Clark Griffith recalled Friday that Rod Carew once said to him: “I think your father likes me better than he likes you.”
Calvin Griffith’s son agreed with the observation by saying: “Of course, he does, Rodney. You’re a much better hitter.”
Clark had another quote on Friday, as a reaction to the Twins’ decision to remove the Target Field statue honoring Calvin, the man who made the Twin Cities a true major league market by moving the original Washington Senators here with the American League announcement on Oct. 26, 1960.
“We’re very pleased he was there for 10 years, and we’re sad to see him go,” Griffith said of Calvin’s now-gone statue on the plaza, up the street a ways from Carew’s.
The Twins’ verdict to join the statue-removal movement was based on Calvin’s racist remarks in his infamous speech to the Waseca Lions Club on Sept. 28, 1978. The worst of it: Calvin saying he brought the Twins to Minnesota “when I found out you only had 15,000 blacks here.” And more: “We came here because you’ve got good, hardworking, white people here.”
Minneapolis Tribune reporter Nick Coleman was in the audience by happenstance as a guest with his father-in-law, and produced the blockbuster report in the Sunday Tribune on the last day of the season.
Carew would win his seventh and last AL batting title that same day in Kansas City. There was no celebration in the visitors clubhouse. Rodney had heard about Calvin’s remarks before the game and was upset. He had gotten more specific details after the game — Griffith also called Carew “a damn fool” for getting paid only $170,000 that season — and was seriously angry.
This was the capstone of a horrible week for Carew and the Twins. One Sunday earlier, the Twins were finishing the home schedule and answering questions about the murder of Lyman Bostock — a teammate through 1977 — in Gary, Ind.
As it turned out, Carew played his final game with the Twins that day in Kansas City. He was traded to California for financial reasons after a winter of drama.
Rodney still would take occasional shots at Griffith for a time, but he mellowed and more freely mentioned Calvin’s contributions to his career. On Friday, Sir Rodney — as I referred to him as a beat reporter in the 1970s — was the most generous soul of all as Calvin’s statue was disappearing.
Carew works for the Twins making public appearances, and the team issued a nine-paragraph statement from him not long after releasing the statue information.
Clark and the Griffith family can take comfort in Rodney’s statement, including the final two paragraphs:
“In 1991, the first person I called after I was told I had been selected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame was Calvin.
“I have long forgiven Calvin 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.”
Calvin thought he was on a roll that night in Waseca: saying it was a disgrace that hometown underdog Jerry Terrell was in the big leagues; suggesting young catcher Butch Wynegar forget marriage and practice “free love”; and, yes, mentioning that the small number of black people was a fine reason to move the Senators to Minnesota.
Thank goodness I wasn’t in Waseca, because that allows me to say I was never in Calvin’s presence and failed to come away laughing — although often that was not his intention. I had several hundred conversations with Calvin, while he was the Twins owner and in his 15 years that followed as a civilian. There were a thousand strange observations, but no further remarks struck a nerve with me as racist.
Yet, there’s no defense for the racism on a Thursday night 42 years ago — and the Twins are fully justified to make Friday’s decision based on those brutal sentiments alone.
Tear down the statue. And also remember Rod Carew’s words offered on the day it happened.
Write to Patrick Reusse by e-mailing email@example.com and including his name in the subject line.