Twins have removed the Calvin Griffith statue

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The Minnesota Twins announced today that they have removed the statue of Calvin Griffith that has stood for many years outside of Target Field. Griffith, as you may know, was the man who owned the club when it was the Washington Senators and moved it to Minneapolis before the 1961 season.

The reason for the removal: quite simply, Griffith was racist and racism was a primary driver behind his decision to move the team to Minnesota and to not leave Minnesota when the franchise fell on some tough times in the late 1970s.

We wrote about this five years ago, taking note of a speech Griffith gave at a banquet back in 1978 which was covered by the Star-Tribune in 1978. Griffith’s jumping off point was when he was asked by someone about rumors that he might move the Twins out of Minnesota. New Orleans was a rumored destination at the time.

Remember, Griffith said this in 1978, not in the 50s or the 60s:

“They’ve got all the ink and all the typewriters but they don’t have all the truth,” Griffith said. “There’s no damn place in the country worth moving to. They talk about New Orleans, but what’s wrong with that is…”

At that point, Griffith interrupted himself, lowered his voice and asked if there were any blacks around. After he looked around the room and assured himself that his audience was white, Griffith resumed his answer.

“I’ll tell you why we came to Minnesota,” he said. “It was when I found out you only had 15,000 blacks here. Black people don’t go to ball games, 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.”

And after that he began to rip his own players for their personal lives and work ethic. Great guy, eh?

Many, writers on this site included, have noted how inappropriate it is for the Twins to honor a man like Griffith with a statue, regardless of the fact that he gave the city its big league club. Today the Twins acknowledged that inappropriateness.

Here is their statement on the statue’s removal:

“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. 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.”

An excellent statement about an excellent move.

Removing statues does not “erase history” as so many claim. If anything, such decisions are a function of acknowledging a larger, more comprehensive view of history and shining light on parts of history many wish would remain buried.

Removing a statue merely reverses a decision to venerate and honor someone. If that person did not deserve that veneration there is no reason to continue to venerate them.

Good move, Twins.