By the time the Twins reached out this week to several of their prominent former players, the decision already had been made.
The statue of former owner Calvin Griffith, the man who brought Major League Baseball to Minnesota in 1961, was being removed.
In the early hours of Friday morning, just that occurred. The statue of the first team owner, standing in front of Target Field since the ballpark opened in 2010, was hauled away by a construction crew. A sheet of plywood covered the location, with a handmade “BLM” (Black Lives Matter) sign attached, was all that remained by mid-morning.
Twins special assistant LaTroy Hawkins was one of the former players contacted by Twins President Dave St. Peter and told of the team’s plans. Hawkins, who pitched for the Twins from 1995 to 2003 and is black, was unaware of the racist statements Griffith made during an appearance at the Waseca Lions Club in 1978.
St. Peter read Griffith’s statements during a telephone conference call; Hawkins’ reaction was similar to many across the country who are re-examining the placement of statues and names on buildings in honor of people with ties to racism.
“DSP read us exactly what [Griffith] had said,” Hawkins said. “The world is changing. It’s taking a hard right turn and there is no place for racism. I don’t care if you said it 40 years ago. I don’t care if you said it 120 years ago. We have made a conscious effort not to glorify people who were known racists.”
The Twins discussed what to do with the statue as fans began to send e-mails and social media messages that questioned its presence outside the ballpark. They consulted with current and past employees. They asked themselves about what the organization wants to stand for in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd, who was killed by Minneapolis police on May 25, an event that sparked nationwide outrage.
“While we acknowledge the prominent role Calvin Griffith played in our history, we cannot remain silent and continue ignoring the racist comments he made in Waseca in 1978,” the team said in a statement. “His disparaging words displayed a blatant intolerance and disregard for the Black community that are the antithesis of what the Minnesota Twins stand for and value.”
Griffith, who was the last major league owner to integrate his team’s spring training camp, died in 1999 at age 87.
During a speech at the Waseca Lions Club on Sept. 28, 1978, he said, “I’ll tell you why we came to Minnesota. It was when I found out you only had 15,000 blacks here. Black people don’t go to ballgames, 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.”
Griffith’s statue went on the plaza in 2010, the year Target Field opened. Other statues on the plaza are of Hall of Famers Rod Carew, Harmon Killebrew and Kirby Puckett; former manager Tom Kelly; former players Kent Hrbek and Tony Oliva; and Carl Pohlad with his wife, Eloise.
Griffith sold the team to Pohlad in 1984; Pohlad died in 2009 and the principal owner of the team is his son Jim. The Pohlad family announced last week it would donate $25 million from its foundation to seek racial justice.
Orphaned at age 11, Griffith (who was born Calvin Robertson) was adopted by his uncle, Washington Senators owner and Hall of Famer Clark Griffith, and worked his way up the organization after being a batboy as a youngster.
Major League Baseball was integrated when the Brooklyn Dodgers added Jackie Robinson in 1947. The Senators integrated in 1954 by adding Cuban star Carlos Paula; that was a year before Clark Griffith died, leaving the franchise to Calvin Griffith as majority owner.
Griffith moved the team to Minnesota in 1961. The Twins’ spring training camp in Orlando was not integrated until 1964, and that came after pressure from politicians and civil rights groups.
Carew was the Twins’ star player in 1978 and was furious after hearing reports of Griffith’s remarks, which included Griffith saying, “Carew was a damn fool to sign [his most recent] contract. 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.” Carew was traded to California that offseason.
On Friday, Carew issued a statement that said, “In 1991, the first person I called after I was told I had been elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame was Calvin. I have long forgiven Cal for his insensitive comments and do not believe he was a racist. That was NOT my personal experience with Calvin Griffith — prior to or following that day in 1978.”
Following the Waseca speech, the Minneapolis Star, in a front page editorial, demanded Griffith sell the team.
Even after the Twins moved to the Metrodome in 1982, Griffith continued to run the team in a discount style as major sports started being populated with independently wealthy owners. Carl Pohlad bought the team for $38 million on Sept. 7, 1984.
The combination of the Pohlads’ donation to fight injustice and the removal of Griffith’s statue are strong statements, Hawkins said, about the kind of organization the Twins want to be. Hawkins said the club is planning initiatives that focus on inclusion and fairness as they their part to help the nation emerge from a tumultuous few weeks.
“We took a huge step forward today as an organization,” Hawkins said. “Our organization reiterated to the black community that they are not just in it for the short term. The Pohlad family have made decisions that indicated they are in it for the long haul in terms of equality and justice and education in the inner city.”