Thursday, November 15, 2001

Of the remaining baseball fans in Minnesota who are girding themselves for the Twins’ last rites, probably none feels sadder and madder than Clark Griffith II.
He has been through this before in Washington.
Griffith’s baseball bloodlines run deep. He is the grandson of baseball pioneer and Hall of Famer Clark Griffith, who owned the Senators from 1920 until his death in 1955. He is the son of Calvin Griffith, who moved the club to Minnesota after the 1960 season.
On a visit to Washington in September, when Howard University Hospital announced plans to establish a permanent memorial on the site where Griffith Stadium once stood, Griffith said he “never understood” why his father left town.
But he understands baseball’s current contraction idiocy all too well.
“The idea of contraction is a pure labor matter,” Griffith said over the telephone from his Minnesota law offices. “It’s strictly to put pressure on the players for the negotiations [on a new collective bargaining agreement]. It’s unnecessary. [Executing the Twins] is the one that points out how absurd contraction is. Just the thought of folding a 101-year-old franchise …”
Several years ago, Griffith put together a group that attempted to buy the Twins from Carl Pohlad, to whom Clark’s father sold the club in 1984. The offer was not accepted but, Griffith said, “it’s still there. A lot of people out here are trying to buy the Twins.”
Problem is, the club almost certainly would not command a sale price to equal the $250million buyout figure that Major League Baseball would pay Pohlad for contracting it. Pohlad, no sportsman he, said recently that he had lost $150million on the Twins and was in favor of shutting down the franchise.
Commissioner Bud Selig has not announced which two teams will be led to the guillotine, but Griffith says the Twins are one of them (with Montreal almost certainly the other) because “the owner here has confirmed it.”
Accordingly, all baseball operations are on hold at the Metrodome. General manager Terry Ryan has been given permission to talk with other clubs. Players are waiting to learn where they will be working next season. And fans have been left to curse the baseball fates, just as those in Washington have been doing for three decades.
“I thought the idea of contraction was to remove teams that weren’t competitive,” Griffith said. “Well, we have the most competitive club in the division. We were second this year, and I think we’ll win it next season. It just makes no sense to contract us.”
There is a reason why Griffith speaks in the present tense. He doesn’t consider contraction entirely a done deal.
“Oh, it will probably happen,” he conceded. “But the chances that it won’t are almost as numerous as those that it will. I’d say the odds on contraction are only slightly above 50 percent. A lot of things still need to be accomplished, and there are a lot of roadblocks in the way.”
Pause: “I’m not giving up.”
Small wonder, because his famous namesake never gave up. The original Clark Griffith, known as “the Old Fox” because of his wily ways on the mound, won 237 games in a career that began in 1891. He managed the Chicago White Sox to the first American League pennant 100 years ago. When he became manager of the customarily comatose Senators in 1912, they promptly finished second twice in a row. And after he scraped together enough money to buy the club, he battled valiantly for 35 years against the Yankees, Red Sox and other much richer rivals.
After Griff’s death, the Senators and baseball dedicated the 1956 All-Star Game at Griffith Stadium to his memory. The first ball was thrown out by Clark II, then 18 and undoubtedly full of love for and optimism about what was still called the national pastime.
That was, of course, a long time ago. A very long time ago.
When the Senators won their only World Series in 1924, their owner stood with commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis at a window in the Willard Hotel, watching as thousands of joyous fans celebrated along Pennsylvania Avenue.
“You know, Clark,” the commissioner remarked, “the ancient Greeks and Romans must have had their games, and they must have reached peaks and then receded. I wonder if this is the peak for this game we love.”
Griffith’s reply has been lost in the mists, but it now seems appropriate to wonder if the game we love has descended to its lowest valley.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Clark Griffith II, and a lot of others, feel the same way.
“It’s absurd,” he says of contraction. “Absolutely absurd.”

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