500th home run of his career. He finished the season with 119 runs batted in (RBIs), but his home run total dropped to 28. As a team, the Twins dropped even more. They finished in fifth place, 25½ games out of first. For the first time in Minnesota, the Twins did not top the million mark in attendance. It was the beginning of a dry spell for the Twins. They still had some fine players, especially Rod Carew, who began a string of four straight batting titles starting in 1972. However, the team still had trouble winning more games than it lost during those years.

Under a new manager, Gene Mauch, in 1976, the Twins rose to third place and finished just five games out of first. This set the stage for an exciting year in 1977, one that brought the fans swarming back to Met Stadium. With a powerful batch of hitters, the team was known as the “Lumber Company.” Larry Hisle led the American League in runs batted in, Lyman Bostock hit .336 and scored 104 runs, and Glenn Adams did some heavy hitting that included setting a Twins record by driving in eight runs in a game in late June.

However, Adams was upstaged by Rod Carew in that game, one of the most memorable in Twins history. A crowd of more than 46,000 filled Met Stadium to see the Twins battle the Chicago White Sox for the top spot in the Western Division. Carew scored five runs and drove in six as the Twins outslugged Chicago, 19-12, to move past the Sox into first place. Carew also had four hits and raised his average to .403 for the season.

Carew kept his average up for most of the year. He made a run at becoming the first player since Ted Williams in 1941 to hit .400 in a season. Carew didn’t make it, but he finished with a batting average of .388, the best in the majors in 20 years.

On the mound, Dave Goltz, a strong righthander and a Minnesota native, won 20 games. Another Minnesota-born pitcher, Tom Johnson, won 16, all in relief. The excitement was back at the Met, and the Twins drew more than a million fans for the first time since 1970. The team stayed in the pennant hunt before tailing off in the final month of the season. Even more disturbing than the late swoon was the prospect of the Twins losing some of their stars. The era of free agency had arrived, and Calvin Griffith didn’t have enough money to compete with other owners in the open market. Hisle and Bostock, two of the team’s big guns, signed with other teams for the 1978 season. Without them, the offense sputtered. Rod Carew won his seventh American League batting title in 1978, but it looked like he might be on his way out, too. Rather than risk losing him to free agency, Griffith traded Carew to the California Angels before the 1979 season. The Lumber Company had been dismantled.

The Twins still fought hard in 1979 and stayed in the race for the West Division title until the final week of the season. After that, they dropped back again and played before small crowds in the final two years of Met Stadium.

While the team floundered in 1980 and 1981, a new domed stadium was being built on the edge of downtown Minneapolis. And, even though the 1981 season was largely a dismal one, some newcomers provided a boost near the end of the year.

Kent Hrbek, who grew up close to Met Stadium, joined the team in August. He played in his first game at Yankee Stadium and won it for the Twins with a home run in the 12th inning. Over the next month, two more players broke in with a bang. Tim Laudner and Gary Gaetti both homered in their first games.

he end of an era came on a drizzly afternoon on the final day of September. The Twins lost to the Kansas City Royals in the final baseball game for Met Stadium.

The Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome opened in downtown Minneapolis in 1982. The first game—an exhibition contest—took place on a cold Saturday night in early April. Kent Hrbek hit the first two home runs in the new stadium. A few days later, Dave Engle hit the Metrodome’s first regular-season home run as the Twins opened with a loss to the Seattle Mariners. The Minnesota lineup was loaded with young players, with Kent Hrbek leading the way. He had a 23-game hitting streak that extended into May. That same month, the Twins acquired a young slugger, Tom Brunansky, in a trade. Gaetti and Laudner also contributed, along with a new pitcher, Frank Viola.

Another star emerged in 1984. Kirby Puckett joined the Twins in May and got four hits in his first game. Puckett immediately became a fan favorite with his hustle and enthusiastic style of play.

The 1984 season was also marked by a change in ownership. Carl Pohlad purchased the team from Calvin Griffith. Soon after that, the Twins caught fire and moved to the top of the West Division standings. They were still in first place with only a week left in the season, but they lost their final six games and finished in a tie for second place.

A couple of disappointing years followed, but the Twins put together an unforgettable season in 1987.

Tom Kelly was in his first full season as manager. Other new faces included relief ace Jeff Reardon and hardnosed outfielder Dan Gladden. Stalwarts like Hrbek, Puckett, Gaetti, and Brunansky joined the newcomers in helping the Twins to the top in 1987.

