1960: the year Twin Cities sports went pro

Photo by Charles Hallman Daniel Bergin (l) and sister Lea B. Olsen

Minneapolis and St. Paul today are big-league cities for six teams—four are in the larger of the two Twin Cities. But an upcoming TPT documentary reminds us that almost 60 years ago, the NBA’s Minneapolis Lakers was the only major league franchise in town. To borrow a line from “American Pie,” the team left town for the (West) Coast and landed in Los Angeles.

Becoming Big League” kicks off the second season of “Minnesota Experience” on KTCA-TV, TPT2, October 14 at 9 pm. The one-hour production includes on-screen interviews as well as archival footage to illustrate how the year 1960 was the pivotal point in Minnesota sports history. That was the year the Washington Senators moved west to become the Minnesota Twins and the Minnesota Vikings became an NFL expansion team. 

“We wanted to look at the relevance in a single year,” filmmaker Daniel Bergin said last week at the October 3 screening at the TPT’s St. Paul studio. 

Bergin, a Minneapolis native and TPT senior producer and partnership manager, told the invited audience, including the MSR, “Sports is something we haven’t covered a lot, but we all know someone in our lives who have connections to sports.”  

Local broadcaster Lea B. Olsen was among several persons who appeared in “Becoming Big League” and spoke on Minneapolis’ calculated big move from just a college town to a major-league city. It must be noted that the Lakers was the last pro team to be called “Minneapolis.” Every team that moved here (like the rechristened Twins) or started as expansion clubs (like the Lynx, Timberwolves and Vikings, even the Wild whose home is in St. Paul) are all known as “Minnesota” teams.

Olsen, who’s also Bergin’s sister, told the audience during a post-screening Q&A, “Sports was such a huge part of my life.” She told us afterwards, “I’m always impressed with the work they do at TPT because it is so thought out.”

See a teaser of “Becoming Big League”

As Bergin’s film historically details the area’s pro shift in 1960, it wasn’t all sweetness and Minnesota Nice. The Twins’ then-owner Calvin Griffith brought to town some racist views along with his team, one example of which was shown in the film. “Griffith was horrible,” the director pointed out. “I could not show that clip,” though in the end he did decide to include it in the film.

The team later was forced to desegregate its spring training site thanks to the efforts of the late Kwame McDonald, who at the time was the executive director of the Minnesota State Commission Against Discrimination. 

“I think 1960 is an important year. I won’t say that we are glorifying it, but [showing] its historical significance. We should always acknowledge the complexities…and the challenge of history.”

The film also stressed how the University of Minnesota 1960 football team helped change the big-time college football landscape with Sandy Stephens as the first Black quarterback to lead a predominately White institution to a national championship. 

“The University should let us know more who paved the path, who opened doors, and what that looked like,” Olsen, a U of M alum, admitted. Later she added, “I think about Sandy Stephens and what he did in his era. I bet a lot of the athletes don’t know that story.”

“Becoming Big League” is worth watching for sports and non-sports people alike. Bergin justly boasted, “I’m really proud of this work.”