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The Metrodome: a baseball disaster

Major League Baseball arrived in Minnesota in 1961, and the Minnesota Twins waited a half-century before a ballpark was finally built for them: Target Field.

Fifty years. That's a big-league record.

Many people think that either Metropolitan Stadium or the Metrodome was built for the Twins, but of course that is not the case.

Metropolitan Stadium was constructed in Bloomington, Minnesota, in 1956, but the original construction was not designed to accommodate either the Twins or Major League Baseball.

When Met Stadium was demolished, it was considered to be one of the worst stadiums in sports.

The long-term plan in the '50s was to lure big-league ball to Minnesota, but when "completed" Metropolitan Stadium had seating for fewer than 20,000 fans. That's because it was built for the Minneapolis Millers, a Class AAA baseball team. It was not until 1958 that a serious push to lure a baseball team to Minnesota resulted in a $9 million bond issue to double the seating capacity of the stadium to about 40,000.

That set the Met on its path to being a patchwork mess, including work in 1965 to cobble together left-field stands for baseball's All-Star Game. But the Minnesota Vikings realized the true value of that construction; it was just additional outfield seating for baseball, but for football it was prime sideline seating, so the Vikings paid for that in exchange for reduced rent.

A sad site when it died

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Before the Metrodome was born and Met Stadium was demolished, the Met was considered to be one of the worst stadiums in sports, and Major League Baseball players acknowledged that the infield turf was the most poorly maintained surface in the big leagues.

Contrary to those who wax poetic about Elysian Fields, Metropolitan Stadium was an ugly, piecemeal bit of architecture set in an area that guaranteed a traffic jam after even weekend ballgames, when there was no work traffic.

In 1982 the Metrodome in Minneapolis replaced Met Stadium as home to the Twins, the college football Gophers, and the National Football League's Minnesota Vikings.

The Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome is a football stadium, so naturally its configuration is ideal for football. There are few bad seats in the house for a football game, although it's become a very dismal venue as the roof is a filthy gray. Even when the roof was nearly white, there were roughly 8,000 good Metrodome seats for baseball. This is because the NFL sparked the concept for the Metrodome.

The Vikings were never the primary tenant in Met Stadium, and that irked Pete Rozelle, who was NFL commissioner when the Metrodome went up. Baseball ruled in Minnesota when the Met was built, but as the Vikings and the NFL rose to prominence in the '70s Rozelle disliked the fact the Vikings were not the primary Met tennant. Rozelle also had issued an edict that every NFL team should have a new place to punt.

The house that Pete built

There was talk of building a stadium that would have one football goal line in Saint Paul and the other in Minneapolis. The plan died.

Rozelle considered the nearly 49,000-seat Met Stadium to have insufficient seating, so in 1972 a $51 million, 70,000-seat stadium was proposed. Minnesotans strongly opposed the idea, because that is what Minnesotans have historically done. But the city of Minneapolis approved the plan and arranged to borrow money. Minneapolis Mayor Charles Stenvig opposed this. He called for a funding referendum, voters supported him, and the plan died.

The Minnesota state Legislature was listening to a new round of stadium proposals in 1975. There was discussion about expanding the University of Minnesota's Memorial Stadium into a $125 million multi-purpose field with a dome. There was talk about building a stadium in the suburb of Lakeville that would be recessed into the ground, much like the Metrodome playing surface today.

Legislators decided to take the stadium issue seriously when the Twins and the Vikings threatened to leave Minnesota. There was no lease to prevent this. So in 1976 a state House-Senate subcommittee on Sports Facilities concluded that rather than remodel either the Met or Memorial Stadium that it would be preferable and cheaper to build a new stadium.

Rudy and Quie

Location and financing were the political issues, with outstate legislators preferring a hotel-motel tax. Legislators in Duluth and Rochester, outlying parts of Minnesota, didn't want their constituents to pay for a stadium that would benefit the Twin Cities metropolitan area - even though their constituents attend games there.

This is the same argument presented when dealing with issues of transit in the state: legislators in outstate Minnesota have no problem seeking appropriations for, say, snowmobile trails in Biwabik to lure tourists to northernmost Minnesota in the winter, but they oppose state funds to improve mass transit in the Twin Cities.

