Calvin Griffith in Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame

Calvin Griffith (second from left) at the opening of the 1965 World Series - courtesty of Seamheads.com

Calvin Griffith (second from left) at the opening of the 1965 World Series – courtesty of Seamheads.com

November 17, 2010 – I recently had heard that there was Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and in doing some research on it, I ran across this story (Letters from Quebec: Induction Day at the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, Part Two) dated October 14, 2010 on http://seamheads.com/ by Bill Young. With their permission I have reprinted a portion of the article that pertains to former Twins owner Calvin Griffith. If you wish to read the entire article, please go to http://seamheads.com/2010/10/14/letters-from-quebec-induction-day-at-the-canadian-baseball-hall-of-fame-part-two/ , it is a good read.

By Bill Young – In mid-summer I wrote about the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Marys, Ontario, and the successful Induction Day ceremonies it held this past June. I mentioned that the new inductees included Canadian pitcher Paul Quantrill—his 14-season major league career took him to Toronto, Boston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, New York (Yankees) San Diego and Florida—and Robbie Alomar, a Blue Jay forever, if Toronto fans have any say in the matter. Charles Bronfman made a significant donation to the Hall’s development fund and even Babe Ruth’s granddaughter took part.

And I also made mention of two other men—Calvin Griffith and Allan Roth—who were inducted posthumously. Both Griffith and Roth were Canadians by birth and while their contributions to the game took place in the United States, it was fitting that they be honored by the baseball community in their country of origin. At the induction ceremonies, both were represented by close family members; the ceremony meant a lot to them.

Calvin Griffith was born in Montreal on December 1, 1911 into difficult circumstances. While still very young he and his sister Thelma were dispatched to Washington, D.C., where they were subsequently adopted by Clark Griffith, the iconic owner of the Washington Senators, and given the Griffith name. When Calvin seemed interested in following the family’s baseball footsteps, Clark made him a Senators’ batboy. Following graduation from George Washington University where he played baseball, Calvin began his own life journey in the minors leagues, first in Chattanooga (home of the Lookouts, where his mentor was the legendary Joe Engle, a close associate of Clark’s and married to Clark’s niece) and later Charlotte. By the early 1950s Calvin was back in Washington, in charge of the Senators’ day-to-day-operations.

When Clark Griffith died in 1955, ownership of the club passed to Calvin and his sister Thelma. Calvin continued to oversee the running of the club, including salary negotiations, while Thelma managed the financial side. Together they formed an effective partnership.

Calvin was behind the decision to move to Minnesota in 1961. Under his tutelage, the newly named Twins enjoyed great success, winning one pennant and two divisional titles. However, by 1984 he and Thelma had run their course. They sold their 52 percent share to Carl Pohlad for $32 million, chump change by today’s standards.

Calvin was old-school when it came to wages, and in the days before agents it was his custom to discuss contracts with players, one-on-one, in his office. According to pitcher Bert Blyleven, “You would go into his office and he would sit in a high chair behind a high desk and you would sit on a couch that sank down, so it was like you were looking up about 10 feet at this big owner. He would then basically tell you what you were going to make the next year, because that’s what he thought you were worth, period.”

Jim (Mudcat) Grant, who is best remembered around these parts as the Montreal Expos opening day starting pitcher, April 8, 1969, at Shea Stadium, when Nos Amours became the first non U.S-based team ever to play a regularly scheduled major league game, had his own take on Griffith. Grant had toiled with the Twins in the mid-1960s. According to him, Griffith “threw around nickels like manhole covers.”

Calvin Griffith died on October 20, 1999 at the age of 87, bringing to an end a life rich in adventure and challenges – and light years removed from the hardships he and his mother and six siblings endured during those first years in Montreal. His early story reads like a tale pulled from the pages of Boy’s Own or a novel by Horatio Alger.

Calvin’s father was Jimmy Robertson, originally from the Shetland Islands. Something of a minor league ball player, he was offered a tryout with the International League Montreal Royals in the mid-1910s although failed to make the team. Among the reasons, as Calvin once explained to my colleague Danny Gallagher, was that Jimmy, the minor-league ball player, was a major-league alcoholic. What limited income he had came from a modest newspaper distribution/delivery business he operated in Mount-Royal, a newly-established model community in the suburbs of Montreal.

But Jimmy had a sister, Anne, and this is where the story takes its remarkable turn. For Anne Robertson lived in Washington, D.C. She was married to Clark Griffith.

When Jimmy died in 1922, his widow, Jane, desolate and impoverished, turned to her sister-in-law for help. Soon enough the whole family was bound for Washington and the bosom of the Griffith family. And, to borrow from that old SNL skit, baseball was about to become very, very good to them.

The Clark Griffiths, who had no children of their own, in addition to formally adopting Calvin and Thelma, informally, gathered all the Robertson children under their wing. In time, all children became involved in baseball, in one capacity of another. For example: Calvin’s younger brother Sherrod (Sherry) Robertson built his own major league baseball narrative as a major league player and executive, and, in 2007 was himself inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. Thelma became Clark’s secretary and married Joe Haynes, a career pitcher with the Senators and White Sox. Upon Clark’s death in 1955, along with brother Calvin, she inherited part ownership of the Senators. And then there was sister Mildred. She married the legendary Hall-of-Famer Joe Cronin! According to The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, “Joe Cronin was introduced to his future wife, Clark Griffith’s daughter Mildred, by Joe Engle, who had purchased Cronin from Kansas City in the American Association.” When they met, Engle is supposed to have said, “Hey Millie, I brought you a husband over from Kansas City.”

The Griffith family was delighted with Calvin’s selection to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. His own son Clark, noting that the recognition came a full decade after Calvin’s death, called it “a true honor for my father,” adding, “all of us are very proud that his legacy remains strong and will carry forward in St. Mary’s.”

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