To see the best feature of the new City of Baseball Museum at CHS Field in St. Paul, you need to look down.
It’s right there, on the floor — a long, wide streetscape of the Saintly City, with baseball-centric places noted: sites of former ballparks; homes where Hall of Famers Dave Winfield, Paul Molitor and Jack Morris grew up; the house in the old Rondo neighborhood where Roy Campanella, the Hall of Fame catcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers, lived in the late 1940s while with an earlier version of the Saints.
If you didn’t know Campanella was a Saint — or, worse, have no clue who Campanella was — you’ll further your baseball education by perusing the 2,000-square-foot museum. It opened Thursday, inside the ballpark behind behind the third-base stands, in time for the first Saints home series of the season. Game tickets included free admission to the museum, which explores more than a century of St. Paul’s rich baseball history.
Most Saints fans know current St. Paul franchise, founded in 1993, isn’t the first to sport that nickname. The original club known as the Saints moved from Sioux City, Iowa to St. Paul in 1894, but left for Chicago in 1900, becoming what we know today as the White Sox. Blame Charles Comiskey, the owner, for the wanderlust, though he did built Lexington Park, the home of later versions of the Saints.
In the 1920s the franchise featured a famous silent part-owner — Hall of Famer Miller Huggins, who managed the Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig-led Yankees in the 1920s. That explains why Huggins brought his star-laden team to Lexington Park for exhibition games, at a time when Chicago and St. Louis marked the westernmost outposts of major-league baseball.
Hearing such stories from local baseball enthusiasts fascinated current Saints co-owner Marv Goldklang. “He thought (fans) would get as great a kick, if not more, out of these stories as he did,” said Michael Goldklang, Marv’s son and senior vice president of the Goldklang Group.
The seeds of this took root when the Saints moved from Midway Stadium II to CHS Field in 2015. Former Saints executive Annie Huidekoper’s Midway office was a mini-museum in itself, a storehouse of quirky Saints memorabilia. Once the club relocated to Lowertown, general manager Derek Sharrer said fans contacted the club to offer all kinds of historic material. One woman, he said, uncovered Saints team pictures from 1920 to 1957.
“So it was things like that that really spurred the interest in digging deeper into the history, and building the museum,” Sharrer said.
Two years ago Marv Goldklang asked Dave Kaplan, the founding director of the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center in New Jersey, to look into a museum project. (Goldklang owns a minority share of the Yankees and lives in New Jersey.) When Goldklang decided to go ahead with it, he hired Split Rock Studios, out of Arden Hills, to design it. Split Rock staffer Amanda Wambach, a Saints fan whose past work includes a touring King Tut exhibit currently in Paris, volunteered for the project.
The club leaned on Twin Cities baseball historian Stew Thornley, Minnesota black baseball authority Frank White and a young local memorabilia collector named Taylor Simons for guidance and artifacts.
The long, rectangular room features five major elements: Sandlot origins from the mid-late 1800s; big names who played for the Saints from 1920s through the 1950s; the Saints-Minneapolis Millers rivalry; the current independent-league Saints; and On The Map, tying together all the eras and history. A documentary chronicling St. Paul’s baseball history is expected to be ready this weekend. (Disclosure: I was interviewed for the documentary.)
Several Yankees from the 1920s served apprenticeships in St. Paul, and the club was a farm team for the White Sox from 1936-42 and the Dodgers from 1944-60. A display of baseballs overlooking the field honors greats from that era. Some gained fame with the Yankees (Huggins, Leo Durocher), others the Dodgers (Campenella, Duke Snider and Walter Alston), while still others excelled in other sports. George Halas, the Chicago Bears owner and coach, appeared in 39 games for the Saints in 1919. And Boston Celtics star Bill Sharman spent two years in St. Paul, 1952 and 1955, as a Dodgers farmhand.
“I think the one I enjoyed the most was the Miller Huggins connection,” said Sharrer. “The constant thread is, why are the Murderers Row Yankees jumping on a train, riding cross country and playing exhibitions games in St. Paul? Well, Miller Huggins owned the team. He filled Lexington Park with paying customers, and Miller Huggins lined his pockets from bringing the Yankees cross country. That was probably my favorite story.”
Other displays honor the Minnesota Colored Gophers, a black barnstorming team from the early 20th century, and St. Paul’s Toni Stone, a dynamic infielder and one of three women who played in the Negro Leagues in the early 1950s.
“Black baseball is integral and central to the history of St. Paul,” Michael Goldklang said. “A lot of people don’t know pre-Jackie Robinson. What we wanted to do as part of this museum is tell that story, and tell how it interconnected with the City of St. Paul itself, and the cultural significance of the Rondo neighborhood.”
Sharrer expects exhibits to rotate during the season as more artifacts become available. “We know there’s no way we’ve covered everything,” he said.