Old School Minnesota Baseball, Part V: The St. Paul Saints’ Everyday Stars

Probably the biggest star ever to play for the Saints was Joe Riggert, who played parts of 12 different seasons with St. Paul.  He was born in Janesville, Wisconsin in December of 1886.

Riggert first broke into professional baseball with Lyons in the Kansas State League in 1909 (I’d bet that that was a Class D league).  In 1910 he led the league in batting average, hitting .362 and he also clubbed a lead-leading 13 home runs (remember, this was 1910).  After 90 games, his contract was purchased by Omaha in the Western League (probably a AA-level or high-A-level league at that time: other mid-sized cities like Denver, Lincoln, Des Moines, Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Pueblo, and Wichita were in that league).  He hit .331 in 62 games for Omaha, and was obtained by the Red Sox after the season.

Riggert only hit .212 for the BoSox in 146 at-bats in 1911, and was sold or traded after the season to St. Paul.  He wasn’t quite ready for American Association level play in 1912, hitting only .239 in 267 at-bats, and he finished the season playing for Wilkes-Barre in the New York State League.  He hit .313 there, and was brought back to St. Paul in 1913.

1913 was Joe’s first great year for the Saints.  He hit .293 and led the league in triples (23) and home runs (12).  He was still young enough for a season like that to attract the majors’ attention, and he spent 1914 playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers and the St. Louis Cardinals.  He hit only .203 in 172 major league at-bats that year, and was back in St. Paul for 1915.

Although Riggert only hit between .279 and .286 from 1915-1917, he led the American Association in home runs (9) in 1915, triples (19) in 1916, and in at-bats (604) in 1917.  He also stole between 24 and 34 bases in those three years.

Riggert’s finest year as a Saint was the war-shortened 1918 season.  He led the American Association in games (78), at bats (311), runs (48), doubles (16), home runs (6), and stolen bases (20).  He hit .325 that year.

Joe got off to a good start in 1919, hitting .306 in half a season, before being acquired by the Boston Braves for the second half.  He hit .283 in 240 at-bats for the Braves with 8 doubles, 5 triples, and 4 home runs, fine numbers for the last year of the dead-ball era and especially for a center fielder.  However, he was already 32 at that point, and the Braves probably figured he wouldn’t have many good years left.  It’s also possible and even likely that Riggert was worth more to the high-flying Saints at that point than he was to the Braves, Boston’s second team, and the Saints probably traded younger players to the Braves to bring him back.

At any rate, Riggert was back in St. Paul in 1920 and gave the Saints 5 more good years.  Here are his numbers for the period from 1920-1924:

Year    AB    Hits  2B   3B   HR    R     SB    BA

1920   514   147   15   17*   9     89     12    .286

1921   596   185   28   20    13   107    17    .310

1922   475   150   27   14     3     95     3      .316

1923   495   143   26   10    11    86     16    .289

1924   327    96    13     8      9    52     10    .294

As you can see from these numbers, Riggert hit a lot of triples.  In fact, he is the all-time minor league leader in three-base hits with 228.

1924 was Joe’s last year with St. Paul.  He played two more years for Tulsa in the Western League, leading the league in 1925 with 57 doubles, and two years after that with Quincy in the Three I League.  He retired after the 1928 season at age 41.

Another great, long-time outfielder for the Saints was Bruno Haas.  The first records I have for him show him breaking in with the 1915 Philadelphia A’s as a 24 year old rookie pitcher/outfielder.  He must have played somewhere professionally before making it to the majors, but if he did so, there are apparently no surviving records of it.  Perhaps he was the big star of an outlaw league or an industrial league.

[Wikipedia says that Haas signed with the A’s a month after graduating from the Worchester Academy, an elite New England preparatory school.  He would have graduated at age 24, which seems awfully old to be graduating from a prep school, but he may have been attending the school on an athletic scholarship.]

Industrial leagues were a big deal before 1920 and probably remained so as late as the start of the Second World War.  Baseball below the AA level leagues (like the Southern Association, the Eastern League, the Texas League and possibly the Western League) was very low paid.  Playing (and working) for a steel company or a railroad that played in an industrial league and wanted to win for publicity’s sake probably had a real draw for players in those days.  The pay was probably comparable or better than the lower minor leagues, meant a year -round job (most professional baseball players, including those at the major league level, had to work at something else during the off-season) and presented much more of a future for the player once he was too old to play anymore.

Haas went 1 for 18 in 12 games and pitched equally badly in 14.1 IP over six appearances (11.93 ERA) for the 1915 A’s and never played in the major leagues again.  He hit well for Wilkes-Barre in 1916 and had a solid, but unspectacular, rookie year in the International League with Newark in 1917.  He didn’t play at all in 1918; he was probably in the military or in a war-industry job.  In 1919 he hit .294 with good power for Milwaukee in the American Association, and the Saints obtained him after that season.  He would play regularly for the Saints for the next 11 years.

