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Calvin Griffith says goodbye to Metropolitan Stadium

October 1, 1981

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. -- The license plates on the Pontiac Bonneville outside the Metropolitan Stadium offices read CALVIN. The sign on the post in front of the shiny blue car has been changed from "reserved" to "revered."

When Calvin Griffith moved the Washington Senators to Minnesota in 1961, that's how the people of the Twin Cities metropolitan area felt about him. He was featrured in newspapers, gave speeches and was chair of the state Christmas Seals campaign. Recent years have changed that, and he's been accused of being a miser incapable of changing with the times.

"The fifty days of the strike, that was a good judge of what it'd be like if you weren't in baseball. What the hell do you do?" -- Calvin Griffith

Wednesday, Griffith sat in his private box at the Met, shrouded in a rain coat, a soft drink before him, and watched the wind, the rain and the Kansas City Royals pelt the Minnesota Twins in the American League club's final game at Metropolitan Stadium. After 20 years of viewing games in this cozy, suburban yard, Griffith will move his team downtown to the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome next April.

"I tell you," his voice booms off the glass between Griffith and the playing field, "there's been a lot of feeling of grandeur here. We won more than we lost, that's something to be proud of. We had great parking facilities, a good place to watch a ball game, and we gave the fans a lot of wins. That's a lot better than a lot of major league ball clubs can say."

After failing to finish first in the past 10 seasons and losing Larry Hisle, Lyman Bostock, Bill Campbell and Dave Goltz to free agency -- and Rod Carew in a trade -- there are those who might question the franchise's success. But Calvin Griffith seems to revel in the controversy and criticism as much as he basked in the glory of the 1960s.

Answers his mail

He receives plenty of letters, and he personally answers them.

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"I don't care if it's good or bad, but I think you should give them an answer. I appreciate it when I go around and have someone come up to me and say, 'I got a letter from you once.' Everybody who calls my office I speak to personally, unless they call up and are obnoxious and use profanity. I think it's best to talk it out, or tell them why you made a decision. I don't shove those people off on someone else in the office. If they're sensible, I'll talk to them."

As some of the day's 16,000 fans walk past Griffith's box and peer through the glass, many of them wave, or point. Griffith waves back.

I've been criticized for losing ballplayers," he goes on. "What have they done? Not a damned thing. Hisle, Goltz, Campbell. Hisle went to Milwaukee and hasn't played two full seasons. Campbell hasn't done anything. Goltz went out to the National League West champions and was seven and eleven."

Why have they failed?

A Kansas City batter interrupts the response by puffing a single into shallow center field. Griffith turns his attention to this. "I tell ya. Look at that, will ya? Engle hits one to the fence that should have been a hit, and that line drive Funderburk hit. I tell ya, we're just hitting the ball too hard. We hit the ball hard, and they get these damned bloop singles."

He takes a sip of his soft drink. He glances once more to the field, then turns his side to the game and pushes back into the conversation about his lost free agents.

"I don't know. Easy living, I guess. They get rich over night."

Calvin Griffith didn't get rich over night, and he seems unable to comprehend much of the behavior of the younger generations. He does not agree with his son, Clark, who adheres to the checkbook policies of today's other baseball men. What about his son? Will he follow in his dad's role as head of the team?

"I don't want to talk about my son."

The pair are in a strained era of their relationship. Clark is formally educated, with an upbringing different from that of his father.

Fell into the game

dogs on field at metropolitan stadiun

It's Obedience Club Training Night at Metropolitan Stadium, 1963.

Calvin and Thelma Robinson were just children in 1922 when uncle Clark Griffith and his wife Addie took in the two. The Griffiths were unable to have children, and the seven Robinson children lived in poverty in Montreal. When Calvin's father died later, Griffith brought the rest of the family to Washington.

Calvin knew very little baseball, but as the Senators' bat boy he was in the thick of the game, and he listened to his uncle when he talked baseball. Calvin graduated to catcher, then minor-league secretary, treasurer, field manager and club president. When Clark Griffith died, Calvin and Thelma inherited majority interest in the team.

Now, pharmaceutical companies and blue jeans manufacturers own baseball teams, but the clock hasn't moved much on Griffith's wall. The Twins are still a family affair who earn their living from baseball.

How has the last of the true baseball men survived?

"When Clark Griffith died in 1955, people thought they had seen the last of the Griffith clan," Griffith says, "but we've surrounded ourselves with class people in this organizaton, people who have stayed with us. We have a good scouting system and minor league sytem. It's not a one-man show, but it still comes down to one person who has to make the decisions."

He talks about how owners once were in it for the sport. "Now, of course, it's not exactly that way. There are a certain few who just buy, buy, buy. But even then, guys like (George) Steinbrenner don't get in the Series every year. Other clubs, like Baltimore, they get into contention without that money. Some years a club like that is just more motivated."

There seems to be a thought balloon hanging above Griffith's head that implies motivation has been lacking in Minnesota lately. He thinks a new stadium might motivate both the players and the fans.

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"It's one of the greatest things to happen in Minnesota," he says of the Metrodome. "We can not play night baseball in this state until the end of May because of the weather, and we have to play day games, like today, at this time of year. People a hundred miles away, when they see 40 percent chance of rain, 30 percent chance of rain, they don't show up. Now those people in the Dakotas and Iowa don't have to worry about whether or not they're going to be able to see a ball game."

The Griffith organization supposedly entered the 1981 season with a cash surplus of about $2 million. Attendance of 468,590 during this strike-shortened season hasn't boosted that total. If this pattern should continue, can Griffith see himself without baseball?

"No, I can't. The fifty days of the strike, that was a good judge of what it'd be like if you weren't in baseball. What the hell do you do?"

Well, what the hell would he do?

"Grow old, I guess. I'd grow old in a hurry."

Essays index

"When we played afternoon games in old Met Stadium the sun always came from right field and hit the white shirts. Sometimes it was hard to pick the ball out of the white shirts. Somebody hit a ball one day and I had no idea where it went, and then I saw Rich Rollins throw to first base. Vic Power never saw that throw. E-5."

-- Bernie Allen, infielder.

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