Old School Minnesota Baseball: The Glory Days of the Minneapolis Millers and Joe Hauser

[The following is the first of a series of pieces that I sent to my friend Chris Earley, a Twins fan from St. Paul, about Pre-Twins Minnesota baseball as emails starting in January 2005.]

The Twin Cities were big baseball towns even before the Twins arrived in 1961.  The Minneapolis Millers and the St. Paul Saints were long-time members of the American Association, along with Kansas City, Milwaukee, Indianapolis, Columbus, Louisville and Toledo.  No major league teams moved their home city from 1904 through 1952, which meant that many cities that had populations big enough to support major league baseball didn’t get them.  Instead, some of them fielded very strong AAA -level teams, which their home cities followed as closely as fans did in the major league cities.  Also, prior to WWII, it was easier for these teams to hold on to top talent, in part because the ratio of major league teams to minor league teams was much smaller than it is today.

According to Bill James in his Historical Baseball Abstract, the Minneapolis Millers of 1910-1911 were the best minor league team of the 1910’s.  The star of the team, particularly in 1911, was Gavvy “Cactus” Cravath, one of the best hitters anywhere in baseball.  In 1911, he lead the American Association with a .363 batting average, 53 doubles, and 29 HRs.  His homerun count was the most of any player in organized (white) baseball that year.

While the Millers’ park was a great place for homerun hitters, Cravath was a legitimate power hitter.  He went back up to the majors with the Phillies in 1912 when he was already 31 years old and led the NL in homeruns in six of the next eight seasons.  His high in the majors was 24 for the 1915 Phillies, the only time from the turn of the 20th century until 1950 that the Phillies won the pennant and played in the World Series.  If Cravath had been born ten years later, he would probably be in the Hall of Fame; if he had been born 20 years later, he almost certainly would be.  After his playing career was over, he became a judge.

Also, on the 1911 Millers was one of baseball’s great left-handers and strikeout pitchers Rube Waddell.  Waddell had prematurely drunk himself out of the majors, but he had enough left to go 20-17 for the 1911 Millers.  This was actually lower than the team’s winning percentage that year, but Waddell did finish second in the American Association in strikeouts.  Also on the 1911 team was Sam Leever, the top pitcher for the Pittsburg Pirates in the 1900’s when they were one of the best teams in baseball.  He didn’t have much left in 1911, however, and only went 7-4.

The 1911 Millers had a number of players just out of the majors.  At second base was Jimmy Williams, a player who had been a legitimate major league star since 1899 until having a bad year for the St. Louis Browns in 1909.  At 3B, the Millers had Hobe Ferris, who while not as good a player as Williams, had been a major league regular from 1901 through 1909.  In left field for the 1911 team, was Claude Rossman, who was 30 that year and second in the league behind Cravath with a .356 batting average.  In 1908 as the starting left fielder for the AL champion Tigers, he hit .294 with 33 doubles and 13 triples.

At shortstop the Millers had Dave Altizer.  You’ve probably never heard of him, but he was one of the great players in Twin Cities history.  He was a regular for several American League teams from 1906 through 1909, before coming to the Millers in 1910.  That year he hit an even .300 and led the American Association with 111 runs scored and 65 stolen bases.  In 1911 he hit .335 in half a season.  He spent the other half of the year with the Cincinnati Reds in the NL, where he played in 37 games but had only 75 ABs.  After 1911, he was the Millers’ regular shortstop through the 1917 season.  His best year was 1914, when he hit .331 with 210 hits and pounded out 37 doubles, 9 triples and 14 HRs, heady numbers for a shortstop in the dead ball era.

The 1911 Millers’ pitching staff also had Nick Altrock, who won 20 or more games three years in a row in the AL from 1904-1906.

Although the 1911 team had more famous names, the 1910 team had a better record.  The 1910 Millers went 107-61, while the 1911 Millers went 99-66.  The 1910 team got a big season out of Long Tom Hughes, who won 20 for the Red Sox in 1903 and 18 games for the Senators in 1908.  For the 1910 Millers he went 31-12, before going back to the Washington Senators for three more years in the majors, including a 13-10 year for the 1912 Senators.

