Saint Paul has a rich baseball history but too often is dwarfed by its so-called “twin” city across the river. But the capital city’s minor league baseball team won its division last summer and is on pace to repeat later this summer.
The St. Paul Saints last week honored two native sons, David Winfield and Paul Monitor, both of whom grew up within a half mile of each other, and both played for the same four teams “but never at the same time” — the American Legion, the University of Minnesota, the Toronto Blue Jays and the Minnesota Twins. Later both were inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, noted St. Paulite and local historian Frank White.
“I think it’s probably overdue,” admitted Twins President Dave St. Peter to the MSR prior to the August 11 pre-game ceremony honoring both men. “I’m not sure we can do enough to celebrate the legacy of David Winfield and Paul Monitor and the overall history of great baseball in the city of St. Paul.”
“They meant so much to St. Paul,” stated Bill Peterson, now the Twins manager in youth and Legion baseball, who coached both Winfield and Monitor. “It’s a one-in-a-million thing that two kids just blocks apart, both from Minnesota, and both are in the Hall of Fame. I had a small part… I stayed out of the way.”
This columnist over the years has been both fortunate and blessed to speak with persons of both genders whose names are now immortalized in their respective sport’s hall of fame — but never one who once played at St. Paul’s Oxford playground.
“There weren’t many people I could use as role models,” recalled Winfield in an MSR sit-down interview last week before the Saints honored him on the field. His and Monitor’s Hall of Fame plaques have been duplicated and will be installed at the Lowertown ballpark.
Winfield pointed out that the late Leroy Gardner, who played basketball at the U of M and later worked there as well, was someone from the same area who looked like him who would earn an athletic scholarship from Minnesota.
“There weren’t many Black baseball players for me” to emulate, either, continued Winfield, who played on consecutive American Legion state titles; played at St. Paul Central where he graduated; and earned All American, All Big Ten and College World Series MVP at the U of M before he went straight to the majors and played for San Diego, the first of six major league teams.
He finished his pro baseball career as a 12-time All-Star, seven-time Gold Glove, and six-time Silver Slugger winner. The St. Paul native made the prestigious 3,000 hit club in 1993 and finished with 3,110 hits. Eight years later (2001) he became a Hall of Famer and was then inducted into the College Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006.
“I honestly found something that I loved when I was very young — baseball,” said Winfield. “Not knowing what to expect, I gave it my all. I evolved, I grew, I changed into the player and the man I am. Baseball has given me an opportunity to get an education, to stay physically fit, to meet [U.S.] presidents, to travel the world, to have a good name and reputation.”
He and his brother Steven 40 years ago founded the annual Winfield Awards to honor Blacks and other high school students of color academically and athletically, and to raise money for scholarships as well.
“That makes me proud and a lot of our community proud,” said Steven. “He’s been a part of the community. Whether he’s my brother or not, I’m very proud of him. But he is my brother.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.