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A History of Minneapolis: an Overview by Staff at the Hennepin County Library

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Featuring historical photos and items from the collections of the Hennepin County Library, with contemporary photos from the Phototour of Minneapolis by Chris Gregerson.

Professional Sports

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Alongside a strong tradition of high school and college athletics, professional teams in Minneapolis also date to the 19th century. The Minneapolis Millers were the city's source of baseball pride until the Minnesota Twins moved to the area in 1961. The Millers' first year in a professional league was in 1884. The team won its first pennant in the Western League in 1896. The Millers started that season playing in tiny Athletic Park, at Sixth Street and First Avenue North, on the current site of Butler Square. Early in the season, though, the Millers were evicted from their quarters. By the time the team returned home from an extended road trip, a new ballpark had been built at the corner of Nicollet Avenue and 31st Street, just off Lake Street in south Minneapolis.

Entrance to Nicollet Baseball Park (ca. 1908 – 1910) located at Nicollet Avenue South and 31st Street. The Park was home to the Minneapolis Millers from 1896 to 1956, and the Minneapolis Millerettes in the 1940's.
Minneapolis Collection, M1721

The new facility, Nicollet Park, served the Millers for nearly 60 years. In 1902, the Millers became charter members in the American Association, a top-flight minor league only one step away from the majors. In their 59 years in the Association, the Millers compiled the best won-lost record among all the teams in the league during that period. They also won nine pennants, tying them for the most with their neighbors across the river, the St. Paul Saints.

Nicollet Park was also the home in 1944 to the Minneapolis Millerettes, a team in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, the subject of a 1992 movie, "A League of Their Own."

During their entire history, the Millers had 15 players who eventually ended up in the Baseball Hall of Fame. This impressive list includes Rube Waddell, Ted Williams, Willie Mays, and Carl Yastrzemski.

While Minneapolis had a couple of different teams in the National Football League in the 1920s and early 1930s, it wasn't until the mid-1940s that major league sports really arrived in the area. The Minneapolis Lakers began playing in 1947 in the National Basketball League (NBL) and became the sport's first dynasty. Led by George Mikan, the Lakers moved from the NBL to the Basketball Association of America and finally to the National Basketball Association (NBA), and won titles in each of these leagues in their first three years of operation. The Lakers won another three consecutive titles, all in the NBA, in the 1950s. Following the 1959-60 season, however, the Lakers left the area, moving to Los Angeles.

The Minnesota Twins and Minnesota Vikings brought major league baseball and football, respectively, to the state in 1961. For their first 21 years, the teams played in the open air in Metropolitan Stadium in suburban Bloomington. In 1982, however, Minneapolis became home to the Twins and Vikings as the teams moved into the newly built enclosed stadium, the Hubert Humphrey Metrodome.

The Twins struggled in their early years in the Metrodome, but some of the team's young players such as Kent Hrbek, Tom Brunansky, Kirby Puckett, Frank Viola, and Gary Gaetti became stars and helped the Twins win the Western Division title in the American League in 1987. The Twins were underdogs in the playoffs, but they defeated the Detroit Tigers, four games to one, in the league championship series and advanced to the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Minnesota Twins Kirby Puckett and Kent Hrbek hugging after the Twins won the 1987 World Series.
Minneapolis Collection, M4419

Once again, the Twins pulled off an upset, defeating the Cardinals in seven games to become world champions. The Twins were the state's first major league team to win an overall championship since the Minneapolis Lakers in 1954. The Twins made it back to the World Series in 1991 and defeated the Atlanta Braves in one of the most thrilling World Series ever played. In the decisive seventh game, at the Metrodome, the Twins won, 1-0, in 10 innings. Jack Morris, a St. Paul native, pitched the entire game for the Twins.

Minnesota Vikings (1972).
Municipal Information Library, Slide Collection, MIL2872.

The Vikings have yet to win a world championship. In the 1960s and 1970s, the team did make it to the Super Bowl four times, losing all of them. Since moving from Bloomington to Minneapolis, though, the Vikings have not made it back to the Super Bowl although they have won several Central Division titles in the National Football Conference (NFC). They also made it to the NFC title game after the 1998 and 2000 seasons, but lost both games.

The NBA returned to Minneapolis in 1989 when the Minnesota Timberwolves began play. The team made the Metrodome its home during its first season, before moving into the new Target Center at First Avenue North and Sixth Street. The Timberwolves were one of the league's doormats during their early years, but the emergence of stars like Kevin Garnett helped the Wolves improve during the latter part of the 1990s.

Minnesota got a team in the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA), the Lynx, in 1999. Although the Lynx have won no titles, they have produced several exciting players, including Katie Smith, who has led the WNBA in scoring and has set a number of league records.

Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome under construction (November 1980).
Municipal Information Library, Slide Collection, MIL2168.

The Humphrey Metrodome in addition to housing the Twins, the Vikings, and the Minnesota Gophers football team, has been host to a number of other significant sporting events, including the 1992 Super Bowl, the college basketball Final Four in 1992 and 2001 and the national Special Olympics in 1991.

Major league hockey came to Minnesota in 1967 when the National Hockey League (NHL) added six new franchises, doubling their number of teams. The Minnesota North Stars played in the Metropolitan Sports Center (later called the Met Center) in Bloomington and nearly made the Stanley Cup finals in their first year. A double-overtime loss in the seventh game of a playoff series against the St. Louis Blues denied them that opportunity. The North Stars did make the Stanley Cup finals in 1981, when they lost to the New York Islanders, and in 1991, when they lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Two years later, the area lost the North Stars when the team moved to Dallas.

Another major league hockey team competed with the North Stars in the 1970s. The Minnesota Fighting Saints were a charter member of the World Hockey Association. The team began play in 1972, first in the St. Paul Auditorium, and then in the new St. Paul Civic Center, which was built adjacent to the Auditorium.

In 2000, Minnesota had a new NHL team. The Minnesota Wild began playing in the Xcel Energy Center, which was built on the site of the Civic Center.

Moe Bartoli of the Minneapolis Bruins hockey team (1963).
Minneapolis Collection, Uncat Photo Sports: Hockey

Besides those already mentioned, Minneapolis has a rich heritage of athletes and teams in many sports, including golf, boxing, track and field, water skiing, and ice skating. The heritage encompasses both male and female athletes with the participation of the latter increasing greatly since the advent of Title IX, the 1972 federal act that, among other things, governs the overall equity of treatment and opportunity in athletics in schools and colleges.

From the high schools to the professional ranks, sports have been a major contributor to the Minneapolis experience.

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