- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 11, 2003

Has the nation's capital gone 32 years without major league baseball partly because the Griffith family, which owned the original Senators for four decades, was unresponsive to the desires of Washington's black community?
Many fans here blame our lack of a team on Bob Short, the carpetbagger owner who ran the expansion Senators from 1969 to 1971 and then skedaddled off to Texas with his sad sack ballclub dragging behind.
The truth is that the expansion club's four principal owners in 11 seasons retired Air Force Gen. Elwood "Pete" Quesada, brokers James Johnston and James Lemon, and Short were only caretakers of Washington's baseball tradition and bad ones at that. The Griffith family was baseball in Washington.
After all these years, newcomers are entitled to inquire "so what." Yet in an excellent book called "Beyond the Shadow of the Senators" that coincidentally arrives during Black History Month, Washington freelance writer Brad Snyder posits that the original "Griffs" would not have left had Clark Griffith and his adopted son, Calvin, paid more attention to the club's black clientele.
Then there would have been no expansion Senators, who were hastily created by the American League in the fall of 1960 when Calvin Griffith got permission from greedy fellow owners to shift the original club (aka Nationals, or Nats) to Minnesota. The team then would have moved into new D.C. (later RFK) Stadium in 1962 and presumably prospered with an improving roster that won a pennant for Minnesota in 1965. Thus, Bob Short never would have darkened our baseball doorstep.
Most of Snyder's book deals with the Homestead Grays, a wonderful Negro League team that dominated most opposition in the late '30s and '40s while the Griffith club was operating on a shoestring and mostly in the AL's nether regions. The vaudeville slogan of "Washington, first in war, first in peace and last in the American League" didn't always apply, but usually it was close enough to the truth to hurt.
For years in a very different social climate, Clark Griffith was outwardly sympathetic to the Negro Leagues, but he had ulterior motives. First, the rent he received from the Grays frequently enabled baseball's legendary "Old Fox" to avoid drowning in red ink with the Senators. And, perhaps inexplicably, many black fans preferred to watch the Senators instead of the city's strong black team, although the hard fact of segregation confined them to the stadium's right field pavilion when the Senators were playing.
Griffith Stadium was located in a black neighborhood at Seventh Street and Florida Avenue NW, near Howard University and the prime U Street social and shopping corridor for black citizens. Howard University Hospital now stands on the grounds of the stadium, which was razed in 1965.
Most black and white fans accepted segregated baseball before World War II because that's how life was in these United States. After the war, a lot of questions began being asked about why Negro League stars like Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson and Buck Leonard were born ineligible for the major leagues. After Branch Rickey signed Jackie Robinson for the Brooklyn Dodgers' farm system in 1945 (without paying a cent to Robinson's Negro League team, the Kansas City Monarchs), many black fans swore off black baseball for the "real" variety.
Now Clark Griffith hopped onto the fence and commenced straddling it like an insincere politician. He would be happy to sign a black player for the Senators, he said, if only he could find one. (He didn't "find" one until nine years after the Robinson signing, when journeyman Cuban outfielder Carlos Paula became, briefly, a Senator.)
In fact, author Snyder suggests, the Griffith family didn't want to sign black players or want any other major league club to sign them because of the rent the Senators were getting from the Grays. So Clark Griffith sobbed crocodile tears about preserving the two black leagues, averred that someday there might be a championship series between the best white and black teams, and blah, blah, blah.
You could say that Clark Griffith, born in 1869, was a product of his times. But after his death in 1955, young Calvin got away from Washington and its majority black population as fast as he could and ultimately bragged about it.
Speaking at a Minnesota Lions Club gathering in 1978, he said the real reason he left Washington "was when I found out you only had 15,000 black people. Black people don't go to ballgames, but they'll fill up a 'rasslin' ring. … We came here because you've got good, hardworking white people here."
Unknown to Griffith, a reporter for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune was in the audience. When Rod Carew, the Twins' six-time batting champion, read Griffith's remarks, he demanded and got a trade, saying, "The days of Kunta Kinte are over I refuse to be a slave on his plantation and play for a bigot."
Ancient history? Sure, but the Griffith family's attitude toward blacks helps provide a partial explanation for the ongoing outrage that has left the nation's capital without the so-called national pastime.

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