November 8, 2020

A magnanimous Calvin Griffith? Maybe

Julio Becquer, a former pinch hitter for the Twins, died this month, generating remembrances from Minnesota-based sports media. He was 88. Becquer also was Cuban, and one of a long line of Cuban ballplayers who made their way to the Washington Senators and Twins. You know the names: Pedro Ramos, Tony Oliva, Camilo Pascual and Zoilo Versalles, to name just a few.

But after the Cuban Revolution of 1959, and later the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, those players were unable to return home to see their families and it was a new challenge to bring them stateside.

Becquer says former Twins owner Calvin Griffith helped.

That’s according to “Tony Oliva: The life and times of a Minnesota Twins legend,” a 2015 book by Thom Henninger. We see a different side to Griffith, one that stands in sharp contrast to the racist comments he would make years from then at a now infamous service club luncheon. The history of those comments, combined with the Black Lives Matter movement, finally led the Twins to remove the statue of Griffith from outside Target Field.

According to Henningers’ book:

Becquer praises Twins owner Calvin Griffith and (scout Joe) Cambria for helping cut through the red tape between governments, something faced by all the Cuban players who were separated by family members in spring 1961. Becquer says he approached Griffith about the issue, and the owner quickly set the wheels in motion to bring his wife to the United States.

Cuban curveballer Pascual, who led the American League in strikeouts in ’61, ’62 and ’63, also partially credits Griffith for getting his parents and sister out of Cuba.

And later, after Becquer was playing baseball in Mexico, he got a call from Griffith about how quickly he could get to the Twin Cities, according to Henninger’s book.

The owner wanted to bring the former Senator and Twin back to the club so he could earn the smattering of days needed to qualify for the major league pension.

So Griffith had a heart. Or did he? Perhaps Cuba was just a cheap source of talent for the always out-of-the-running Senators and a perfect match for the tight-fisted ways of the Twins’ former owner.

Although Pascual said that Griffith helped his family come to Minnesota, it didn’t exactly change the owners mind about money.

After Pascual pitched back-to-back 20-win seasons — he was 20-11 in 1962 and 21-9 in 1963 — he expected more money from the owner, according to Henninger’s book, so when he saw the contract that was mailed to him following the ’63 season, he tore it up and sent it back.

Griffith taped the contract together and sent it back to Pascual.

Extra innings…

-And then there was this…

It’s amazing to think a 100-year-old reporter could dominate a media scrum. Well done, sir.

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.