In the offices of St. Paul Saints at CHS Field, there is a sign on one wall that says “Gone Fishin'”.
It’s a lingering period since the club’s days as the pennant of independent baseball, the place where outgoing staffers and select players signed their names before moving on to more prestigious and lucrative gigs. “The Saints’ version of humor is much better,” said general manager Derek Schrier.
Players stopped signing when the Saints became a Class AAA affiliate of the Twins, for practical reasons. The big club moves so many players back and forth, and the Saints needed a wall the size of the Green Monster at Fenway Park to hold all of the signings. But the departing employees still signed. And now even the departing owners.
Last month, the Goldklang Group, which has owned the Saints since its founding in 1993, sold the club to Diamond Baseball Holdings (DBH), a subsidiary of a large entertainment company that was buying minor league franchises from coast to coast. Marv Goldklang, chairman of the board, and his son Jeff, president of the company, came to St. Paul in early April to meet with employees and discuss the sale. There was dinner at the St. Paul Grill with the top executives, and then a full staff meeting the next morning.
This was not a cold, cut, dried, cash, check, see you later kind of visit. For Saints longtime employees, Goldklang and partner Mike Veeck were the only baseball heads they ever had. Goldklang and Veeck have dedicated their hearts and money to a breakaway club that was not meant to last six months. Now it’s one of professional baseball’s model franchises, in a sleek, modern ballpark, still with a roaring hog on site. It was quite the trip.
“There were a lot of tears, a lot of laughter,” Marv said in a phone interview from his office in New Jersey.
The next day, the Goldklangs were saying their goodbyes when Sharrer asked them to sign the wall. Marv typed his name, then added this: “Now.” That’s because Goldklang plans to come back from time to time. This is what the saints mean to him.
“The simplest way to put this,” he said, “is, this is our baby, and he’s still our baby.” “You don’t walk away from something you’ve pumped a lot into—and I’m not talking about the finances. I’m talking about committing to building something special—and then running a dime and walking away. Whoever owns the Saints, they’ll always be part of our legacy, and we’ll always be gamers.”
So why sell in the first place? Goldklang, 80, said it wasn’t his idea. “The offer was totally unpopular,” he said. “We didn’t put the team up for sale. And honestly, until I got the offer, the thought never crossed my mind.”
But Vic, Saints co-owner and front man, thinks differently.
The 72-year-old Vic says he’s a different person since his beloved daughter Rebecca, just 27, died in 2019 from a rare genetic disorder. Rebecca Vick lost her sight as a child due to retinitis pigmentosa, which caused her to go through a double whammy of heartache for Vick and his wife, Libby. Veeck finds himself rearranging his priorities, finally concluding that the Saints crew no longer need him or anyone else to look over their shoulders.
“What’s wrong with this country isn’t the diversity or the Title IX or all the reasons we have,” Vick said in a phone interview from Charleston, South Carolina. “You guys my age should get out of the way and let the guys do it. I kept saying it, and here I am. Derek hasn’t had another employer but us. That’s amazing. 30 in some years.”
“We’ve been putting it out there for a long period of time. Now it’s time for Derek, Tom (Executive Vice President Tom Whaley), (Executive Vice President) Chris Schwab, and Sierra (Assistant General Manager Sierra Bailey) to put it out there themselves. They don’t need to be, like I used to I call it, “Pelosid.” (Referring to Representative Nancy Pelosi’s decision to step down from Democratic leadership in favor of younger leadership.)
Veeck tells a lot of stories about his father, Hall of Fame owner and producer Bill Veeck. But this led him to talk about his mother, Mary Frances, who died last year, nine days after she turned 102.Abbreviation II birthday. Veeck remembers waking up in the wee hours one morning to find his mother, who worked as a publicist for Ice Capades, trying to burn some old scrapbooks. “She was a very beautiful woman,” he said, “and I felt that after six children, nature was taking its toll.”
After he stops her, he says they talked about draining, and knowing when to leave. “She said, ‘You know honey, your dad and I won’t remember a lot of things, but one thing people said, we knew exactly when to go,’” Mike Vick said of the conversation with his mother. “And I never forgot it.”
Bill Veeck sold the White Sox in 1981 and died five years later.
Schrier said the transition from Goldklang Group to DBH was smooth, but he’s sad for old Saints employees like himself. “These guys are my family,” he said, meaning Goldklang, Veeck, and co-owner Bill Murray. “It was definitely an emotional transformation for those of us in the front office who have worked with them and those guys for so long.”
Founded in 2021, DBH now owns 16 minor league clubs, including the Class AAA Iowa Cubs and Oklahoma City Dodgers as well as the Wichita Wind Surge, the Twins’ Class AA affiliate. DBH likes to buy well established clubs in their market and generally leave their front office staff as is. Last week, a visit to a match at CHS Stadium provided no evidence that the club had changed hands. There were the usual MC-led feints, gags between innings, the seventh peanut bag he threw out of the press box and the appearance of this year’s pig, named Mud Grant after the late Vikings coach, Bud Grant.
Marv Goldklang said he and Veeck have known DBH CEO Peter B. Freund for more than 15 years, ever since he made him a co-owner of another Goldklang Group club, the Charleston RiverDogs. Goldklang and Freund are also minority Yankees owners.
“Not only do they understand who the Saints are from a ball club point of view, but they understand the culture of the organization, and I think they also understand the vision we have,” Goldklang said.
“So we eventually came to the conclusion that this was the right time, and it was the right buyer. Honestly, if someone had entered the same show that we either didn’t know about or didn’t have a real level of comfort with, I’m sure the decision would have been different.”
At its height, the Goldklang Group managed five minor league teams. Now it’s down to two, the professional River Dogs and the Pittsfield (Massachusetts) Suns of the Collegiate Futures League. But Goldklang isn’t looking to retire or close shop.
He said, “I’ve been blessed with an amazing wife of 55 years (Sheila), and she’s made it very clear to me that she doesn’t want me home for lunch.” “We’re looking at some other opportunities. Our footprint isn’t shrinking further, it’s expanding.”
Veeck’s got things on his plate, too: a documentary about four generations of Veecks in baseball, another book and some speaking engagements. That is, when he’s not walking on the beach with Libby.
His father told him not to fall in love with Team, but Vic couldn’t help but fall in love with the Saints. How could he not? From a rainy opening night at Midway Stadium in 1993 through five independent leagues through a Twins affiliation, the Cheating Saints have provided thousands of gags, laughs, and memories. It was all from the flash of an idea from Miles Wolff, who founded the Northern League and suggested Goldklang to hire Veeck to the fledgling club in St Paul’s.
“The fact of the matter is, we thought we’d have a hell of a time for two or three years, run out of money, and then go and do something else,” Goldklang said.
Veeck added, “I get mad when Marv goes, ‘I thought we were going to invest for two or three years, lose our money and go do something else. ‘” And I’m like, Marv, what planet did I come from? I couldn’t afford to lose my money. That was every nickel I had.”
Then Veeck laughed, that guttural tone that permeates so many of his stories. The Saints revived Veeck’s baseball career after personal and professional hardships, and St. Paul and its fans will always hold a special place. He adds that they have not seen the end of it.
“You can’t have an affair like that and not revisit the first mindless, mindless orgasm,” he said. “I might not hang out at Gabe’s every night or live in Lexington and have Rebecca sleep in a chest of drawers with two pillows for her bedding, but those were great years. It was a lot of fun.”
Besides, Veeck should be back. There is a wall to sign on.