According to Bill James, the Millers had been a middle-of-the-pack American Association team that, like a lot of AAA-level teams of that era, had collected former major league players.  Starting in about 1909, however, the Millers began to seek out the best of those players available, which enabled them to field power-house teams for a couple of seasons.

The Millers also finished first in the American Association in 1912 and 1915, under manager Joe Cantillon, who guided the team from 1910 through 1923.  After 1915, the Millers had a long dry spell, not finishing first again until 1932.

Probably the best player in Minneapolis Millers’ history was Joe “Unser Choe” Hauser, who played 1B for the Millers for five years from 1932-1936.  His story was pretty typical for a minor league star.  He had come up with the Philadelphia A’s in 1922 and hit a lusty .323 in about two-thirds of a season.  His sophomore year (1923), when he was 24 years old, he was 5th in the AL with 16 HRs and also hit .307.  In 1924, he was second only to the mighty Babe in the AL with 27 HRs and was 4th in the league with 115 RBIs.  On April 7, 1925, on the eve of the season, he broke one of his legs and missed the entire season.  He came back some time during the 1926 season, but he had a horrendous year, hitting only .192 in 229 at-bats.

He went down to Kansas City in the American Association in 1927, had a monster year, and was back with the A’s in 1928.  He hit .260 with 16 HRs in only 300 at-bats, but the A’s had a young guy named Jimmy Foxx (aka “The Beast”) who they wanted to play at first, so that was pretty much the end of Hauser’s major league career.  He had 48 at-bats with the Indians in 1929 and hit 3 HRs, but the Indians’ regular 1Bman was Lew Fonseca, who led the AL in hitting that year with a .369 average.

Hauser wound up with the Baltimore Orioles in the International League in 1930.  He only hit .313, but he also chipped in 63 HRs, 173 runs scored and 175 RBIs.  1930 was a great year for hitting at all levels, and, despite a season like that, he was already 31 years old, and the major league teams didn’t come calling.

After a down year for the Orioles in 1931 (.259 batting average with 31HRs in 487 at-bats), he ended up in Minneapolis in 1932.  He hit .303 with 49 HRs, 132 runs scored and 129 RBIs.  That was just a warm-up for 1933, however, when he hit .332 with 69 HRs with 153 runs scored and 182 RBIs.  His 69 home runs in 1933 is by far the most of any player in a AAA-level league.  The only two other seasons even close are his own year with Baltimore in 1930, and HOFer Tony Lazzeri‘s 60 HRs for Salt Lake City in 1925 in one of those endless 200 game Pacific Coast League seasons.

What makes his 1933 total even more impressive is that he did in 153 games, as opposed to the 168 games he played for the 1930 Orioles.  Both the Orioles’ park and the Millers’ park were great home run parks for power hitters, but Hauser’s numbers from this period are still amazing.

Needless to say, 1933 was the high point of Hauser’s career as a Miller.  He got off to a great start in 1934, but apparently injured himself about half-way through the season.  Nevertheless, he finished with a .348 batting average and 33 HRs in 287 at-bats.  He was never really the same after the injury that year.  He hit in the .260’s the next two years, with 23 HRs in 1935 and 34 HRs in 1936 in a little over 400 at-bats each year.

After 1936, he went down to Sheboygan in the Wisconsin State League.  I don’t know if that was a short-season league or if he only played in about half of the games, but in five seasons there he never played in more than 79 games or had more than 242 at-bats in a season.  However, when he did play, he could still hit.  Hauser finished his professional career with 79 major league homeruns and 399 minor league homeruns.

In my next post, I will tell you about the player who Bill James considers the best of the minor league stars and who had a couple big years for the Millers.

[Part II of the Series is here.  Thanks to The Society for American Baseball Research’s Minor League Baseball Stars, Vols. I-III for a lot of the stats on minor league stars.  Here is another article on the Millers.  Here is SABR’s article on Joe Hauser.]

Explore posts in the same categories: Baseball History, Minnesota Twins

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