The Last of the Pure Baseball Men

Calvin Griffith is a holdout against the forces of change

Clark Griffith and I watched a Saturday-afternoon ball game together, and he appeared to be quite interested in what went on between the white lines. Accompanied by his eight-year-old son, Clarkie, and a friend of Clarkie's named Peter, we sat directly behind home plate, among a group of regulars and old- timers with whom Griffith was obviously familiar and friendly. He bought peanuts, joked with his neighbors, and cheered and hollered at the events on the field. The game was dismal—the Twins collected only six hits and went down 3-0—and the day was not much better: gray, cool, and constantly threatening rain. I asked Clark a few questions about his father, but on this subject he was not very expansive. Could he tell me anything about his parents' separation? "I think there was a basic lack of communication and compatibility there." Did he think his father was a lonely man? "I don't know if he's lonely or not. You know, that might be a choice he makes." What makes him tick? What's the most important thing in his life? "I don't know what makes him tick. If you mean what kind of stuff he thrives on, I think he likes watching baseball games." He's taken a lot of flak over the years… "I think he enjoys taking flak." If Clark owned the team, would he be likely to hold on as long and tenaciously as his father has? "I think that there are many things a person can do in life, and I think doing something different might be interesting at some future date—either a different job within the business, or something totally different. I think it would be exhilarating." What about young Clarkie, who was sitting behind us and rapidly losing interest in the game—was it conceivable that someday he would own a baseball team? "No." My face must have expressed surprise at the quickness of his answer. "Well," Clark said, turning in his seat to ruffle his son's hair, "that depends on him. Right?"

A light rain had begun to fall, and young Clarkie, who for several innings had been lobbying for a trip upstairs to the glassed-in boxes, finally got his wish. We took an elevator to the third level of the stadium, and Clark led us into the booth next to his father's. No word or gesture of greeting passed between father and son, or between grandfather and grandson. Clark Griffith chatted with a radio reporter about Mark Funderburk, a young, power-hitting outfielder whom the Twins were bringing along at their AAA farm team in Toledo, and Clarkie and Peter played a rhyming kids' game that ended with the exclamation "Bellyache!" Calvin Griffith, meanwhile, sat in his corner and talked with a couple of boys wearing baseball hats. It was impossible to hear what they were saying through the glass wall that separated the booths, but it was probably something like "We're with you a hundred percent"…"Thank you."

"This is a very close-knit family," Calvin Griffith told me the next day. "I imagine you talked to Clark yesterday, and I imagine he may have told you that we don't talk." (He hadn't told me, but he didn't have to.) "He's just like all other young ones, just like I was, you know. I thought I could do a lot of things different from Clark Griffith." I asked if he meant that his relationship with his foster father had been like Clark's relationship with him. "No," he said. "Mine was so admirable you wouldn't believe it. I appreciated what happened to me … I hugged him and everything else, thanked him when he did something especially nice for me, something like that … I don't know what would have happened to me if it hadn't been for Clark Griffith. I had everything going for me. Not many people are that lucky."

Calvin's son had pushed hard for the new stadium deal, and Calvin had made him look silly by almost backing out—or appearing to almost back out—at the last minute. The two have also disagreed, according to Calvin, on how aggressively the team should be advertised in the local media. When I asked if anything in particular had caused a falling-out, Calvin answered that he thought his son was angry with him over the Smalley and Wynegar signings. He admitted that he had originally opposed the signings, but he resented the notion that his son was leading the Twins out of the Stone Age, and apparently told him so. "I read things in the paper where Clark is taking credit for this and for that, and it's not that I'm jealous or anything like that—I get my name in print fifteen times more than Clark does—but I just hate to be second-guessed. I don't think I should sit back and allow somebody to say they do this and they do that when they don't do it. And I said, Clark, just remember, no matter what you try to tell me, if your father don't think it's justified, I'm not gonna do it. Because I been in this game a whole many years longer than you . . . When the day comes when I get senile, then you can remove me from the office. But I'm not senile and I want to be a fighter to the nth degree, and that's it. I am the boss, and I'm the only one in this organization that can hire and fire people as I desire."

"Clark," he said, "is a person who lives by the credit card, and I am a person who lives by cash. Cash on the barrelhead and that's it."

Road Trip

Seattle was clear and gorgeous when the Twins opened their two-game series there. From their hotel, you could see Mount Rainier thrusting majestically up out of the horizon, and Calvin Griffith remarked on it several times as Howard Fox—who often calls Griffith "Boss" and is his constant companion on the road—drove us downtown to the Kingdome. Even though his team was still seeking its first victory of the year, Griffith was in good humor, carrying on like a kid walking through an amusement park, taking in everything and commenting on as much as possible. It was my first time in Seattle, and it seemed that he didn't want me to miss anything. As we approached the stadium it was late afternoon; the sun was sitting low over Puget Sound, causing a few big white clouds to pop right out of the sky. Griffith, full of enthusiasm for the buds and trees and sparkling air, proclaimed it a beautiful day for a ball game, and we went indoors to see one.

From a box over third base, he watched his players take batting practice on the green rug below while a PA system filled the empty arena with a Top-40 song by Christopher Cross. It was eerie. In the Kingdome's notoriously still air, hits that looked and sounded like pop flies kept falling into the outfield seats. Real pop flies disappeared into the lights and the white ceiling. "I don't like it myself," Griffith said glumly, contemplating his future in the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, "but what're you gonna do? This'll give us a chance to play eighty-one games in Minnesota, with no rainouts and everything else. We play so many games in Minnesota that we shouldn't play. We shouldn't play a game when it's 40 degrees, but you have to do it because otherwise you'd lose fifteen, twenty games a year." Last year the Twins lost seven games to the Minnesota weather. That figure may not seem excessive, but club officials point out that bad weather is more damaging in sparsely populated Minnesota than it might be elsewhere. They know that a significant number of their fans come, or came, from considerable distances—the Dakotas, Wisconsin, northern Minnesota, even Montana—and they fear that uncertainty over the weather is keeping some of those long-distance fans away: if the game you've driven 150 miles to see is rained out, you might think twice before making the trip again.

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