The Twins won the West Division and then upset the Detroit Tigers in the League Championship Series, winning in five games. The Twins were underdogs again in the World Series, but they pulled off another upset, defeating the St. Louis Cardinals, 4 games to 3, to win their first world championship in baseball. In doing so, the Twins became the state’s first major league team to win an overall championship since the Minneapolis Lakers in 1954.

Minnesota didn’t repeat in 1988, but they did have the American League’s best pitcher in Frank Viola, who won 24 games and received the Cy Young Award.

The Twins dropped to last place in 1990 but came back with another big season. After a slow start in 1991, the Twins put together a 15-game winning streak that put them into first place in June. Scott Erickson won 20 games, including 12 in a row, and St. Paul native Jack Morris—in his only season with the Twins—added 18. Chuck Knoblauch played a steady second base and was named Rookie of the Year.

The Twins won the West Division by eight games and defeated the Toronto Blue Jays in the playoffs to advance to the World Series against the Atlanta Braves, another team that had finished last the previous year. It was one of the most memorable World Series ever, with three games—including the final two—being decided in extra innings.

The Twins were down, 3 games to 2, as they played Game 6 at the Metrodome. Kirby Puckett provided the heroics in this one. In the third, he leaped high against the fence in left-center to rob Ron Gant of an extra-base hit and snuff an Atlanta rally. Then, in the last of the 11th, Puckett led off with a home run to left-center to win the game for the Twins.

The final game was just as exciting. Jack Morris was magnificent, but Atlanta righthander John Smoltz of the Braves was just as sharp. Neither team could score, and the game was scoreless as it went into extra innings, with Morris still on the mound for the Twins. Morris put down the Braves in the top of the 10th, and the Twins were finally able to bring across a run in the bottom of the inning. Gene Larkin’s one-out single beyond a pulled-in outfield brought home Dan Gladden with the winning tally and gave the Twins their second World Series victory in five seasons.

The Twins finished second to the Oakland Athletics in the West Division in 1992, and then hit another period of hard times. While the team struggled through the rest of the 1990s, it still provided many highlights with the focus on individual performance.

Dave Winfield, who grew up playing baseball on the sandlots of St. Paul, came to the Twins in 1993 after many good years with San Diego, the New York Yankees, and California. In September of that season, Winfield got the 3,000th hit of his career. Eight years later, Winfield became the only Minnesota-born player besides Charles “Chief” Bender to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

In 1996, another St. Paul native, Paul Molitor, came home to Minnesota to finish out his career. He also got his 3,000th hit while playing for the Twins.

In between those milestones, another Twins achieved personal glory. In April of 1994, Scott Erickson pitched a no-hitter against Milwaukee. It was the first no-hitter in the history of the Metrodome, and the first for a Twins pitcher since 1967. Among the highlights, though, was a sad event. An eye disease, glaucoma, brought a premature end to the career of Kirby Puckett in 1996. In 2001, Puckett—along with his former teammate, Dave Winfield—was elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.

There were other problems. Just as Calvin Griffith had been plagued by rising salaries in the 1970s, the Twins were by this time finding it difficult to compete for top players with some of the richer teams in the major leagues. Even so, the team developed a number of fine young players, such as Brad Radke. In 1997, the righthander won 20 games for Minnesota, including a stretch in which he won 12 consecutive starts.

The emphasis remained on young players over the next few years. One of them, Eric Milton, topped off the 1990s with a no-hitter against the Anaheim Angels in September of 1999. Other young players, like Doug Mientkiewicz, Cristian Guzman, Corey Koskie, Joe Mays, and Jacque Jones, stepped up in the coming years, and it paid off.

The Twins got off to a great start in 2001, winning 14 of their first 17 games. They kept up the hot play, thanks to the hitting and fielding of Mientkiewicz and the pitching of Radke, Milton, and Mays, who gave the team some of the best starting pitching in the majors.

The Twins were in first place by five games at the All-Star break. However, injuries to key players like Guzman and Radke, slowed them down over the second half. The Twins still finished with 85 wins and in second place.

Minnesota dealt with even more challenges the next year. The threat of contraction made players and fans, as well as new manager Ron Gardenhire, wonder if there would even be a 2002 season for them. The Twins survived but they had to deal with significant injuries again. However, this time there was no stopping the Twins. Torii Hunter connected for 29 home runs and for the second straight year won a Gold Glove in center field. His most spectacular catch of the year came on a national stage, as he robbed Barry Bonds of a home run in the All-Star Game.

