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RandBall: Calvin Griffith would have turned 100 Thursday

  • Blog Post by: Michael Rand
  • December 1, 2011 - 12:35 PM

 

It came to our attention via local boy made good Steve Rushin's Twitter feed that former Twins owner Calvin Griffith would have turned 100 today. He tweeted that news at Patrick Reusse, who excitedly called us about five minutes later wondering if it might make a good RandBall post.

 

When one of the great characters in Twin Cities sports (Reusse) describes someone else (Griffith) as one of the great characters in Twin Cities sports, you have no choice but to listen.

Griffith died in 1999, about a month shy of his 88th birthday. That he made it to that ripe old age sounds like it was a testament to spirit and not perfect living. "I went to a couple of his birthday parties," Reusse said. "It was like Caligula without the women. Food and drink was ample."

Griffith (right) sold the team to Carl Pohlad (left) in 1984. Clark Griffith -- Calvin's uncle -- passed the team on to him upon his death in 1955, and Calvin ran the show for nearly three decades. He was the one who moved the then-Washington Senators to Minnesota. The Twins' first World Series title in 1987 was aided by 13 players who either came from a Griffith-run farm system or arrived via Griffith trades.

There were, of course, bumps along the way. Per a Reusse column from 1999:

The Twins arrived on the Bloomington prairie with a nucleus of Harmon Killebrew, Bob Allison, Zoilo Versalles, Camilo Pascual and Jim Kaat. Minnesotans found out early that Calvin Griffith's family operation had an often-comical way of functioning. Right away, in 1961, Calvin sent manager Cookie Lavagetto home for a 10-day rest in May, brought him back and then replaced him with Sam Mele in late June.

And of course there was the infamous incident in 1978, when he -- per a 2001 Star Tribune story -- "created a furor in 1978 when he told a Lions Club gathering in Waseca that among the reasons he moved the team - then the Senators - from Washington, D.C., was because he wanted a whiter fan base."

The lingering image, though, was of a man who was undoubtedly a character of the highest sort. From a Reusse column in 1988 after a play about Griffith debuted in the Twin Cities.

When the darkness was lifted and the house lights were raised to dim, Clive Rosengren was stretched out in a lounging chair. Rosengren was creating the image of being half asleep; his mouth was partially open, he was snoring lightly. There was a mustard-splattered, half-eaten hot dog in his left hand.

In the audience, Calvin Griffith laughed, poked a guy sitting next to him and said, "That's me."

It was late Wednesday night, an hour or so after a couple of Calvin's ballplayers, Frankie Viola and Kirby Puckett, had carried the Twins to another victory. Now, Calvin and 30 family members and friends had left the air-conditioned Metrodome and made the short drive to the West Bank and the steamy, crowded Mixed Blood Theater.

The occasion was the Twin Cities premiere of "Calvinisms," a fictional account of Griffith's ruminations the night before he agreed to sell his family's ballclub, the Minnesota Twins, to Carl Pohlad in June 1984.

If you are suddenly wistful for old-time baseball and eccentric owners, we don't blame you.

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