Long gone: Griffith statue removed by Twins, 42 years after he made racist comments

Rod Carew, angry at comments, says he has forgiven Griffith

WCCO Radio Newsroom
June 19, 2020 - 8:44 am

Another statue in Minnesota is taken down.

Unlike when protesters pulled a likeness of Christopher Columbus from a pedestal in front of the state capitol building, this time it’s a legendary sports team owner whose racially insensitive comments angered many.

The Twins on Friday announced the removal of a statue of Calvin Griffith from the plaza outside Target Field, some 42 years after he made those comments to a group in Waseca.

In that group was the late Nick Coleman, a reporter for what was then known as the Minneapolis Tribune, who documented the comments that were made Sept. 28, 1978:

  • "At that point Griffith interrupted himself, lowered his voice and asked if there were any blacks around. After he looked around the room and assured himself that his audience was white, Griffith resumed his answer. 'I'll tell you why we came to Minnesota,' he said. 'It was when I found out you only had 15,000 blacks here. Black people don't go to ball games, but they'll fill up a rassling ring and put up such a chant it'll scare you to death. It's unbelievable. We came here because you've got good, hardworking, white people here.' "

The comments drew wide criticism, including from Twins all-star Rod Carew, and it was said that the incident haunted Griffith for the rest of his life.

But Carew released a statement Friday, saying he has forgiven Griffith for his statements and saying his former boss was not a racist:

  • MINNEAPOLIS-ST. PAUL, MN – “I understand and respect the Minnesota Twins decision to remove the Calvin Griffith statue outside Target Field. While I’ve always supported the Twins decision to honor Calvin with a statue, I also remember how inappropriate and hurtful his comments were on that fateful day in Waseca. The Twins did what they felt they needed to do for the organization and for our community.
  • “While we cannot change history, perhaps we can learn from it.
  • “I first met Calvin Griffith in 1964 when he travelled to New York City to watch me workout at Yankee Stadium. Calvin and longtime Minnesota Twins scout Herb Stein must have liked what they saw as they signed me to a professional contract shortly thereafter. I can tell you when I got to the major leagues with the Twins in 1967, Calvin was my most ardent supporter. He told manager Sam Mele that I was the Twins everyday second baseman. I saw no signs of racism whatsoever.
  • “In 1977, my MVP year, I made $170,000. When the season was over, Calvin called me into his office, thanked me for a great season, told me that I had made the team a lot of money and handed me a check for $100,000. You could have knocked me over. A racist wouldn't have done that.
  • “There is no way I can apologize for what Calvin said in Waseca in 1978. His comments were irresponsible, wrong and hurtful. I recall my response at the time reflected my anger and disappointment.
  • “Now that more than four decades have passed, I look back on Calvin’s comments and our personal relationship with additional context and perspective. In my view, Calvin made a horrible mistake while giving that speech in 1978. I have no idea what happened that day, but who among us has not made a mistake? I know Calvin paid a heavy price for those comments and I believe his thoughts on race evolved over time.
  • “When he traded me prior to the 1979 season, Calvin told me he wanted me to be paid what I was worth. Later that year the Angels made me the highest paid player in baseball. A racist wouldn't have done that. “In 1991, the first person I called after I was told I had been elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame was Calvin.
  • “I have long forgiven Cal for his insensitive comments and do not believe he was a racist. That was NOT my personal experience with Calvin Griffith – prior to or following that day in 1978.

Griffth was one of nine people memorialized with statues on Target Plaza. It was located outside of gate 29, beyond right field, and was dedicated Sep. 3, 2010 at the tail-end of Target Field's first season.

He is also a member of the Twins Hall of Fame, part of the inaugural class of 2000.

Griffith's family owned the original Washington Senators since 1919, and he was in control when the franchise shifted to the Twin Cities for the 1961 season.

He continued to own the Twins until 1984, when the team was sold to Carl Pohlad.

Griffith died in 1999 at the age of 87.


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