The Minnesota Twins removed the statue of former team owner Calvin Griffith from outside of Target Field.
“While we acknowledge the prominent role Calvin Griffith played in our history, we cannot remain silent and continue ignoring the racist comments he made in Waseca in 1978,” the team said in a statement. “His disparaging words displayed a blatant intolerance and disregard for the Black community that are the antithesis of what the Minnesota Twins stand for and value.”
The team made the decision after internal meetings following the May 25 killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Friday’s announcement of the removal came on Juneteenth, the anniversary of the end of slavery in the United States in 1865.
Griffith died in 1999 at age 87 after selling the team to Carl Pohlad in 1984.
Orphaned at age 11, Griffith (who was born Calvin Robertson) was adopted by his uncle, Washington Senators owner Clark Griffith, and inherited the Senators in 1955 when Clark Griffith died. Calvin Griffith moved the franchise to Minnesota in 1961.
The statue was one of eight the Twins had outside Target Field. There are also statues of Hall of Famers Rod Carew, Harmon Killebrew and Kirby Puckett; former manager Tom Kelly; former players Kent Hrbek and Tony Oliva; and Pohlad with his wife, Eloise.
Carl Pohlad died in 2009 and the principal owner of the team is his son, Jim.
In a speech to a Lions Club in Waseca in 1978, Griffith said Carew was a “damn fool” for playing for as little as he pays him and the Twins decided to come to Minnesota “when I found out you only had 15,000 blacks here.”
The original story was reported by the Minneapolis Tribune’s Nick Coleman, who was attending the event as a guest.
At one point in the speech, Griffith paused, lowered his voice and asked if there were any blacks around. Then he said, “I’ll tell you why we came to Minnesota. It was when I found out you only had 15,000 blacks here. Black people don’t go to ballgames, 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.”
In Washington D.C. the statue of former Redskins owner George Preston Marshall, who had to be forced to integrate his team in 1962, was removed Friday by the management of the RFK Stadium. The team’s current owner, Daniel Snyder, has firmly resisted suggestions the team’s nickname be changed, however.
The Twins statement on Friday morning read: “When we opened Target Field in 2010 in conjunction with our 50th season in Minnesota, we were excited and proud to welcome fans to our ‘forever ballpark.’ As such, we wanted to pay permanent tribute to those figures and moments that helped shape the first half-century of Minnesota Twins baseball — including a statue of Calvin Griffith, our former owner and the man responsible for moving the franchise here in 1961.
“While we acknowledge the prominent role Calvin Griffith played in our history, we cannot remain silent and continue ignoring the racist comments he made in Waseca in 1978. His disparaging words displayed a blatant intolerance and disregard for the Black community that are the antithesis of what the Minnesota Twins stand for and value.
“Our decision to memorialize Calvin Griffith with a statue reflects an ignorance on our part of systemic racism present in 1978, 2010 and today. We apologize for our failure to adequately recognize how the statue was viewed and the pain it caused for many people — both inside the Twins organization and across Twins Territory.”
The statement continued: “We cannot remove Calvin Griffith from the history of the Minnesota Twins, but we believe removal of this statue is an important and necessary step in our ongoing commitment to provide a Target Field experience where every fan and employee feels safe and welcome.
“Past, present or future, there is no place for racism, inequality and injustice in Twins Territory.”
Carew preaches forgiveness
During the speech, Griffith said, “Carew was a damn fool to sign [his most recent] contract. He only gets $170,000 and we all know damn well that he’s worth a lot more than that, but that’s what his agent asked for, so that’s what he gets. Last year, I thought I was generous and gave him an extra 100 grand, but this year I’m not making any money so he gets 170 — that’s it.”
Carew, who said he would never sign another contract with the Twins after Griffith remarks, said in a statement released by the team: “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.”
But Carew also said that he had long forgiven Griffith and that he doesn’t consider him a racist.
“When he traded me prior to the 1979 season, Calvin told me he wanted me to be paid what I was worth,” Carew said. “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.”