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MINNESOTA TWINS : Calvin's Kids Made the Difference

October 18, 1987|RICHARD JUSTICE | The Washington Post

MINNEAPOLIS — Calvin Griffith sits behind a cluttered desk in an office decorated with precious few of the trappings of 75 years in baseball, from his days as a bat boy for the 1924 Washington Senators to those as an owner of a family-run enterprise called the Minnesota Twins.

On one wall is a picture of Clark Griffith, Calvin's dad and the former Senators' owner. On another is an autographed picture from Rod Carew: "To Calvin, Thank you so much for having faith in me. ... " -- Rod.

And there is a small plaque with the words: "When I am right, no one remembers. When I am wrong, no one forgets."

In this the Twins' finest hour in 25 years, the autumn they've returned to the World Series, it would be easy to dismiss this open, friendly old man with the beefy jowls and ample belly. It would be easy except that the celebration of baseball in Minnesota has again thrown the spotlight into a small Metrodome office far from the Twins' current powers that be.

It may be Griffith's final legacy that it was he who was the architect -- although not the finishing carpenter -- of the 1987 American League champions.

It was Griffith who looked free agency in the eye and didn't blink. He said goodbye to Larry Hisle. And to Carew, Lyman Bostock and Dave Goltz. They all had million-dollar offers elsewhere, and he let them go.

"Except for Bostock," he said. "We offered him more money. That was a guy that could win games for you."

Griffith's legacy may be that he introduced the 1987 champions in 1981 and 1982. He brought third baseman Gary Gaetti to the big leagues at the age of 21, first baseman Kent Hrbek at 22, catcher Tim Laudner at 23, pitcher Frank Viola at 22 and center fielder Kirby Puckett at 23.

They were all here before their time, and when their time did arrive, Griffith had sold the team to a Minneapolis banker named Carl Pohlad. Yet he remains part of the celebration. He says people are stopping him on the street to congratulate him. And he says proudly that Pohlad invited him to accompany the team to Detroit for the playoffs and St. Louis for the Series.

"Oh, did I catch hell for bringing these kids up," Griffith said. "But all these boys had ability, and all they needed was to get an opportunity. We'd always catered to youth here. We felt we had to."

He said he sold the Twins on Sept. 7, 1984, because "I could see the handwriting on the wall. These kids were developing good, and their salaries were going to start getting up there. No, I don't have any regrets. I saw the money getting scarcer."

Three years after Griffith sold the Twins, they may be a model franchise. They have the game's youngest general manager (34-year-old Andy MacPhail). They have its youngest manager (37-year-old Tom Kelly). They have hired an aggressive sales and marketing department, and MacPhail has overhauled their farm system.

Pohlad has also sent a message to the clubhouse: Perform well here and you'll be paid well enough to stay. Ask Hrbek and Gaetti, both of whom re-signed with the Twins instead of pursuing offers through free agency.

Ask baseball people and they'll tell you the Twins have hired some of the brightest, hardest-working people in the game, that when their farm system gets rolling in a couple of years, they should have a steady flow of talent.

When Calvin Griffith owned the Twins, they were a family operation. He had brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews working here and working there.

The Twins were not simply part of his corporate world, they were his corporate world. Most days, Griffith took his lunch and dinner at the stadium, then stayed after hours to chat with whoever stopped by.

No one is quite sure how the Twins got by. George Brophy was a top-notch personnel man, but his collection of scouts was loosely organized and required to submit only minimal information about a prospect.

When MacPhail came in, he was stunned to see they had only about nine scouts covering the country.

"We had two scouts working South Dakota," MacPhail said. "That state produced less than one player a year. We had none in Texas, a state that produces about 57 a year."

But as Pohlad and others came in, they found what an amazing operation Griffith had run. Books were kept mostly in his head. Contracts were negotiated on cocktail napkins. Draft picks were many times selected intelligently, many times on hunches. The hunches hadn't paid off and the farm system was threadbare for a couple of years.

Now, the Twins have computers and charts and a think-tank of a front office. MacPhail's brainchild was to bring in Terry Ryan from the Mets to serve as director of scouting. Ryan was a former Twins pitcher with a reputation as a keen judge of talent. Together, they set up new departments for scouting and player development. On MacPhail's office wall are the rosters from all 26 teams in baseball, with colors signifying whether the player is left-handed, right-handed or a switch-hitter.

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