It’s fair to say there’s no love lost between the Minnesota Twins and New York Yankees. However, that rivalry (and hatred) goes well beyond the Twins’ days at the Metrodome and even Met Stadium.
Before coming to Minnesota in 1961, the team was the Washington Senators. Their biggest rivals? Those damn Yankees. The history of these two teams is the basis for the storyline of the musical “Damn Yankees,” which is now on stage at the Ordway in St. Paul. The story follows someone who will sell their soul to the devil to beat the Yanks. (Click here to read Katie Fraser’s Q&A with actor Lawrence Clayton.)
Twins curator Clyde Doepner is uniquely qualified to connect the drama from the stage with the team’s actual history. His knowledge of baseball, history and theater is second to none. Doepner decided to tell a story highlighting the Senators’ history that’s unique to Washington.
He spent some time telling me about the first-of-its-kind display and how the Senators were able to do something the Twins never have.
How did the rivalry between the Senators and Yankees start?
First, the two teams were reasonably close in location. The owners of each team going way back were former players. So you’ve got a competition between two people who played against each other, continued to compete over who can manage and run a team better.
When you were a manager back then, you could almost say owner/manager. The owners had a lot of input on the team for many of the teams, not like now where owners stay out of the coaches’ way.
Clyde, you love both baseball and theater. This must be a dream project.
This has been a fun project for me because anytime you can combine two passions, it’s a win-win. We’ve had tickets at the Ordway for 28 years. It’s something in this case, even my wife, who’s not the biggest baseball fan, said it’ll be cool to come out here and see something I’ve set up.
What is that story you’re trying to tell? There’s so many unique people and story lines with the Senators and Twins.
I focused on the president’s presence with the Senators. They used to start baseball a day early in Washington. Every home opening, the president would throw out the opening pitch at the game in the nation’s capital. So naturally, he did that for the Senators.
When the Twins moved out of Met Stadium, [former Twins owner] Calvin Griffith found out that the semi he brought from Washington, D.C. was too big to store at the Metrodome. The semi had all of the Senators’ things in it. Until then, it was stored for free at Med Stadium. When he moved the team to the Metrodome, it had a Sports Commission, and Cal had to store everything by the square foot. He was too frugal to do it, so he said throw everything.
I got to know him and his family in 1966. When that happened, Cal’s brother called me and said we’re throwing everything away, come and take a look at it. He knew I was a big fan of history and baseball.
For the next month, I went through the semi and took what I wanted. In all, I collected 4,000 items, if you count each piece of paper. You know, it includes things like contracts, photographs, letters. Some of what I took were the letters from presidents of the United States.
Would you say those are the most priceless items you took?
Everything has a different value. But as a history teacher, it still gives me goosebumps. But as a historian and as a savor of history, and to be able to now show it off and display that along with the play/musical, it ties it in together.
I’ve never done a display on presidential autographs. It certainly doesn’t have the most value in terms of money. But it is valuable to the history of the Senators & the history of baseball. A lot of the Senator’s awards and memorabilia are on display in Washington with the Nationals. Obviously, it’s not their lineage, it’s our lineage.
When you find something, like contracts and I have so many early contracts! It was just amazing what they got rid of and each night I’d be driving home saying, “Wow, it was worth going up there today.”
What will people see in the display?
First, I have two jerseys. One is a replica jersey from the early 1900s, it has Washington spelled out on the front. The other says Senators; it’s from the 1950s.
There is also a photo of the 1954 team. You’ll see Harmon Killebrew in the top left row.
I’ve also included photos of the presidents who threw out the first pitch.
In 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower was set to throw out the first pitch. Rawlings Sporting Goods sent a letter to the team saying they had made a glove with Ike’s name on it. In effect it said “get the glove in the newspaper pictures.”
There are similar photos in the display with Franklin D. Roosevelt, Richard Nixon and Harry Truman. Each photo is accompanied with a short description and other artifacts.
No president, past or sitting, has thrown out a first pitch at a Twins game.
Damn Yankees is at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts from June 16-28. Tickets cost $33-110.
Doepner is co-hosting a conversation about Minnesota baseball prior to the performances on June 17th & June 24th at the Ordway. For more information, click here.