Haas hit at least .300 in nine of those seasons, including years of .324, .331, .336, .317, .329, .334, and .328 between 1921 and 1928.  In his last season with St. Paul, 1930, he hit .374 in 262 at bats.  He hit 51 doubles in 1926, but his next highest total as a Saint was 37.  He was generally good for 24 to 35 doubles a year, 5 to 15 triples, 6 to 14 home runs and 12 to 24 stolen bases.  He scored at least 100 runs three times and drove in at least 100 twice.

As you can see, he had all the hallmarks of a great AAA player.  By the time he really developed as a hitter, he was too old to be a hot prospect, and he didn’t have major league power.  However, he could do a little bit of everything, and he was remarkably consistent, which kept him playing regularly in the American Association for 13 years.

Haas was a solidly built man for the times, standing 5’10” and 180 lbs.  He played in the NFL for a year in 1921, and he had a 6 for 6 game for the Saints on June 7, 1925.  After his last season as an every day player in 1932, he managed for many years in the Northern League, a league that included Winnipeg, Fargo-Morehead, Duluth, and Grand Forks (a lot of the same cities as the present day independent A Northern League).

During his many years as a manager, he would occasionally pick up his glove and play, probably when injuries to his players made it necessary or in late season games after the pennant race had been decided.  He had his last professional hit, a double, for Fargo-Morehead in 1946 when he must have been 54 or 55 years old.

The final Saints’ star from those early 1920’s teams I’ll tell you about is Lute “Danny” Boone.  He was the Saints’ regular shortstop from 1919 through 1925.  His professional career apparently started with Steubenville in the Ohio-Pennsylvania League in 1912.  He hit a feeble .223 with little power for Dallas in the Texas League as a 23 year old shortstop in 1913, but that was enough for him to get his major league chance.  One suspects that he was a great defensive SS and also that he was willing to take a walk.  With Dallas in 1913, he scored 65 runs on only 113 hits with little power.

Boone was the Yankees’ regular 2Bman in 1914 and 1915.  In 1914, he hit .222 with 8 doubles, 2 triples and no home runs in 370 ABs.  In 1915 he hit .204 with 12 doubles, 2 triples, and a more impressive 5 HRs in 431 ABs.  You’re probably wondering what kept this guy in the majors when other players from the era hit far better but quickly ended up back in the minors. Again, I suspect he must have had a great glove, so I checked out his defensive numbers.  He had the best range, in terms of chances per game, of any 2Bman in the American league both of those years.

In 1916, however, Boone hit just .185 in 124 AB’s.  That was too much (or too little) even for the best glove-man, and the Yankees sold him to Richmond in the International League.  In 1917, the Toledo Mudhens of the American Association obtained him.  He played mostly second for the Mudhens and hit .235 in 1917 and .259 in 1918.  In those two seasons he had a combined 22 extra base hits, none of which were home runs, in 673 AB’s.

Nevertheless, Danny’s glove was so good that the Pirates picked him up at the end of the 1918 season.  He hit .198 in 91 ABs and never played in the majors again.

The Saints obtained Boone prior to the 1919 season.  With the Saints at age 29, he finally learned how to hit.  It’s actually pretty uncommon for a player to learn to hit at that late an age, but it was substantially more common for minor league stars of the pre-WWII era; many such players learned how to hit later in their careers, but were too old for a major league team to care, so they became minor league stars.

In 1919 Boone hit only .260 with 15 doubles, 2 triples and 1 home run in 362 ABs.  Not particularly impressive, but it was by far his best professional season with the bat up to that point.  Between 1920 and 1925, Boone put up these six seasons:

Year   AB     H    2B   3B   HR   R    RBI   SB    BA

1920  552   164   33   8     2   80    68     29    .297

1921  469   135   28    4     2   71    76     19    .288

1922  630   181   36   6     8   104  115    20   .287

1923  636   196   42   4    10  124   98     32   .308

1924  549   142   31   2     4     79    65     26   .259

1925  589   156   34    8      5     90    75     31   .265

Some of the improvement was due to the fact that the period from 1920-1925 was a much better era for hitting than 1910-1919.  At the same time, it is also clear that Boone just became a better hitter.  When you consider that he was almost certainly the best defensive shortstop in the American Association and certainly one of the best defensive middle infielders anywhere in organized baseball, you can see just how great he was.  More than any other position player (although I suspect that many of the Saints every-day players, including both Riggert and Haas, were excellent glove-men), Boone is probably most responsible for all the great seasons that the Saints pitchers had during that period, aside, of course, from the pitchers themselves.

Mike Kelley’s last year as manager of the Saints was 1923.  After that season he bought into the cross-river rivals and was the Millers’ President and primary owner from 1923 through 1946.  He managed the Millers for 8 seasons from 1924 through 1931.  He did not have the same success in Minneapolis that he had in St. Paul, however. In 1928, the Millers finished second with a record of 97-71 and they finished 3rd in 1929.  They finished between 4th and 7th the other six seasons.

In the next and final installment of this series, I will tell you about a few more of the great players who in the Twin Cities before the Second World War.  [Here are Part I, Part II, Part III and Part IV of the series.]

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