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Recalling Calvin Griffith's bigoted outburst in southern Minnesota

Posted by: Howard Sinker Updated: April 29, 2014 - 2:05 PM

In 1978, former Twins owner Calvin Griffith was invited to speak to the Lions Club in Waseca, a small city in southern Minnesota. Among those in the audience was Nick Coleman, a former Star Tribune reporter and columnist who is currently executive editor of The UpTake, a Twin Cities-based non-profit news organization.

Taking questions from the audience, Griffith was asked why he brought the Twins to Minnesota from Washington, D.C., in 1961. Coleman wrote that Griffith answered the question with a criticism of Twin Cities sports reporters -- and then he changed direction, moving on to the subject that would dominate local headlines for days to come::

Coleman wrote "At that point Griffith interrupted himself, lowered his voice and asked if there were any blacks around. After he looked around the room and assured himself that his audience was white, Griffith resumed his answer. 'I'll tell you why we came to Minnesota,' he said. 'It was when I found out you only had 15,000 blacks here. Black people don't go to ball games, but they'll fill up a rassling ring and put up such a chant it'll scare you to death. It's unbelievable. We came here because you've got good, hardworking, white people here.' "

His comments have been recalled by Coleman and others in the aftermath of the NBA's ban of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling for his remarks about African-Americans.

Griffith went on to call Twins superstar and Hall of Famer Rod Carew  "a damn fool" for agreeing to a three-year contract that paid him $170,000 per year: "He only gets $170,000 and we all know damn well that he's worth a lot more than that, but that's what his agent asked for, so that's what he gets. Last year, I thought I was generous and gave him an extra 100 grand, but this year I'm not making any money so he gets 170 -- that's it."

(Griffith went on to an assortment of other topics. At one point, someone asked about whether Jerry Terrell, a former Twins infielder, had a chance of rejoining the team. The questioner noted that Terrell was a "favorite son" and was born in Waseca. Coleman reported Griffith's response: "Terrell came into my office in spring training and said he wanted a multiyear contract, I told him to turn your ass around and get out of there if that's what he wanted. It's a disgrace to major league baseball that Jerry Terrell is on a ball club.")

The Twins were playing in Kansas City at the time, and Star Tribune sports editor Gary Libman reported that "a short time after Carew was informed of Griffith's remarks, he ran up the tunnel, tossed off his clothes in front of his locker, took a shower and prepared to leave the stadium. But he changed his mind and played. He refused to comment on the remarks."

Later, Carew told Libman: "I will not ever sign another contract with this organization. I don't care how much money or how many options Calvin Griffith offers me. I definitely will not be back next year."

Carew also said in a voice that Libman described as soft but angry: "I will not come back and play for a bigot. I'm not going to be another nigger on his plantation."

Libman concluded his story: "He respects nobody and expects nobody to respect him," Carew said, spitting on the carpeted locker room floor. "Spit on Calvin Griffith."

Carew, who won his seventh American League batting title that season, was traded to the California Angels for four players before the 1979 season. He played for the Angels until retiring in 1985.

Reached by telephone while on a hunting trip after his Waseca speech, Griffith denied there was any racism intended in his remarks: "What the hell, racism is a thing of the past. Why do we have colored ballplayers on our club? They are the best ones. If you don't have them, you're not going to win."

Griffith, who died in 1999, owned the Twins until selling to Carl Pohlad during the 1984 season. There were no repercussions from Major League Baseball for his remarks.

You can read the article by Coleman and others that followed here.

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