June 22, 2020

A 42-year-old service club luncheon that still haunts the Twins

In late September 1978, Calvin Griffith, the former longtime owner of the Twins, found himself at a Lions Club luncheon in the town of Waseca, south of the Twin Cities. That afternoon would become Griffith’s undoing after he made disparaging comments about Black people and Twins star infielder, Rod Carew. The ensuing negative publicity would pressure Griffith to sell the team, which he eventually did in 1984.

Forty-two years later the Twins took a step in erasing the memory of Griffith after the team removed a statue of the former owner from outside Target Field. The occasion was Juneteenth, a holiday commemorating the end of slavery. Although the timing was right, the holiday had little to do with the Twins’ decision, but everything to do with the memory and legacy of George Floyd, whose death has been felt throughout the world. I don’t think this country has examined itself as closely on race since the Civil Rights movement. Almost everything is under scrutiny, including longtime brands Uncle Ben’s rice and Aunt Jemima, as well as other racist relics of the past. The Griffith statue is among them.

If I have any complaint, it’s this: What took the Twins so long? I’ve written about the Griffith controversy before when Nick Coleman, the reporter who broke the story, died two years ago. The Star Tribune and Pioneer Press newspapers produced obituaries on Coleman, and both stories revisited the Griffith controversy. But where was the Twins’ sense of civic duty then? Perhaps it was always there, but it took Floyd’s death and protests in the streets to drive the point home.

Griffith spouted his racist beliefs on Sept. 28, 1978, just days before the baseball season came to an end. The Twins were well out of the running by then, but still had three games to play, all of them on the road at Kansas City. It was a long season. The Twins finished 13th out of 14 teams in American League attendance, and may have finished dead last if those last three games had been played at home. Following Griffith’s remarks, how many home fans would’ve paid to see the team? Not many, I think.

The final game of the season was played on Oct. 1. Few veterans were in the lineup that day, including Carew, who by then was as good as gone. He was traded to the California Angels before the start of the 1979 season. As for the game, the Twins went quietly, mustering only two hits in a 1-0 loss.

Twins outfielder Bombo Rivera had both hits.

Sources: MLB.com, Baseball-Reference.com.

COMMENTS

Hi, I’m Rolf Boone, Twins fan.

I became a fan of the Minnesota Twins after a friendly wager in the early 1980s. I survived Ron Davis, the meltdown in Cleveland, Phil Bradley at the Kingdome and then marveled at a rising generation of stars and two World Series wins in 1987 and 1991. Brad Radke made the 1990s bearable, while Kirby Puckett’s eye injury, exit from the game and eventual death made it almost too much to bear. The new century ushered in more talent — Joe Mauer, Johan Santana, Joe Nathan, Torii Hunter, Justin Morneau — and consecutive seasons of playoff baseball, followed by consecutive seasons of losing baseball. A winning season returned in 2015. So here we are. Go Twins.