Clark Griffith and the Mandate of Heaven

Thirteen years after Calvin Griffith threw up his hands and sold the Twins to Carl Pohlad, his son Clark is back with a bid to buy the team and make sure it stays in Minnesota. Why? Because he figures that's the way it ought to be.

"Clark was against the sale," Calvin confirms. "He was always hoping the ball club would be turned over to him. I was hoping the same thing, but those salaries just kept going up. Finally I told him we had no other choice. It was tough. He reacted like somebody had stuck him with a knife."

For a solid decade, Clark nursed the wound. After buying the Twins for a price variously estimated between $36 and $43 million, Pohlad installed the lowly traveling secretary Howard Fox as president of the ball club. Fox promptly fired nearly all Griffiths and Robertsons beginning with Clark. Calvin, who claimed Pohlad had promised jobs would be maintained for his relatives, howled in dismay; Clark knew it was coming. He married for a second time and got his law degree, eventually representing a number of other clubs in player salary arbitration cases. Along the way, he and his wife, Sima, had two daughters, Natalie, now 8, and Caroline, 5. And he watched as just another fan when the Twins won world titles in 1987 and 1991.

"There is no question that Clark has always believed heart-and-soul in this buying [back] of the Twins," says his younger sister Clare, now living out in Berkeley, California. "He has locked on to this as his destiny. I have challenged that and tried to talk him into coming up with a different dream, but he is locked in. Clark is a history buff; he knows his military leaders. He knows where all the generals have fought and won, or died. He has fantasies about going into battle and leading the charge."

Clark made his first tentative offer to buy back the team when the game of baseball was at its lowest point in modern times, during the protracted players' strike and owners' lockout that wiped out substantial chunks of the '94 and '95 seasons. He was encouraged, he says, by the developing drive for a revenue-sharing plan that would force large-market teams with high payrolls to share some of their money with franchises in smaller cities. He was likewise heartened by the apparent determination of the new owners, even the wealthiest ones, to spend their money more wisely.

The offer was not taken seriously. A year or so later, Clark again broached the subject of buying the Twins, and again Pohlad essentially ignored him. Griffith doesn't have the kind of money it takes to buy a major league baseball team, and the only other publicly named participant in the proposed deals was Mike Veeck, an equally bright, creative man with equally colorful family ties to the game--and equally meager resources. To make matters worse, relations between the Griffiths and the Pohlads had been checkered to say the least.

But events of the last six to nine months have certainly strengthened Clark's hand. Last October, ex-West Publishing executive Vance Opperman let it slip that he was interested in getting involved with Clark's pursuit of the Twins. Opperman, who together with his father, Dwight, was a principal in the recent sale of law-book giant West Publishing for $4.3 billion, can certainly bring enough cash to the table to buy any major league team.

Then there is the matter of the Twins' Metrodome lease agreement and the imbroglio over the building of a new stadium. Pohlad maintains that the team cannot be profitable without a new facility, yet a sizable majority of the general public seems equally adamant in its opposition to funding it with taxpayer dollars. But an escape clause in the Metrodome lease--ironically, one that was originally negotiated by Clark on behalf of his father in 1979--gives Pohlad some timely leverage. Under the terms of the clause, Pohlad can break the lease and move his team to another city if the Twins lose money and fail to draw at least 80 percent of the average league attendance for three straight years. All indications are that the club's abysmal 1997 campaign will fulfill the third year of that requirement.

As a result, Pohlad and the public are currently involved in what amounts to a high-stakes game of chicken. The owner recently announced that he is soliciting consulting firms to scout potential locations for him to move the team. A special session of the state Legislature is scheduled to convene next month to once again take up, among other matters, the issue of building a new ballpark. If the Twins do intend to move, they must notify the Metropolitan Sports Commission, which operates the Metrodome, by December 1 of this year.

But how will it look if Pohlad--who has many family members and business interests in Minnesota--moves the Twins to another city when there is a credible offer on the table to keep the club here?

Clark Griffith, a devoted chess player, is poised to make his move. "We will submit a bid sometime in the first 10 days of August," he says, sitting in his office during the latter part of July. "It will be for $80 million. I have verbal commitments for that much; now I am working on the written part. You never quite know who is going to write the check when the time comes. I solidified another group today. I told them, 'It's time, let's go get it,' and they said, 'Okay, let's go.' This is much more specific than the other offers I have made. In fact it is being prepared by an accounting firm in Cincinnati that specializes in baseball transactions."

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