On Friday, the Minnesota Twins removed a statue of former owner Calvin Griffith from the grounds at Target Field. The organization cited racist remarks Griffith made in 1978 for the removal of the statue that had stood since the park opened its doors in 2010.
Griffith moved the Washington Senators to Minnesota in 1961 before renaming them the Twins. During a speech he was giving to the Waseca Lions club in 1978, as reported by the Minneapolis Tribune at the time, Griffith made it clear as to why he moved the Senators to Minnesota.
“I’ll tell you why we came to Minnesota. It was when I found out you only had 15,000 blacks here,” Griffith told the crowd. “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.”
The removal of the statue may seem like it was unprompted, but credit has to be given to social activist Mike Tucker. Tucker has staged a one-man boycott of the Twins since 2015 over Griffith's statue and his comments and I encourage anyone to read up on his story recently published on SI.com.
Griffith did more than make just a couple offhanded comments when it came to black fans and players. Back in 1962, not long after Griffith purchased the team, he made sure the Twins were the only team in Major League Baseball that was still segregating black players during spring training in Florida. Griffith faced pressure by the state of Minnesota, media scrutiny across the country and saw protests from civil rights groups that began picketing outside Metropolitan Stadium. Griffith’s practice of segregation was ended only a few months before the 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed.
Back to Griffith’s speech in Waseca. That same night he told the crowd that Twins legend Rod Carew was “a damn fool” for signing a $170,000 contract with the team. “He’s worth a lot more than that, but that’s what his agent asked for, so that’s what he gets.”
Carew, a black man, made his response shortly after the story came out in the Oct. 1978 edition of Jet magazine.
“I’m not going to be another (obscenity) on [Griffith’s] plantation. The days of Kunta Kinte are over.”
That was Carew’s last season with the Twins before he joined the Angels in 1979.
While Griffith’s place in bringing professional baseball to Minnesota is clearly important, leaving a statue of his likeness up in the year 2020 is not the correct play. The issue of systemic racism in the United States is in the forefront of many American’s minds for what feels like the first time in my adult life.
After the killing of George Floyd late last month in Minneapolis, the Twin Cities have become a hotbed for reflection and change. The Twins themselves reflected on their errors in their statement put out Friday concerning the removal of Griffith’s statue.
“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 cannot remove Calvin Griffith from the history of the Minnesota Twins, but we believe removal of the 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,” the statement said in part.
It could just be corporate speak, but in a country where the issue of racism has somehow become politicized, organizations run some kind of risk for taking a stand in the way the Twins did Friday.
But the Twins are right, Calvin Griffith will always be ingrained into the history of the team. There will be detractors to this decision. Some will say that history shouldn’t be erased. But it’s clear history hasn’t been erased. Griffith’s words have been in full view for decades and will continue to be long after people forget his statue was ever there.
Anyone can read the full story regarding Griffith’s comments in Waseca. The history of Griffith and the Twins continuing to segregate players for as long as possible was national news at the time for how abhorrent it was and can still be read about to this day. There’s nothing honorable in those things he said and did. We can be thankful he brought baseball to our state but you don’t need to honor someone whose behavior wasn’t honorable.
His statue was there and now it’s gone. Much like NASCAR banning the Confederate flag from its racetracks, there’s no shame in learning about the history of the people or things we honor and deciding they no longer have a place in modern times.