JIM THIELMAN: No Baseball Owner Would Be This Candid Today

Twins President Calvin Griffith letter to Jim Thielman – July 1974

Whatever I wrote in that letter to Calvin Griffith in 1974, it didn’t include any profanities. I told the first owner of the Minnesota Twins about it a few years later.

“Did I write back?” he asked.

He said it was his habit to take phone calls and respond to letters, unless people called him names.

“Then I hang up on them.”

I have no copy of the letter. It was written during the Great Carbon Paper Shortage of ’74 that cost Nixon the presidency. But I’ve held on to Calvin’s blunt and detailed response for more than four decades.

As irritation flowed over the Minnesota Twins trading Eduardo Escobar, then Brian Dozier, I dug out Calvin’s 1974 response to my simmering for five years over the firing of Twins’ manager Billy Martin in 1969.

Based on Calvin’s response, I also griped about him not paying enough money to star players Harmon Killebrew and Tony Oliva.

I know I ripped him for dumping pitchers Jim Kaat and Jim Perry.

I took a shot at poor Dan Fife. Fife was the unproven return Griffith received for shipping Perry to Detroit in 1973. Perry won 14 games  that season for guess who? Billy Martin.

Dander up? You bet.

Scant years later, I was a sportswriter. The Twins’ final game at Metropolitan Stadium came on a drizzling, mid-50s degree afternoon on the final day of September. I called Griffith’s office and asked for Calvin hours before the game.

Could I sit with him in his box for a few innings on the final day at the Met and do a story?


No secretary. No public relations people. No big deal. Come on up. Calvin was a regular guy in so many ways.

I had told him about the letter years before that final game at the Met. Let him know how ticked off I was as a kid in college watching the Twins go 81-81 in 1974, and how much I liked Martin.

He had smoothed the edges on his opinion of Billy by then; held nothing against the younger me. Said he liked it that people cared.

I don’t feel bad about putting Calvin’s letter here. I shared it with Kaat years ago. He said, “Now I know why Calvin got rid of me.” And laughed.

That’s the best way to take this letter.

Calvin has been gone for nearly three decades. I came to appreciate him. If I could ask him, bet he’d say publish the damned letter. I don’t care.

No one writes letters now. They put screeds on social media and newspaper web sites, some of which begin with something like, “If Twins’ owners are reading this … “

They are not.

I could put some “good old days” line here and tsk-tsk about how no one writes letters anymore. No point.

Write a letter to the owner of a sports team and some beleaguered intern will print out the communications department’s file slugged “response_to_fans.doc” and ask some other intern, “Do we have any envelopes?”

So go ahead. Tweet. You ain’t gonna get a gem like this.

Oh. Dan Fife. He had an undistinguished Major League Baseball career. But his 703 wins put him No. 3 on the list of winningest Michigan high school basketball coaches.

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