Back in 1960, Minneapolis, making eyes at Washington's baseball franchise, lured it all the way to the upper Midwest with a seductive offer to Calvin Griffith. He took the money and ran, quickly.
There are signs now, though, that it is not to be forever. Minneapolis has not aged gracefully as a baseball town, is facing mid-life crisis and, worst of all, the bottom line is showing. A new, determined suitor has caught Griffith's eye.
Tampa wants Minneapolis' team badly and has mounted what can be termed an all-out assault to get it. Weary of losing money in Minneapolis, Griffith has not discouraged the Tampa bid and Minneapolis is now cast ironically in the role it forced on Washington 23 years ago. Can it keep its team? Washington couldn't.
Tampa's proffer to Griffith is a model of enticement, to both Griffith and the American League, which must approve a move.
* Tampa will buy his franchise for $24 million.
* Tampa will keep Calvin Griffith and five members of the Griffith family on the team's payroll for five years.
* Tampa has assembled a group of 40 wealthy citizens who would build a $46 million domed stadium for the team.
* Among the Tampa people are an assembly of lawyers, builders, architects and others of ample network, including the Mack brothers, who build New York skyscrapers; Tom duPont of that certain family, and Frank Morsani, whose string of auto dealerships sells Mercedes, in addition to a full sweep of other monied people.
* Tampa already has hired former Yankee and Kansas City official Cedric Tallis as managing director of its franchise bid. He will go on the payroll with a fancy salary on Tuesday.
* Tampa has sounded out other American League club owners for approval, one by one, and drawn up stadium plans. As a gesture of good faith, the city has already spent $750,000 in shaping its bid.
Tampa has shown some interest in the Cleveland franchise, but its focus is on Griffith. It sees the Cleveland team as tied up in the O'Neill estate since the former owner's death, and also faces opposition there from Denver oilman Marvin Davis, who reportedly has bid $32 million for the Indians' franchise. The O'Neill family is indicating it does not choose to move, citing a willingness "to take a financial haircut" to keep the team in town.
The new idea in the franchise game is the hiring of professional baseball men to bring in a team, instead of the former practice of relying on chamber of commerce types. Tal Smith, former Houston general manager, is foraging for a franchise for Denver, and representing St. Petersburg in the franchise hunt is former Toronto president Peter Bavasi. But none has drawn the lines as explicitly as Tampa.
H. Gabriel Murphy, owner of 43 percent of the Minnesota Twins stock, said yesterday that "Tampa's offer is under consideration. I'd say the situation is fluid."
Other sources say that Thelma Haynes, sister of Calvin Griffith and equal co-owner of the majority stock, "is ready to sell." And for whatever the import, Clark Griffith, son of Calvin and a vice president of the team, has opted to enter law school in Minneapolis. He is in his early 40s.
For Murphy, a sale of the Minneapolis franchise for $24 million would be called a profitable deal. He bought his 43 percent of the team in 1950 for $625,000.
The hitch for Tampa is that Griffith's franchise may not be available until the end of the 1985 season.
"But Tampa is willing to wait," said Tom McEwen, Tampa Tribune sports editor, "and it could come earlier."
Only three years after persuading the city to build the Twins a new, domed stadium, Griffith is move-minded. And the stadium authority could curse the day it gave him an escape clause he can invoke if attendance does not average 1.4 million for the 1982-83-84 seasons.
Because disenchanted Minneapolis fans numbered only 900,000 in 1982 and 1983, the city now needs an attendance of 2.4 million next season to keep Griffith in town. Given the quality of his teams, Griffith's unpopularity and his habit of selling or trading his best players, the chances of hitting the 2.4 million figure do not appear to be salubrious. However, the city has an option year that could force Griffith to stay through 1985.
In 1983, Griffith operated with baseball's lowest payroll, $2.1 million for all of the Twins' roster, little more than the Yankees paid one player, Dave Winfield. They haven't been in the playoffs since 1970.
Minneapolis nevertheless is making an attempt to keep its team, mounting a campaign by the chamber of commerce to sell the required 2.4 million tickets. There is some skepticism that such an ambitious goal can be attained.
Griffith is not hinting whether he will stay or move, according to Sid Hartman of the Minneapolis Tribune. "He's driving us crazy," Hartman said.
But according to one Sports Illustrated report, a member of the Tampa group, when asked how interested Griffith appeared to be in Tampa, said, "Well, he's down to where he's selecting the spot for the toilet in his private office."
The $24 million with which Tampa is tempting Griffith, while a substantial sum, is not a breathtaking figure, baseball men point out. They cite the $32 million offer for Cleveland and the recent sale of the Detroit Tigers for $45 million.
The fact that beginning next season each club can expect $7.9 million a year from network television for five years, has speeded the escalation of a franchise's cost. So, too, has the growth of cable television.
And Edward Bennett Williams, who four years ago bought the Baltimore Orioles for $12 million, would understand that any court would now hold that to be a nonfelonious steal.