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GRIFFITH SPARES FEW TARGETS IN WASECA REMARKS
"I'll tell you why we came to Minnesota. It was when I found out you only had 15,000 blacks here. Black people don't go to ball games, 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, hard-working white people here."
So said Griffith, according to the Minneapolis Tribune, at a 1978 banquet in Waseca, Minn. which he did not know was being covered by the press. He was also quoted as calling Rod Carew "a damn fool" for signing a Twins contract for $170,000 when he was worth more, and as saying that Wynegar was having a "miserable year" because "he was playing 'hands' with his wife during spring training, and instead of running around the outfield he did his running around the bedroom. Now, love is love. But it comes pretty cheap for these young ballplayers these days, and I think they should take advantage of that and wait to get married."
With that, Griffith had a second metropolis inflamed. Callers blitzed the Twins' switchboard. Blacks denounced him for bigotry. A front-page Minneapolis Star editorial demanded he abdicate. A $1-million-a-year radio and TV sponsor announced it would reconsider involvement with the Twins. Carew said, "I'm not going to be another nigger on his plantation." Wynegar punched out a garbage can and broke his finger.
"Waseca was the biggest frame-up that ever happened," Griffith says. "The newspaper was going so lousy it needed something to stimulate it. I was misinterpreted. They asked if black people came to ball games and I said no; all I was doing was quoting a survey I'd read that said they went to boxing matches and rassling, but not many went to baseball. I almost cried when I read that story. Not a family did as much for blacks as the Griffith family.
"The Wynegar thing, if Don Rickles had said it, would have gotten a helluva big laugh. You go to meetings like that, you've got to put a little humor into the damn thing. You can't get up on your feet and be a cloudy face and no ambition—I mean animation. You've got to giggle a little and get people in the right mood. The people down there in Waseca had one of the biggest times in their life, they tell me."
Thelma shakes her head with sisterly, affectionate disapproval. "He gets himself in trouble," she says. "Sometimes he speaks without thinking. He's not that good at putting thoughts into words."
Griffith long ago established himself as one of sport's most accessible and quotable owners. Reporters could rap on his door, enter and fill their note pads with sentences so coarse in honesty and so magnificently mangled in syntax that some began to enjoy him. He was quoted last year as saying that rookie Center-fielder Jim Eisenrich was "doomed to be an All-Star." When asked whom he would choose as managerial replacement after his controversial 1969 firing of Billy Martin, he said, "I guarantee you one thing. I won't do anything rational."
His temper would explode as his team and gate receipts wilted under the August sun. After a 12-2 loss to Detroit on Aug. 17, 1981 he steamed, "It's a goddamn shame when a fellow with the experience of [Jerry] Koosman is pitching so lousy. As old as he is, that was one of the dumbest pitching jobs I've ever seen.... You wonder how we wound up with such goldarn scabs as we've got now."