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Calvin Griffith was the batboy for the Washington Senators when they won the 1924 World Series. Now he owns the Minnesota Twins. Throughout his career—beginning when he inherited the Senators from his adopted father Clark Griffith in 1955 and continuing through the time five years later when he moved the team to Minneapolis until today—Griffith has been that rarest of sports phenomena, an owner who makes his living solely from the game. "All these owners today are millionaires," he says. "All, that is, except for old Calvin. They're doing it as a civic duty; I'm trying to stay alive."
Flanked by an American flag and photographs of Washington luminaries ("I've shaken the hand of every President since Coolidge," he says, "and Carter's next"), he sat at his desk recently and ruminated about the state of the game:
"Baseball has got to go backward, back to the good old days. You know, I used to be very proud of the boys we put on our ball club. Of the 25, we'd have as many as 22 who came through our farm system, and that's one of the real thrills in baseball. But now you get people like Bill Campbell going to Boston. If the owners are stupid enough to pay these free-agent guys $1 million, what can you do? Campbell should get down on his knees and thank God that we didn't give him his release when he pulled a muscle and hardly pitched for a year.
"What people don't realize is that it takes 25 guys to make someone like Campbell a star. And when he gets all the big money, it's bad for the ball club. One of the players said to me, 'Hell, we made 25 double plays for that guy. Where's our cut?' What happens, of course, is that the fans end up paying the freight, and if we demoralize them, we're in trouble. Just today I had a call from a woman. 'Who does Campbell think he is?' she said. 'I remember when he wouldn't cover first base.'
"It's the principle of the thing. We put all this money into the farm system developing players, then they go to somebody else. You have to wonder if they have the good of the game at heart. Players think owners are so rich. Let them subpoena the books and see for themselves. They're going to bleed teams to death.
"And now they've all got agents. I would rather deal with the ballplayer. They say ballplayers aren't smart enough. But I'll tell you something. When you talk money, everybody's smart. Even the Cubans, who are always saying no comprendes when you talk to them about something else. But you talk doe-ray-me, they understand.
"I know it's a new ball game. But I think we should go back. Baseball used to be like a big family. I remember traveling with the Senators by train. We'd go into the dining car, take the tablecloths off and play hearts for 5� a card. I remember Walter Johnson and Al Schacht would play casino. And they would talk baseball. Now the players are all plugged in to these recorders with earphones, and they can't wait to get to the next town.
"Ah, I really do miss those old days."
Almost to a man, owners claim that they would do better by putting their money in a savings account than by investing it in a pro franchise. "You must be a fan or be nuts to get into this business," says Gene Klein, president of the National Football League's San Diego Chargers. "It's not really a good investment, never has been and probably never will be. It has almost the worst dollar return potential in the world for the amount of dollar outlay." The Dallas Cowboys' Clint Murchison says, " Green Bay makes public its figures, and it showed about $500,000 profit in 1975. On a franchise valued at $15 million, that's about a. 3.3% return. Some government bonds pay out at 7.81%, so that's about half what you could make if you put your money there and never worried about anything."
Who's worrying? Certainly not the fans. Despite the owners' poor-mouthing, the spectators can be forgiven if they find it hard to sympathize with the poor little millionaires. Indeed, the single biggest problem faced by the owners is credibility. The laments of Klein and Murchison, for example, are blunted by the fact that they are speaking of football, which is generally the most prosperous of the pro sports.