Leaving for the Last Time
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 21, 1999; Page D3
The first thing to remember about Calvin Griffith, who died yesterday at the age of 87, is that he was not Clark Griffith. Clark gave big league baseball to Washington. Calvin took it away.
Clark Griffith, who was instrumental in turning the American League into a major league in 1901, came to Washington in 1912 as manager. In 1919, with the help of a wealthy grain exporter, he took financial control of the team. He directed Washington's pennant-winning seasons of 1924, 1925 and 1933, including the '24 World Series victory over the New York Giants to this day, one of the most stirring World Series. Clark Griffith died in 1955. It didn't take Calvin long to make his move. He skipped off to Minnesota after the 1960 season something he'd said he would never do.
On Jan. 15, 1958, Calvin wrote an article in The Washington Post that began: "I have lived in Washington, D.C. for about 35 years. I attended school here and established many roots here. The city has been good to my family and me. This is my home. I intend that it shall remain my home for the rest of my life. As long as I have any say in the matter, and I expect that I shall for a long, long time, the Washington Senators will stay here, too. Next year. The year after. Forever."
He went, of course, for the money although, with any ingenuity, there were ways he could have made it here. The Minnesota Twins were more than a novelty; they were a competitive team almost on arrival. Calvin had removed the club from the nation's capital when, finally, it was on the verge of becoming a winning team again. Hall of Fame slugger Harmon Killebrew was one of numerous young stars about to shine, which they did over Minnesota. The Twins won the pennant in 1965.
But the Minnesota team's fortunes also descended under Griffith's ownership. The low point occurred in 1978 when he made a speech there that included racist statements. Shortly, Hall of Famer Rod Carew declared that he no longer would play on Griffith's "plantation," and joined the Angels in 1979. Griffith sold the Twins in 1984, and under their new ownership they won the World Series in 1987 and 1991.
Calvin, as sometimes thought, was not Clark Griffith's son. He was born Calvin Robertson, and was a nephew who came to Washington from Montreal to live with his uncle Clark and his wife, and took the Griffith name. Once he took over the team, Calvin Griffith objected to proposals of a government-built stadium where RFK is now because he preferred other locations and also wanted to retain concession profits. He began listening to any number of proposals from other cities seeking major league baseball.
Some people found him affable. The sports publicist Charles Brotman recalled yesterday a "kind" man who hired him as public address announcer at Griffith Stadium in 1956 and later as team publicist. Washington was the site of the All-Star Game in 1956 and Brotman recalled: "Calvin made a point of introducing me to owners and managers of other teams. I was nobody. He was a thoughtful, genuine person."
Few shared those sentiments. Others believe the original Senators might still be here had Griffith possessed the skills and desire that were needed to keep them here. To begin with, he could have capitalized on the prospects of a good team that was taking shape in spite of the franchise's reputation as bumbling. His last Washington roster included Killebrew, Bob Allison, Zoilo Versalles, Earl Battey, Camilo Pascual and Jim Kaat.
For years, people attended the games at Griffith Stadium expecting the Senators to lose. But in that 1960 season, the Senators finished in fifth place in the eight-team league, a giddy height for the perennial cellar-dwellers. At that critical time in the history of sports in Washington, the city desperately needed a baseball owner who loved the area and possessed a vision.
Having an owner with neither attribute, Washington was left with an expansion franchise that lost at least 100 games in each of the next four seasons and eventually came under an owner, Bob Short, who moved that team to Texas. After he left, Calvin Griffith rarely returned to Washington simply because too many people disliked him. According to the Associated Press, he will be buried here in nearby Brentwood at Fort Lincoln Cemetery.
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