When it comes to state politics, there is often further division within the Twin Cities, and that was the case during the Metrodome Stadium discussions. At one point in '76, there was talk of building a stadium that would have one football goal line in Saint Paul and the other in Minneapolis. The plan died.

Eventually, a bill for a 65,000-seat stadium passed. Governor Rudy Perpich signed it into law as the 1977 state legislative session closed, and a district judge soon ruled it unconstitutional because the law would have created public debt; such a bill needed to pass by 60 percent vote from both the House and the Senate. This had not been the case.

But there are usually extra innings to be played on stadium issues.

The effort was revived in 1979, when Governor Al Quie signed a bill for a $55 million domed sports stadium in Minneapolis. It was to be financed with a limited hotel-motel and liquor tax, local business donations, and payments established within a special tax district near the stadium's site.

Outdated from the onset

A few innings in the Dome and you are eager to leave.

The outcome was the Metrodome, which was completed in 1982 and never close to being on the cutting edge of stadium plans. It was the last multi-sport stadium built in the United States.

Still, it was inexpensive, and like Metropolitan Stadium operated in the black. Unlike stadiums in some parts of the country, stadiums in Minnesota have not been money pits, which oddly is something people who want to have stadiums built for them never seem to mention as they carry their pleas into the media.

The roof, held aloft by air pressure, collapsed before the stadium ever opened after heavy snow fell and caused a tear in the roof's fabric. This happened in November of 1981, and it happened again in December of '82. And again in April of '83, postponing a baseball game against California. This became the only game ever postponed in Metrodome history, although high winds tore the roof in 1986, delaying a baseball game for about 10 minutes.

The Dome - and again, this is a football stadium - was the place where Dave Kingman hit a towering fly ball that passed through one of the roof's drainage holes in May of 1984. The ball never emerged, and Kingman was awarded a ground-rule double. Footballs, of course, don't travel high enough to enter these holes. The roof is 195 feet above the playing field.

In '92, Detroit's Rob Deer, in consecutive a-bats, popped up to shortstop Greg Gagne after the ball ricocheted off the roof each time. Ground rules at the time specified that a ball hit off the roof, or a speaker suspended from the roof in fair territory, was an out if the ball were caught. If the ball nicked a speaker in foul territory, it was just a foul ball, but potentially playable.

102 wins

The Twins, by the way, lost their opener in the Dome, 11-7 to Seattle on April 6, 1982. The Twins' first win in the Dome came the next day, 7-5. It was early scores like that which prompted people to call it "The Homer Dome," even though the stadium was more conducive to doubles than home runs in its history. The stadium actually favored pitchers, slightly.

This dump was home to the Twins way longer than Met Stadium. Fittingly, the first man to ever bat in a regular-season game there, Seattle's Julio Cruz, struck out. Jim Eisenreich was the first Twins' player to take a swing in the joint during the regular season, and he grounded out.

Former Minnesota Twins' first baseman Kent Hrbek distilled baseball in the Metrodome during his retirement. Camden Yards had been built in Baltimore, prompting Hrbek to note that baseball players just want to play ball and it doesn't matter too much where. But as a fan, he found that he enjoyed himself when he saw a game in Baltimore. When he attended a game in the Dome, he just wanted to go home after a few innings.

Essays index

Sports talk listeners in hot pursuit of baseball Metrodome firsts that will win them tickets to a Twins' game often end up here.

  • Game: 4/6/82 vs. Seattle Mariners.
  • Temperature: 70 in The Dump; 28 outdoors.
  • Hit: Dave Engle, solo home run (this also answers that home run question).
  • Winning pitcher: Floyd Bannister, Seattle.
  • Losing pitcher: Pete Redfern, Minnesota.
  • Save: Mike Stanton, Seattle (no, not THAT Mike Stanton)
  • Winning Twins' pitcher: Roger Erickson, 4/7/82.
  • Grand slam : Gary Ward off Mike Torrez, Boston, 5/10/82.

So: You are asking Google just when the Metrodome will be demolished? 2014. Or: Can't be soon enough.

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