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Griffith: "I guess so. I'm not sure of the score. I guess I'll have to check the sports sheet."
Fox: "I see where there were more schools put on NCAA probation. Oklahoma [sic], I think."
Griffith: "Oklahoma? Geez-ee whiz. What was it, their football, soccer, hockey team?"
Fox, clearing off The Boss's emptied plate and handing it to the kitchen help: "I think football."
Griffith: "Holy cryin' out loud, Howard, you hear about those crappies they're catching? Two and a half pounds. Damn, that's this goldarn big!" He spreads his hands.
He sips his iced tea, and now maybe brother Billy or Jimmy or nephew Tommy pulls up a seat. Inevitably the subject becomes baseball and the verbs become past tense. And the heads all swing, sad, simultaneous pendulums, over how wonderful the game once was and how warped it has become.
"Ballplayers used to sit in the dining car and discuss baseball when they traveled by train," Calvin says. "Now they get on a jet plane and 80 percent have attaché cases and some kind of musical box with earphones on. The money is so easy they don't have to struggle or become students of the game. The talent has become watered down. The players today wear gloves that are like nets—they just look at the ball and it's caught. They were better hitters back in the olden days, too, because they would stay after a game and take batting practice. A player today wouldn't think of staying after.
"We didn't have all this hospitalization, pension funds, termination pay, grievances, arbitration.... Most of this stuff makes me sick. The old reserve clause was fair. Players weren't being derived of a damn thing. Who pays the bills—the player or the ball club? Free agency has been the ruination of baseball. Now Steinbrenner regulates the salaries for everyone. Most of these owners sign these players to such ridiculous salaries just because they're afraid of their image with the fans if they don't. But I'm still trying to find a way. Anybody that says Calvin Griffith doesn't want to win is a damn liar right to their face."
His glare moves across a room that is far more than a fortress against change. It's this dining room, says Veeck, that's one of the secrets of Griffith's well-stocked farm system. "The old scouts around the league don't feel comfortable with the Steinbrenners, but they love to sit in that dining room and eat the good food and talk baseball," Veeck points out. "Calvin listens and picks up a lot of tips on young ballplayers that way."
He also plows some $2.5 million back into the farm each year and understands his sport at levels the corporate tycoons will never know. He spotted a Class-A kid named Carew in spring training in 1967 and decreed him to be the Twins' starting second baseman, over the protests of his manager and farm director. Carew hit .292 that year. And strangely—the St. Paul Dispatch calls it Calvin's Hex—few of the talents that Griffith has traded or lost to free agency have yielded a good return on their new teams' investments.