As he sat behind his desk like some big-jowled sequel to Babbitt, it did not take a sharpshooter to zero in. Some writers fired away regularly; the players took target practice on a picture of him they taped in the locker-room urinal. Griffith would mutter for a few days, but the enchanting thing about him was that he never seemed to nurse a grudge.
Minneapolis fans vacillated, admiring him for lambasting .247-hitting millionaires and howling when he let their favorites go. At the Twins' final game ever at Metropolitan Stadium, in 1981, 100 fans cornered Calvin coming out of the men's room and besieged him with autograph requests. He granted every one. That same day the crowd in the stands chanted, "We want Calvin," and when he finally acknowledged them by standing and received more cheers than boos, he called it one of the biggest thrills of his life.
One fan, a local actor-playwright named Bob Breuler, became so fascinated that in 1981 he began buying a seat right in front of Griffith's box. He observed Griffith closely and wrote a one-man show he hopes to star in himself someday. "I see him as a folk hero with foibles," Breuler says. "He'd sit up there during the game and curse and swear at his players for making mistakes. But I always sensed that somewhere in there, there was a heart—a heart shaped like a baseball, with stitches."
Carew thought so the day Griffith paid him a $100,000 bonus for his .388 season in 1977. So did spent veterans like Julio Becquer, Shorty Pleis and Carroll Hardy when Griffith called them back to the big leagues so they could qualify for pensions. Former Shortstop Zoilo Versalles remembers informing Griffith of financial problems, being told to come into the office and finding a check awaiting him, no questions asked.
"Firing me probably cost him $15 million at the gate and five pennants," Billy Martin claimed modestly. "Still, he paid me well as a manager and a coach. I don't know that his image will ever change, but there are too many good things about him that don't get out. Look at how he takes care of his family. Look at his front office."
For Griffith, family and front office are synonymous. Sister Thelma (her husband, Joe Haynes, who pitched for 14 years in the majors, died in 1967) is vice-president and assistant treasurer, which means no one questions her when she brings her Dalmatian into the office for the day. Calvin's son, Clark, and his nephew, Bruce, are executive vice-presidents; his brothers, the twins Jimmy and Billy Robertson, are vice-presidents; his nephew, Mike Robertson, is traveling secretary; another nephew. Tommy Cronin, works in sales and advertising; and a cousin, Ruth Harvison, is secretary to the farm director. Nepotism? "We're fortunate to have a family so capable of running all those departments," Griffith says.
The players may flee, but the employees linger. The team has had three trainers since 1912. It has 10 scouts who have belonged to the organization for 20 or more years; one scout, Zinn Beck, worked until his death at 95. Charlie Daniels, who's in charge of stocking the concession stands, has 51 years of tenure, and most of the other front-office personnel, including Griffith's personal secretary, have been with the club since the move to Minneapolis.
Griffith was never the type to flaunt his loyalty or charity, and only his stinginess became legend. Players were forbidden to take home bats to work out with over the winter, so they taped them together, stashed them in garment bags and smuggled them out when the equipment manager wasn't looking.
At times it all seemed the stuff of barroom anecdotes, and at others it seemed profoundly sad. Natalie, the woman Calvin married in 1940, often sat inside alone as Griffith came home at night and walked straight to the lake in the backyard of their house in Wayzata. He would cast his line and sit in the glow of the floodlights for an hour and a half, with only the ripple of the water and the buzz of the mosquito zapper for company.
Natalie wanted to go to operas and plays and to talk about books. Calvin: "I like to look at magazines. Read a few stories, read the captions. I don't like to socialize too much. You run into people who are not athletic-minded. They're bookworms or symphony patrons, and that's all they want to talk about. I don't mind a musical once in a while, but none of these damn dramas for me."