The Last of the Pure Baseball Men

Calvin Griffith is a holdout against the forces of change

Griffith was sure that the new stadium would help on that score, but he was apprehensive nonetheless. When he moved to Minnesota from Washington, the eager leaders of the Twin Cities area gave him the contract to sell all the beer and bratwurst in Metropolitan Stadium, a right that he had enjoyed in Washington and that had, over the years, pulled the family through more than one lean season. In the new stadium the Twins will receive only 30 percent of the concession profits, and both Griffith and the stadium commission say the Twins will have to draw about 1.4 million fans a year to make a go of it.

Last year they drew 769,206, the lowest attendance in the major leagues. And that's not all Griffith was worried about: as he looked down on the Kingdome playing surface, traversed by ugly seams that can send a ball skipping any which way, he said he had no idea what the physical characteristics of the new stadium would be. Will balls carry well there, as they do in Seattle, or will they die in midair, as they do in Houston's Astrodome, where only forty-eight home runs were hit all last year? Griffith has had his scouts looking for players who will do well on artificial turf—strong arms, "jackrabbits," and boys who "have a lot of cat in 'em"—but if the air in the arena turns out to be hot and light, he'll wish he had signed some home-run hitters instead. Then again if the Twins draw 700,000 for a couple of years in a row, home runs will be the least of his problems.

Of course, in Seattle, where it rains almost constantly, they love their dome, and on this visit Griffith was encouraged to hear, over and over again, about the benefits of indoor baseball. Perhaps he was also encouraged by the evening's proceedings on the field. Roy Smalley was batting .077 when he stepped up to the plate in the top of the first with a man on second, but the Kingdome is a place where he loves to hit. After taking one strike from the Seattle pitcher Glenn Abbott, he stroked a double down the first-base line to put the Twins ahead 1-0. In the sixth, after the Mariners scored on a double, a single, and a passed ball, Smalley came up again and Griffith said, "C'mon, Smalley, let's get that run back." Smalley hit a home run into the first row of seats in left field, and Griffith beamed. "See, all you have to do is talk to 'em!" The first baseman, Ron Jackson, hit two homers that night—at last, the Twins were beginning to look like hitters—and when it was over Griffith had a 5-4 victory to celebrate.

Smalley hit another homer the next night, but Griffith didn't get nearly as exercised over that as he did when Dave Engle, a young outfielder obtained in the Rod Carew trade, made his first major-league hit, a double, in the eighth. "Get the ball for him, get the ball for him," Griffith muttered as the ball came in from the outfield. When it looked as though the first-base umpire might throw it back to the mound, his voice grew urgent. "Will somebody get the goddamn ball for him!" Finally, the Twins coach Karl Kuehl popped out of the dugout and secured Engle's memento. "Attaboy, Kuehl." The Twins lost, 6-5, and it was on to California.

Fathers and Sons: Calvin and the Natural Hitter

In 1964, Calvin Griffith found himself a young man, Rod Carew, who would later, according to both Calvin and his sister Thelma, call him his "second father." Carew was a lonely kid of eighteen at the time. Two years before, he had emigrated with his mother from Panama to New York City. He and his father were not close. Griffith told me about Carew one night as we sat in Anaheim Stadium, which became Carew's baseball home in 1979.

"We have a scout who is a detective in New York City&nbsp -- Herb Stein, still works for us. And he was a subway detective. And he used to go through all these neighborhoods and everything else, and somebody told him about this kid up there who played stickball. So he went and saw this boy and he liked the action of him and everything else. We were coming into New York, and I even went myself to New York, and I despise New York—but I went to New York on this one trip and we gave the kid a uniform and let him go out there and take batting practice, and he was only up to bat around four or five swings and we said take him in the clubhouse, don't let anybody else see him." Griffith is widely reputed to be one of baseball's most astute judges of raw talent, so I asked him what he saw in the young Carew after only four or five swings. Like many baseball men, he couldn't put it into words. "I just saw the stroke in there, I just saw the stroke that he had …He was just a natural hitter. You don't find many like that."

Carew spent about two and a half years in the Twins farm system, and he would have spent more but for Griffith's intervention. After seeing Carew play in spring training in 1967, the Twins manager, Sam Mele, wanted to send him down to the Twins AA farm team in Charlotte, North Carolina. Griffith, who claims he'd done this only once before in his baseball career—with Harmon Killebrew—pulled rank. "I said oh no, you're not gonna send him to Charlotte, you're gonna put him at second base and let him go. I said I think he's a major-league ballplayer and I want to see him get a chance. No experience, the manager said, no experience. I said we'll give him the experience up here in the big show. He made the All-Star team that year"—and he has been a perennial All-Star since.

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