There were many changes for the Minnesota team leading up to the 1978 ASPSL season. Once known as the Goofy’s, the team was now the Norsemen. New owner Steve Doran had the financial means that former owner Joe Houle lacked, and ensured players and fans the money issues that caused the team to sputter in 1977 were a thing of the past.
Their first signee for the 1978 season was hard-hitting catcher Bob “The Plant” McMahon, renowned in local circles for his ability to hit the long ball. Home runs were exciting, and that excitement would bring fans out to see the team play. However, it wasn’t just home run power. Another of the new Norsemen that year was Steve Winfield, the “jet-footed” older brother of MLB star and Saint Paul native Dave Winfield.
The Norsemen looked to distance themselves from the belief that slow-pitch softball lacked athletes and the ASPSL was little more than a glorified “beer league.”
Much of the core from the 1977 team remained intact. The team practiced at the University of Minnesota Field House throughout the off-season to become a better team and more cohesive group. Outfielder Gene Parrish believed that the extra time together put them in the position to be improved in every phase of the game. They also got stronger in the off-season as players like John Locke put on muscle. The 1977 Goofy’s squad was a good hitting team, but the 1978 Norsemen hoped to be a great hitting team.
The team went undefeated over their sixteen game exhibition schedule to open the 1978 season. They tore the cover off of the ball against a series of community all-star teams throughout the region. That success, coupled with lower ticket prices, had the Norsemen believing that the fan support that eluded the team in 1977 would likely be realized in 1978. The new ownership brought a big-league mentality to the Norsemen, and the team felt that stability throughout the organization improved attitudes and made the team better.
They weren’t predicting a championship, but they felt they were a team of championship quality.
On My 13, 1978, the Norsemen opened its season on the road against the Milwaukee Schlitz. A week later they were back at Midway Stadium to take on the Cincinnati Suds. The game, broadcast on KTWN FM 108, reportedly had nearly three-thousand fans in attendance. The Norsemen rewarded those fans by hitting thirty-three home runs over the course of the double-header. On Saturday St. Paul Mayor George Latimer threw out the first pitch.
The team swept the weekend series against the Suds.
Home runs came early and often in the beginning of the season. In fact, the team’s affinity for the long ball continued all season long. They won games handily in the early going, and were proving that they weren’t just another beer league team. Win or lose the Norsemen made an impression on the teams that they played against each week.
They finished the 1978 with 434 home runs, hitting a bunch when they lost and even more when they won.
Unfortunately, a renewed focus, winning streak, and the home run ball didn’t bring the fans to the park like the Norsemen had hoped. The team had twelve wins in its first fifteen games, and averaged nearly ten home runs per game, but struggled to get even one-thousand fans to come to Midway Stadium with any degree of consistency.
The lack of fan support was so bad that Doran resorted to handing out questionnaires to those in attendance during a June series against the Hard Hats to see if they could provide some insight. Without providing specifics, Doran noted that more people were coming to the ballpark and that the increase in support was reflected in concession sales.
He anticipated losing $40,000 in 1978, but believed he’d recoup his investment once the league’s popularity inevitably took off.
The Norsemen finished the regular season with a record of 40–24. Five players hit more than forty home runs, led by Dale Palm’s seventy. After dispatching the Cincinnati Suds in two games the Norsemen advanced to the World Series against the Detroit Caesar’s. Detroit proved to be too much for the Minnesota team to handle, sweeping the team in four games to take the title.
Despite consistently winning games by large margins, the Norsemen was never able to get over the hump enough to become a relevant sports option in the eyes (and wallets) of Twin Cities fans. Attendance numbers for each game, in a season that ended with the team as championship runners-up. remained well below the three-thousand fan break-even point.
The summer months saw the team compete against the Twins, Kicks, Vikings, and North Stars for fans, and unfortunately it was losing the battle.
Part II in a three-part series
- "1978-1979 Minnesota Norsemen." Fun While It Lasted. Last modified September 9, 2020. https://funwhileitlasted.net/2020/09/09/1978-1979-minnesota-norsemen-softball/.
- Minneapolis Tribune. "Noresemen beaten; Detroit wins title." September 10, 1978, 11C.
- Nichols, Max. "Norsemen fighting off Goofy Image." The Minneapolis Star, December 8, 1977.
- Rippel, Joel A. Minnesota Sports Almanac: 125 Glorious Years. Minnesota Historical Society, 2006.
- Star Tribune (Minneapolis). "Norsemen whip Cincinnati, reach softball series." September 5, 1978, 20.
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