Clark Calvin Griffith first played major league baseball for the St. Louis Browns and the Boston Reds of the American Association in 1891. He earned the nickname "The Old Fox'' as a pitcher, and became the owner of the Washington Senators in 1920.

The Griffiths ran the franchise until 1984, when the Senators' descendants -- the Minnesota Twins -- were sold to Carl Pohlad.

Clark Griffith, now a Minneapolis attorney, was raised in this baseball family. He heard much theorizing from The Old Fox, and from his father Calvin (the gentleman who moved the team to Minnesota 50 1/2 years ago), and from his uncles Joe Cronin and Sherry Robertson, and from the hundreds of scouts, managers, coaches and players that were intertwined with the Griffiths.

There was a point in the 1970s -- perhaps the day in 1971 when Tony Oliva, 32, and Harmon Killebrew, 35, both flew home from Oakland with injuries and the Twins' second decade in Minnesota went south -- when Clark began to realize that a ballplayer's peak of performance occurred much earlier than conventional wisdom dictated.

"I went to the Baseball Encyclopedia and started looking at the numbers,'' Griffith said. "I studied it for months. I reached the conclusion that players with good careers, from Hall of Famers to solid major leaguers, entered their prime at 25, reached a peak at 27 or 28, and then started to decline.

"That's why I'm worried about the Twins in the near future. I look at the roster and don't see birth dates in 1985 or later. That tells me they don't have players entering their prime. They have a few at the peak, 27 or 28, but by 2012 or 2013, those players will be on other side of the cycle, and I don't see the standout players coming up to replace them.''

There is more complex research than Griffith's that suggests ages 26 to 31 are the range when ballplayers reach a peak.

Clearly, you can offer hundreds of exceptions to such theories on a player's prime and peak. This would be particularly true in results taken from baseball's recently completed steroids era, when those extra vitamins enabled a large-headed chap such as Barry Bonds to smash 445* of his 762* home runs after he reached the past-prime age of 32 on July 24, 1996.

Even without steroids, Griffith concedes the point that outstanding players frequently have tremendous seasons in their 30s.

"It's also true that it's rare to see a player in his 30s put four seasons like that together, as was probably the case for him from 25 to 28,'' Griffith said.

This decline is undoubtedly what makes modern baseball a cyclical game, other than for the 6.7 percent of the teams -- the Yankees and the Red Sox -- that are willing to spend whatever it takes to avoid a significant downturn.

The down cycle can look interminable for the sporting publics in Baltimore (13 consecutive losing seasons), Pittsburgh (18 in a row) and Kansas City (16 of 17 losing seasons). And the baseball fans in Seattle probably have put in their rear-view mirrors the run the Mariners had from 2000 through 2003, when the victory totals were 91, 116, 93 and 93.

There's also forgetfulness when it comes to the Twins. I swear in the name of Allan H. Selig, four of every five Minnesotans encountered during 10 days at spring training asked some form of this question:

"Do you think this is the year we can get past the Yankees in the playoffs?''

Twins followers apparently do not remember those eight seasons of ineptitude from 1993 through 2000. They are so naïve as to believe this is a permanent condition with the Twins -- reaching the playoffs six times in nine years, and then getting dead-ended.

It's not.

First, the 2011 Twins, with mediocre starting pitching, a patchwork bullpen and the likelihood of going through a handful of shortstops before September, are headed for third place in the AL Central -- five, six games behind the White Sox, a couple behind Detroit.

Second, Delmon Young is the only key player with a 1985 birthday, which makes him the only thumper starting his prime. Joe Mauer will turn 28 on April 19 and might have another MVP in the future.

Elsewhere: Justin Morneau turns 30 this season, Jason Kubel turns 29, and Michael Cuddyer turned 32 last month. There's a distinct possibility all have had their best seasons, as well as Mauer (2009).

Clark Griffith, a baseball man, is worried that he sees the end of this winning cycle approaching for the Twins. The minority of Target Field fans who actually watch the ballgames might gain the same vision before the end of summer.

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500ESPN. preusse@startribune.com