The Twins won 94 games but were underdogs in the opening round of the playoffs as they faced the Oakland Athletics, which had won 103 games. Oakland won two of the first three games, but the Twins won the next two to capture the series and advance to the American League Championship Series. The Twins won the first game but then dropped the next four and were eliminated by the Anaheim Angels, the team that went on to win the World Series.

The Twins made it two straight division titles in 2003, although there were times over the first half of the season when it didn’t appear this would happen. In addition to the Chicago White Sox, the team expected to contend with the Twins, a young Kansas City team played well. The Twins started slowly, dropped as far as eight games out of first in April, battled back, but found themselves seven-and-a-half games out of first at the All-Star break. However, Shannon Stewart, acquired in a trade with Toronto, provided the offense with a spark over the last half of the season. Combined with stronger performances from the starting pitchers, Minnesota once again whittled away at the leaders. The comeback in the standings was completed after a strange come-from-behind win on September 3. Down 5-4 with two out and one on in the ninth against Anaheim, Stewart grounded a double to left. Dustan Mohr tried to score from first but the relay to the plate was well ahead of him. However, Mohr crashed into catcher Bengie Molina, knocking the ball loose, and scored the tying run. As the ball rolled up the first-base line, Stewart also came home to win the game. That night, the White Sox lost, and the Twins were tied for first.

The Twins and White Sox remained tied as they split a four-game series in Chicago the following week. By the time the two teams met again, at the Metrodome, the Twins had a half-game lead, one they stretched to three-and-a-half games by sweeping the White Sox at home. Less than a week later, Minnesota clinched the Central Division title. In the opening round of the playoffs, the Twins won the first game, in New York, but then dropped the next three to the Yankees.

General manager Terry Ryan’s program of building a strong minor-league system and a winning team at the major league level had paid off, opening the door to the next step of replenishing veterans and keeping the winning team together. Toward that end, Minnesota fans look ahead to the emergence of catcher Joe Mauer, who was the first player taken in the 2001 draft, and others in the coming years.

Unfortunately, Mauer hurt his knee in the second game of the 2004 season and played only 35 games that year. However, other young players and newcomers made contributions. Joe Nathan, acquired in a trade with San Francisco, took over the closer role and saved 44 games while producing an earned-run average of 1.62. Justin Morneau became the team’s regular first baseman and had 19 home runs in just 74 games.

The biggest story of the 2004 season was the emergence of lefthander Johan Santana, who was unbeatable over the final half of the season. Santana won his final 13 decisions to finish with a won-lost record of 20-6 and an ERA of 2.61. Named American League Pitcher of the Month in July, August, and September, Santana led the league with 265 strikeouts while walking only 54 batters in 228 innings. Following the season, he was unanimously selected as the recipient of the Cy Young Award in the American League. Santana became the first Twins pitcher since Camilo Pascual in 1963 to lead the league in strikeouts and only the third pitcher in Twins history to win the Cy Young Award.

The Twins won the Central Division title for the third straight year, and, for the second year in a row, faced the New York Yankees in the opening round of the playoffs. Santana pitched seven scoreless innings as Minnesota won the first game, 2-0. The Twins were on the verge of taking a two-game lead in the series as Torii Hunter put them ahead with a 12th-inning home run in the second game. However, Nathan, pitching his third inning of the game, was ineffective in the bottom of the inning as the Yankees scored twice to win the game. In the third game, in Minnesota, the Yankees won, 8-4, but the Twins, with Santana back on the mound, looked like they would win the fourth game and force a decisive fifth game back in New York. The Twins had a 5-1 lead after seven innings. The Yankees rallied in the eighth of Juan Rincon and had one run in with one out and two runners on base. Ruben Sierra then delivered the big blow for New York, a three-run homer to tie the game. In the top of the 11th, Alex Rodriguez doubled, stole third, and then scored the go-ahead run on a wild pitch, and the Yankees won the game, 6-5, and the series, three-games-to-one.

In 2005, the Twins played well during the early part of the season. Unfortunately for them, the Chicago White Sox were playing even better. Chicago was the hottest team in baseball, but the Twins remained within striking distance through mid-June. The Twins finished the season in third place, behind Chicago and Cleveland, but they still have a winning record for the fifth straight year.

Johan Santana was outstanding again, leading the major leagues in strikeouts and finishing third in the balloting for the Cy Young Award.

