Yet, for all the fuzzy feelings about our team today, it's unfortunate that the Twins' history in Minnesota begins with an unpleasant truth. The Washington Senators, having faded from the glory of their days with Walter Johnson and Goose Goslin, were eager to move out of their home in the nation's capital. The team was only marginally profitable, the rosters were full of the marginally talented (and Harmon Killebrew), but the full reasons weren't clear until the 1970s when owner Calvin Griffith explained:
"I'll tell you why we came to Minnesota. It was when we found out you only had 15,000 blacks here. 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." (Source here)
Griffith may have hemmed and hawed about this, claiming misquotation, libel and the old "it-was-a-joke" routine, but that seems unlikely. Brad Snyder's excellently researched Beyond the Shadow of the Senators explains how, despite Hall of Fame calibre talent on the Negro League squad who shared Griffith Stadium with the Senators (Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige and Buck Leonard to name but three), the Senators owners refused to integrate their team either when these players were at the peak of their talents (and the Senators were desperate for talent) or for seven years after Jackie Robinson debuted, thereby dooming their team in Washington DC and necessitating the move to Minneapolis.
|Twin Cities Colored Giants|
That our Twins were born of such short-sighted narrow-mindedness is unfortunate, but if there is a comfort it rests in the fact that Calvin Griffith was an ignorant shmo. Because while our minority population may be small, we've long been able to support minority baseball as well as anybody else.
The truth is that African-Americans have been a part of baseball in Minnesota for far longer than the Griffiths could ever be (see Steve Hoffbeck's excellent chronicle of black-baseball in Minnesota). The same year Moses "Fleet" Walker was playing for Toledo, Bud Fowler was playing second base for Stillwater. From George Wilson and Billy Holland with Waseca, to Alex Irwin and Milroy McCune with the Minneapolis Keystones, to stars Ted "Double Duty" Radcliffe and the visionary Andrew "Rube" Foster, citizens (both black and white) turned up to see games and players and teams throughout Minnesota.
The Twin Cities supported two Negro League squads including the Twin Cities Colored Giants and the St. Paul Colored Gophers, and fans came and cheered because they liked the game and-- regardless of what the Griffiths' might have believed--the support was there for good baseball no matter who played it and no matter who was allowed in to watch it.
These are our teams and our players and, as fans, the gulf between cheering for one or the other never seems quite as great as the Griffith's made it seem. It's easy to say that, as an old Baseball Magazine put it: "[all men are equal] at a ballgame: banker and bricklayer, lawyer and common laborer." But in reality, I'm writing from a very different time than the Griffiths. And though fans today excitedly look past many of our largest differences we are prone to forget the challenges and struggles and accomplishments that people like Fowler, Wilson, McCune and others had to go through to build the enduring legacy for players like Denard Span and Ben Revere and fans like all of us.
|Let's pretend he was ours|
Even later, after integration began, Minneapolis and St. Paul warmly welcomed stars in the making Roy Campanella and Willie Mays. The enticing white crowds the Griffiths wanted were excited and dedicated to pitchers like Mudcat Grant and Les Straker, they had affinities for role players like Chili Davis and Shane Mack, and they worshipped the centerfield legend: Kirby Puckett.
Today is a day to remember more than the successes and the struggles of race relations throughout our country. It's more than a time to cringe at Calvin Griffith's quote or puff ourselves up with some of our history. We can be satisfied with how far we've come and appreciative of how seriously we take our heritage, but we can also consider what comes next: maybe the Twins might hire an African-American manager, or maybe we'll hire an African-American GM to take over after Terry Ryan. But above all we can continue the work of Kirby Puckett, and Denard Span and St. Paul's own Dave Winfield and encourage local kids to pursue their goals through athletics and work ethic and teamwork.
This is more than a day off, it's a call to action and at the risk of being a preachy teacher, it's not just what Dr. King might have dreamed of, or what Rube Foster might have imagined, but what we can all do personally, locally and immediately to help our community.