Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The ghost of Calvin Griffith lives on...

Cal Griffith, the late outspoken former owner of the Minnesota Twins, is still outspoken when a "diehard twins fan" ( blogger, Tim Bouvine) interviews him from the beyond: (August 8th HowieBlog post, The ghost of Calvin Griffith speaks in 2011). It brought to mind a poem I wrote more than 30 years ago, when Cal was still at the Twins' helm. He had caused considerable controversy in a speech and I commented in a form baseball fans might recognize as strangely familiar (try "Casey At the Bat"). It turns out Calvin, like Casey, struck out. That poem, Calvin at the Plate, (see below) was originally written for my Duluth News Tribune column and is included in my book, Cooler Near the Lake.

Calvin at the Plate
By Jim Heffernan

The outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Lions Club that day;
The chaplain muffed the praying and the Lions would have to pay.
And so when Calvin took the stand, and after they hand dined,
The Lions sat back to listen up, looking leonine.

The subject would be baseball, appropriately enough,
But who could know the speaker would be dishing out such guff;
A simple little meeting, in a simple little town,
Would make the club look foolish and the speaker look a clown.

But Calvin didn’t know that day the ripples he would cause;
He tried his best to stand the test and gather up applause.
But his audience included, much to his distress,
A writer taking lots of notes, and he was from the press.

So when Calvin started talking, and missing not a point,
The air was filled with silence, and smoke filled up the joint.
The speaker tried for laughter, and getting himself none,
He thought he’d toss some spice around, to add it to the fun.

He started out with marriage, an honorable state,
But Calvin said it had no place on or near home plate;
He said his catcher Wynegar would be better off still free:
He didn’t care that Wynegar’s wife would deign to disagree.

Free love, he said, comes pretty cheap for players of the game;
A lad should take advantage, and build upon his name,
And then when extra innings in the game of life are played,
There’s plenty of time for marriage, when life’s a bit more staid.

There was ease in Calvin’s manner as he shifted on his hips;
There was pride in Calvin’s bearing, and a smile on Calvin’s lips;
There was scotch in Calvin’s belly, and a redness on his face,
When Calvin turned the subject to a place known as first base.

His voice boomed like thunder when he talked of Rod Carew;
And everyone was shocked when he called him a damn fool.
Rod sold himself too cheap, he said, so we gave him a bonus;
He really should to appreciate such treatment from the owners.

Then Calvin changed his visage, his voice a quiet roar;
“In the old days players cared,” he cried, “but they don’t any more.”
And throwing out an epithet, the kind we know so well,
He told the stadium commission that it could go to hell.

And hitting Billy Martin–he couldn’t let that pass–
He said the feisty manager could charm a monkey’s---. 
And he said Bill never punched a man who looked to be his size;
He’ll have to live with that one, until the day he dies.

And then as if to top the rest, ol’ Cal went on to say,
The team could leave tomorrow, but it’s still here today
Because we moved from Washington, balls, bats, gloves and sacks,
When we heard that Minnesota had but fifteen thousand blacks.

Oh!  Somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright,
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light;
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout,
But there was no joy in Twinsville, When Calvin G. spoke out.

Included in my book, Cooler Near the Lake, still for sale in area bookstores and on line!
(Originally appeared in the Duluth News Tribune on Sunday, October 8, 1978) 

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