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Wednesday, October 20
Griffith dies after developing kidney infection

Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS -- Calvin Griffith, who moved the Washington Senators to Minnesota and earned a reputation as one of the game's most frugal owners, died Wednesday in Melbourne, Fla. He was 87.

Griffith developed pneumonia, a kidney infection and a high fever on Monday, said Sima Griffith, his daughter-in-law. She said he had a pacemaker put in three to four weeks ago and had been in a rehabilitation center.

Calvin Griffith
Calvin Griffith was among the first owners to predict trouble for small-market teams.

Griffith moved the Senators, the team he inherited from his adopted father, after the 1960 season and the team was renamed the Minnesota Twins. He sold the club for $36 million to Minneapolis banker Carl Pohlad in 1984, ending 65 years of franchise ownership by the Griffith family.

Baseball was the family's primary business, and Calvin Griffith was always intent on holding the line on escalating salaries. Former Twins great Harmon Killebrew recalled tough negotiations with him one year.

"We were $500 apart and I wasn't going to let $500 stand between us and me getting to spring training," Killebrew said Wednesday from his home in Scottsdale, Ariz. "I ended up signing the contract. I told him that if that $500 meant that much, I'd go ahead and sign the contract."

For all the acrimony Griffith's tight spending ways created, his reputation was hurt much more by a speech to a local Rotary club in 1978.

"Black people don't go to ball games, but they'll fill up a rassling ring and put up such a chant they'll scare you to death," he said. "We came (to Minnesota) because you've got good, hard-working white people here."

The Minneapolis Star wrote a front-page editorial calling for Griffith to sell the team. Griffith said his words were taken out of context, but civil rights groups called for a boycott of Twins games.

Rod Carew, whose contract was soon to expire, said he would no longer play on Griffith's "plantation." Carew left Minnesota for the Angels in 1979.

Under Griffith, the Twins led the American League in attendance their first 10 seasons, featuring such stars as Killebrew, Carew, Tony Oliva, Zoilo Versalles, and Bob Allison.

"The people in Minnesota were trying to get a baseball club for so many years," Griffith said in December 1995. "They were on the verge of getting one several times. Then the Giants went to California, Cleveland stayed in Cleveland and the White Sox stayed in Chicago.

"(Minnesota fans) got disappointed so many times, when they got a team they wanted to show their appreciation."

The love affair peaked in 1965, when the Twins lost the World Series in seven games to the Los Angeles Dodgers. It began to fade during the 1970s as free agency crept into the game, and the Twins began losing top players.

"Calvin was one of the dinosaurs in the game," Twins manager Tom Kelly, who joined the team as a coach a year before Griffith sold the team, told WCCO Radio on Wednesday. "You talk about somebody standing up for his principles -- about how the game should be run or the ownership of a team -- Calvin certainly was one of the dinosaurs."

Griffith was among the first owners to prophesy doom for small-market teams, although his prediction didn't become accurate until recently.

"It was very difficult for Calvin to compete in the way that the game is today, so I think he saw the writing on the wall. There wasn't any way he could survive and that's why he sold the team to Mr. Pohlad," Killebrew said.

The Twins, under Pohlad, won World Series titles in 1987 and 1991. Some of the key players on those teams were acquired under Griffith.

Public sentiment turned against Griffith when he talked about selling the Twins to a group that wanted to move the Twins to Tampa, Fla.

After flirting with selling the team to a group that would move it to North Carolina, and later to local buyers including Calvin's son Clark Griffith II, Pohlad sold the Twins on a conditional basis two weeks ago to a group led by Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor and Wild lead investor Robert Naegele Jr.

The sale is contingent on a new stadium. St. Paul residents will vote Nov. 2 on a referendum calling for a sales tax increase that would finance one-third of a new $325 million ballpark.

The Twins and the state would provide the rest of the funding, but public sentiment is strongly opposed to government-financing for a new park and the Legislature has been cold to the idea.

The Twins have languished at or near the bottom of the American League in recent years and attendance has declined considerably at the Metrodome. The Twins finished 1999 with a 63-97-1 record, worst in all of baseball.

Griffith was born in Montreal on Dec. 1, 1911, one of Jimmy and Jane Robertson's seven children. He and sister Thelma were sent to Washington to live with their aunt and uncle when Calvin was 11 and Thelma was 9 because their parents were struggling financially.

When Jimmy Robertson died a short time later, the children were adopted by Addie and Clark C. Griffith and took the Griffith name.

In the early 1920s, Griffith was a bat boy and the mascot for the Senators, the team for which his uncle and adopted father became a Hall of Fame pitcher. Clark C. Griffith was also a co-founder of the American League and owner of the Senators.

Calvin Griffith, educated at George Washington University, worked in various capacities in the minors and majors before taking control of the Senators in 1955 after his adopted father died.

Griffith, who spent winters in Florida and summers in Minnesota, is survived by his wife, Belva Block; son, Clark II; daughters Corinne Pillsbury and Clare Griffith; three grandchildren; sister Mildred Cronin, widow of former major league pitcher Joe Cronin; and brother Billy Robertson. He was preceded in death by a sister, two brothers and his first wife, Natalie Griffith.

A memorial service is planned at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis at a date to be determined. Griffith will be buried at Fort Lincoln Cemetery in Washington, where his adopted parents and sister Thelma Haynes are buried.

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