Twins remove statue of ex-owner Calvin Griffith over racist comments

The Minnesota Twins announced Friday the removal of a statue in front of Target Field of former owner Calvin Griffith.

Griffith relocated the Washington Senators to Minnesota ahead of the 1961 season and remained owner until 1984. He died in 1999 at the age of 87.

He was a major figure in the franchise’s history, but racist remarks he made at a 1978 speaking engagement marred his legacy.

“I’ll tell you why we came to Minnesota. It was when we found out you only had 15,000 blacks here,” Griffith said then. “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. We came here because you’ve got good, hardworking white people here.”

He was unaware a newspaper reporter was present at the dinner.

“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 Twins said in a statement Friday. “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.”

Griffith’s statue is one of several that sits in Target Plaza outside of the Twins’ stadium. The statues include those of former players Rod Carew, Kent Hrbek, Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva and Kirby Puckett, former manager Tom Kelly, former owners Griffith, Carl Pohlad and Eloise Pohlad, and Twins mascot T.C. Bear.

Target Field, which opened in 2010, is in Minneapolis, the same city in which George Floyd, a black man, died after a white police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly eight minutes.

Carew, whom Griffith called a “damn fool” for playing for only $170,000 during that same 1978 appearance, said he long ago forgave Griffith but understands the Twins’ decision on the statue.

“I understand and respect the Minnesota Twins decision to remove the Calvin Griffith statue outside Target Field,” Carew, who is black, said in a statement released by the team. “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.”

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