ST. PAUL — The flag of piracy has always flown from Mike Veeck’s mast, but the St. Paul Saints owner is not diametrically opposed to turning baseball’s most successful independent team into a major league affiliate.
“Not with the right club, I’m not,” he said.
The question then becomes, could the Twins be the right club.
The working agreement between Major League Baseball and most of its minor league affiliates will expire after this abbreviated season, and MLB last fall started negotiations by pitching a massive package of consolidation and realignment that would eliminate as many as 42 teams. Baseball America broke the news last fall, reporting that part of the plan was to make independent teams in St. Paul and Sugarland, Texas, major league affiliates.
Veeck, who inherited baseball and iconoclasm from his father, Bill — who at different times owned the St. Louis Browns, Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox — helped start the American Association specifically for the freedom it would afford him and co-owners Marv Goldklang and Bill Murray.
The Saints started playing in St. Paul as a member of the Northern League at Midway Stadium in 1993, and open their 37th season as an independent Friday night in Sioux Falls, S.D. But Veeck also is part-owner of the Charleston Riverdogs, a Class A affiliate of the New York Yankees, and has worked for four major league teams.
“The point is that you want to always be asked,” he said Thursday.
That hasn’t happened. The coronavirus pandemic officially canceled minor league baseball this week, and MLB has had its hands full trying to get its 60-game schedule — set to start July 23 — off the ground. Whatever plans the league has for the minor leagues, they’re on hold.
“If there were conversations about it, that would be different,” Veeck said. “But so far, the only thing that’s really happened is that the major leagues go, ‘Well, we’re going to change the geographical locations, we’re going to change leagues. But there’s no plan.”
Veeck said he never got along with former Twins president Andy McPhail but added that he and current president Dave St. Peter “for the past 10 or 12 years we’ve had great relations.”
St. Peter declined to comment but it’s not difficult to see why the Twins might want a Double- or Triple-A franchise 20 minutes from Target Field, especially in a park such as CHS Field, a state-of-the-art stadium in Lowertown that seats 7,210 and opened in 2015.
For now, the American Association is playing all of its games in Sioux Falls, but the defending-champion Saints hope that will change before the season ends. Home games, where the pig still brings balls to the umpires and the team had 50 promotions planned, are what sell the Saints.
“I think it would be fascinating to know, what do the fans think?” Veeck said. “Obviously, I would love to know the answer. What if you did a poll and said to the fans and said, ‘Would being a major league affiliate, aside from it being the Twins — with it just being a Double-A or Triple-A team — would it enhance the Saints or would it detract?’”
Having the chance to host some of the majors’ top prospects, especially those of the local team, is a big draw for a minor league club, but the Saints averaged 800 fans above capacity last season. Attendance is not an issue.
“Down the road, if it made some sense it would be worth at least chatting,” Veeck said. “But I have to wait and see how this all shakes out and what happens. For us, we’ve never had to ask permission, and that’s why we founded the Northern League that grew into the American Association — because we could try things.”
Any potential affiliate must understand one thing, first and foremost, Veeck said. “I would think part of the deal would be we would never change who we are.”