A slow start in 2006 left the Twins as far as 12-1/2 games out of first and more than 10 games away from a wild-card spot. But a ferocious final three-and-a-half months put the team back into contention. Johan Santana, again nearly unbeatable after the All-Star break, tied for the major-league lead in wins with 19 and led the majors with a 2.77 earned-run average and 245 strikeouts for the season. He was rewarded with his second Cy Young Award in three seasons. Rookie Francisco Liriano was also spectacular, winning 12 of his first 14 decisions before an elbow problem limited him to two starts over the final two months.

The Twins clinched a playoff spot in the final week of the regular season. They were tied for first with Detroit on the final day. The Twins won their game, then, along with their fans, hung around to watch the final inning of the Tigers game on the Metrodome scoreboard. When the Tigers lost in extra innings, the team and fans celebrated the Twins’ fourth Central Division championship in five years.

The Twins were eliminated in the playoffs by the Oakland Athletics, but memories lingered of the exciting finish of the regular season as well as some outstanding individual performances. Joe Mauer, with two hits in the final game, became the first American League catcher to win a batting title, leading the majors with a .347 batting average. Justin Morneau had 34 home runs and 130 RBIs and was named the American League Most Valuable Player, the first Twins player to win the award since 1977.

The following season, Morneau became the first Twins player in 20 years to hit at least 30 homers in back-to-back season. However, Minnesota dropped to third place in 2007 and snapped its streak of six straight winning seasons. There were other strong individual performances, including Johan Santana finishing second in the league in strikeouts. He had 17 of those in one game, setting a new team record, on August 19 against Texas. Combined with two strikeouts from Joe Nathan in the ninth inning, the Twins set a club record with 19 strikeouts in a game. Fewer than two weeks later, Scott Baker became only the second Twins pitcher to take a perfect game into the ninth inning. He finished with a one-hit shutout against the Royals.

Following the 2007 season, the Twins traded Johan Santana to the New York Mets for four prospects. One of them, center-fielder Carlos Gomez, was in the 2008 Opening Day lineup and provided a lot of excitement with his speed and style of play. Other young players, such as Alexi Casilla and Denard Span, contributed offensively and in the field while a young staff of starters filled the gap brought on by the departure of Santana. The veterans came through again, Joe Mauer finishing with a .328 batting average to lead the American League in that department for the second time. Justin Morneau had 129 runs batted in, second in the league. The Twins maintained a fierce battle with the Chicago White Sox for first place through much of the year, and the season came down to a tiebreaker playoff game in Chicago. Nick Blackburn pitched well but gave up a seventh-inning homer to Jim Thome for the game’s only run as the White Sox won 1-0 to end the Twins’ season.

In 2009, the Twins hovered around the .500 mark but stayed within striking distance of first-place Detroit into September. Minnesota won 11 of 12 games to pull close, but with four games left in the season, the Twins were still three out of first. However, they won their final four while Detroit lost three of four (including one to the Twins) to force a tiebreaker game at the Metrodome. The Twins came from behind twice, including once in extra innings, and finally won the tiebreaker in the bottom of the 12th as Alexi Casilla singled home Carlos Gomez from second. Minnesota advanced to the postseason but was eliminated by New York in the opening round.

The Twins had two players with at least 30 home runs, Michael Cuddyer and Justin Morneau. Jason Kubel added 28 while batting .300. The standout among the hitters was Joe Mauer, who missed the first month of the season with an injury. Once back, though, he made an immediate impact. Mauer had 11 homers and 32 RBIs in May and was named the American League Player of the Month. Mauer finished the season with 28 home runs and a batting average of .365, leading the league in that category for the third time. After the season, he was named in American League Most Valuable Player, getting 27 of 28 first-place votes and becoming the fifth Twins player to win the award.

The 2009 season marked the final year of the Twins in the Metrodome; in 2010, fans filled Target Field at the other end of downtown Minneapolis. Selling out all but two of their home games, the Twins set a team attendance record of 3,223,640 during the regular season.

In addition to the excitement of the new ballpark, fans had plenty of entertainment from the team. Jim Thome hit 25 home runs, 15 of them at home, including a Labor Day blast off the top of the flag pole in right field that was measured at 480 feet. Thome climbed to 589 career home runs, passing Rafael Palmeiro, Harmon Killebrew, Mark McGwire, and Frank Robinson to take over eighth place on the all-time list.

Delmon Young had a break-out season in 2010, hitting 21 homers with 112 runs batted in, and Justin Morneau had a great start, hitting 18 home runs by early July. However, a concussion on July 7 sidelined him for the rest of the season.

Despite being without Morneau, the Twins had a strong second half and won their sixth Central Division title in nine years.

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