It is mid February, TwinsFest is behind us and spring training is just around the corner. Target Field is still snow covered and the temperatures still don’t allow shorts to be worn outside but baseball fans are getting that itch, the itch to see some baseball. Since Minnesota fans won’t be able to see their home town nine play ball at Target Field until April some fans have already made their plans to travel to the Twins spring training home in Ft. Myers, Florida. Make no mistake, spring training is not far away, every day the numbers of players at the CenturyLink Sports Complex increases and Twins fans are attracted to Hammond Stadium like moths are to a flame. Some would argue with the same results.
Current Minnesota Twins players and future Twins players have it pretty good in spring training now days, but that has not always been the case. Back in 1961 at Tinker Field in Orlando, Florida when the former Washington Senators players put on their Minnesota Twins uniforms for the first time life was a lot different. Most of the teams that held spring training in Florida had segregated living and eating facilities and many of them even traveled in separate vehicles when their teams played an away game.
The Washington Senators had moved out of the Langford Hotel in Winter Park, Florida and into the Cherry Plaza Hotel (part 1) prior to spring training in 1959 under pressure from the Orlando Chamber of Commerce because the team was training in Orlando but staying in a Orlando suburb. When the Twins reported to their first spring training in 1961 the team was headquartered at the Cherry Plaza Hotel. However; the Cherry Plaza was segregated so the African-American players were housed at the Sadler Hotel on West Church Street which was an African-American business owned by Henry Sadler. It is ironic that Twins owner Calvin Griffith had helped to provide Sadler with the financing for his hotel.
In their first year of spring training as the Twins, there was little controversy over the segregated facilities in Orlando and the Cherry Plaza. Most baseball teams training in Florida were still segregating their players that year, although this would quickly change. According to various sources, by 1962 only five teams in Florida still had segregated spring training facilities, with the Twins being one of those teams.
In January of 1962, Twins players Earl Battey and Lenny Green were sitting at the head table of the “Hot Stove League” baseball banquet back in Minnesota while a derogatory and highly inappropriate story was told by “Rosy” Ryan, the former general manager of the Minneapolis Millers minor league club. Upon hearing the story, which referred to black players as “blackbirds,” Battey and Green promptly stormed out of the banquet. It is unknown if this was the straw that broke the camels back or just a coincidence but Earl Battey got in touch with than Minnesota Governor Elmer Andersen and updated him on the spring training segregation policies in Orlando.
Then the fur started to fly as then Minnesota Governor Elmer Andersen, Attorney General Walter Mondale and others started meeting with Twins owner Calvin Griffith, Road Secretary Howard Fox, and PR Director Herb Hoeft. Later, Minnesota Governor Karl Rolvaag got involved. The state also started communicating with Frank Flynn the General Manager of the Cherry Plaza Hotel (part 2).
Heading into 1964 the Minnesota Twins were the only team in baseball that had not yet integrated its spring training facilities and the pressure was building as constant pressure on Griffith and Fox from civil rights organizations, the Governor’s office, the Attorney General’s office and, unceasingly, from the State Commission Against Discrimination (SCAD), caused the Twins to finally wake up. For the spring of 1964 they signed a contract with the Downtowner Motel in Orlando and abandoned the Cherry Plaza Hotel although Twins owner Calvin Griffith and his executives continued to stay at the Cherry Plaza Hotel. Segregated housing was finally over! The Twins even started paying the players meal money and allowing them to eat where ever they wished versus having the players always eat at the hotel and sign for the meal. According to Howard Fox, other teams have been providing meal money for years but the Twins approach has been to have the players sign for the meals so that the team could monitor if they were eating balanced meals.
Prior to the 1965 season the Cherry Plaza Hotel (part 3) became integrated and the Twins wasted no time moving back in and calling the Cherry Plaza Hotel as Twins headquarters once again.
There is a lot more detailed material to read about the Minnesota Twins and their early 1960’s segregation issues and you can check it out in some of these documents.
Desegregating the Minnesota Twins (1964) (James C. and Kwame McDonald are one and the same person)