Derek (Aristotle) Falvey, the Twins’ CEO for baseball, and his right-hand man, GM Thad (Plato) Levine, completed their first managerial search on Thursday. If there had been a hole in time and space, allowing Calvin Griffith to be in charge of this task, it’s close to a certainty that the Twins’ original owner, general manager and character would have come up with the same choice:
Three times in his brief introductory remarks, Falvey used the word “partner’’ to describe the relationship the Twins were seeking with the new man in the manager’s office. And Levine said the Twins were interested in somebody “who had the same kind of intellectual curiosity that we had.’’
Calvin, on the other hand, would have taken note of declining attendance at the outdoor ballpark and admitted that he was choosing Baldelli because the 37-year-old former big leaguer was Italian.
And what’s amazing, if Calvin had found that hole in the baseball galaxy, he could have made that admission to the same reporter as he did in 1972 – Sid Hartman, then 52 and a sports columnist for the Minneapolis Tribune, and today Sid, now 98 and a sports columnist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
Falvey said at the Baldelli announcement on Thursday: “We all know that a manager touches not just the players. It’s not just writing out the lineup card and managing from the dugout every night. It’s across all facets of the operation.
“[Baldelli] talked with ownership. He had a chance to meet with our senior leadership team …’’
There was an attempt to install a senior leadership team with the Twins late in 1978, in the weeks following Calvin’s cocktail-infused speech to the Waseca Lions Club that was reported in the Minneapolis Tribune by accidental attendee Nick Coleman.
Some of Calvin’s remarks were so impolitic that … heck, they were so impolitic that Calvin today could be President of the United States. Back then, Calvin quickly found himself in a disagreement with the Twins’ senior leaders and reacted by disbanding the group.
This was six seasons-plus after Calvin made a mid-season change with his manager, firing Bill Rigney on July 6, 1972. He replaced “Rig’’ with 33-year-old Frank Quilici, a heroic figure as the Twins’ second baseman in the 1965 World Series effort, and then a member of Rigney’s coaching staff.
Friday marks the 58th anniversary – Oct. 26, 1960 – of the American League’s announcement that Calvin would be moving the original Washington Senators to Minnesota. It also was the start of pro sports’ expansion age, with the simultaneous announcement that the new Washington Senators and the Los Angeles Angels would grow the AL to 10 teams in 1961.
Calvin’s impatience with managers was demonstrated almost immediately in 1961 with Cookie Lavagetto, the original Twins manager. First, Calvin gave Cookie a “leave of absence’’ after 49 games and had coach Sam Mele manage for seven games. Then, Calvin brought back Cookie, fired him after 10 more games, and gave the job to Mele (until the middle of 1967).
Cal Ermer followed Mele, and then Billy Martin followed Ermer for one winning, chaotic season in 1969, and then Rigney replaced Martin for one successful season in 1970, followed by a decline. Which brought the Twins to the middle of the 1972 season.
They were in third place in the AL West, 36-34 and nine games behind Oakland on July 6. It was an off day, with the Yankees coming to Met Stadium for a weekend series. These weren’t the Yankees of yore (or the future) to be sure; it was the tail end of what was known as the Horace Clarke Era in the Bronx.
Yet, Calvin was depressed when he saw advance ticket sales for that July weekend, and the rest of the summer schedule, and decided to fire Rigney and replace him with Quilici – like Baldelli young, without managerial experience, and Italian.
Calvin lamented to Hartman his disappointment with the play of the Twins, but more so he was upset over the severe drop in attendance. The Twins had fallen below 1 million for the first time in 1971, and they were on their way to 797,801 as the official total in 1972.
And then Calvin said: “Our Italian mangers have all been popular in this area. Cookie Lavagetto, and then Sam Mele and Martin, and now Quilici. We need somebody to stimulate the fans and there isn’t any doubt in my mind that Quilici can do it.’
Attendance also has been falling at Target Field – reaching its lowest level in nine seasons in this fine ballyard in 2018.
Thus, it’s with confidence that I suggest Calvin Griffith, original baseball boss of the Twins, would have made the same choice in a new manager as did Derek Falvey and Thad Levine on Thursday. The only difference would be how they got to this decision.
We can only imagine Calvin’s excitement as he informed Sid that Rocco Baldelli was a member of the Rhode Island Italian-American Hall of Fame.
That would be same Sid that Calvin was touting young Frank Quilici in 1972, of course.