Here is what Calvin Griffith said in the 1978 remarks that led the Minnesota Twins to remove his statue in from of the team’s stadium, Target Field.
Griffith was invited to speak to the Lions Club in Waseca, a small city in southern Minnesota. Taking questions from the audience after his planned speech, someone asked Griffith why he brought the Twins to Minnesota from Washington, D.C., in 1961. Griffith lowered his voice, asked if there were any blacks around, and looked around the room. Apparently confirming that his audience was all white, Griffith said,
“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. It’s unbelievable. We came here because you’ve got good, hardworking, white people here.”
It’s hard to get more racist than that, at least short of a Klan rally. I’ll poll this at the end of the post, but I believe that this is a case where the Ethics Incompleteness Principle applies, and the usually valid ethical objections to pulling down the statues of problematic, controversial or subsequently disgraced historical figures have to yield to other considerations, which are these:
- These are the Minnesota Twins, jointly adopted by the Twin Cities, and George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis. Basic survival, but also basic decency, dictates that continuing to have someone honored by a statue in front of the team’s park when that individual uttered such an unequivocally anti-black sentiment would be irresponsible, and impossible to defend.
- Griffith was a loathsome individual even without the racism. He was cheap; he insulted his players; and he was among the most reviled owners in the game. He is not an example of a historical figure honored for specific good deeds and accomplishments: bringing the team to the Land of Lakes was the sole justification for his honor, and in his disgusting comments, Griffith himself admitted that the decision was based on racism.
- In the same appearance. Griffith called Rod Carew, the Twins best player at the time and a multiple batting championship winner who is now in the Hall of Fame, a “damned fool,” and explained.
“He only gets $170,000 and we all know damn well that he’s worth a lot more than that, but that’s what his agent asked for, so that’s what he gets. Last year, I thought I was generous and gave him an extra 100 grand, but this year I’m not making any money so he gets 170 — that’s it.”
After learning about his boss’s comments, Carew almost quit the team, but relented. He told a reporter, “I will not ever sign another contract with this organization. I don’t care how much money or how many options Calvin Griffith offers me. I definitely will not be back next year. I will not come back and play for a bigot. I’m not going to be another nigger on his plantation.”
(After learning of the Griffith statue’s fate, Rod Carew released a statement saying, “In 1991, the first person I called after I was told I had been elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame was Calvin. I have long forgiven Cal for his insensitive comments and do not believe he was a racist. That was NOT my personal experience with Calvin Griffith — prior to or following that day in 1978.”)
- Because of Griffith insistence, the Twins were the last Major League to integrate their Spring Training facilities. The Twins’ Orlando, Florida camp was not integrated until 1964, and only after pressure from politicians and civil rights groups.
Taking all of that together, I believe that the Twins are justified in taking down Griffith’s statue, and that it would have been unethical for the team not to.
I applied the Ethics Incompleteness Principle (discussed in detail in Part I) to statute-toppling once before. That was in 2017, and the issue was the decision by Memphis, Tennessee to remove a huge monument to Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, and an even larger heroic equestrian statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest, the Confederate cavalry general and (allegedly) the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. I wrote,
I have to approve of the Memphis decision. While it should not serve as a general justification for historical airbrushing, the city’s action is fair and reasonable because of the unusual, indeed unique circumstances surrounding it:
1. Memphis was where Martin Luther King was assassinated by a white racist.
2. The city is fast approaching the 50th anniversary of that 1968 tragedy, and is planning events to honor the memory of the civil rights martyr.
3. The city is now 65% African American.
4. Davis and Forrest are not exactly Jefferson and Washington. Davis may have been a statesman with some accomplishments before the Civil War, but he wasn’t even a successful leader of the rebellion he chose to lead. Forrest was a brilliant military strategist, but leading the KKK should have obliterated any claim he had to a public honor: it’s like saying John Wilkes Booth deserves a statue because we was such a talented actor. The suspicion would linger that the real reason Booth was being immortalized was because of what he did in a theater that April night in 1865, just as it is widely believed that Forrest got his statue because of the KKK, not in spite of it.
Balancing all the factors operating in Memphis, I have to conclude that in this case, removing those Confederate statues is ethical. The immediate harm of allowing them to stay, embarrassing the city as it tries to honor Dr. King, far outweighs the usually valid arguments against historical air-brushing—provided, of course, that proponents of politically correct statue-toppling don’t try to make Memphis a precedent rather than the anomaly it is, and use the Memphis exception to go after Washington, Jefferson, Madison and the rest.
My reasons for approving the Twins’ decision are similar, and for once there’s a precedent. Many applications of the Ethics Incompleteness Principle have none: that’s why we call them exceptions.
Here’s your poll. For perspective, here is the previous poll on a related topic, the proposed removal of a statue in New Mexico of an especially brutal Conquistador:
Now today’s question: