One of the interesting things about revisiting something you wrote years ago is realizing how something that you gave relatively minor attention then has assumed new importance with the passing of time.I could argue that is generally true about former Twins owner Calvin Griffith’s life. But what I’m really focused on now, as is much of the world, is another character by the name of Donald Trump who in the early 1980’s dramatically came into the Twins owner’s life. He wanted to come into every Minnesotans life at the same time.
In particular, the Donald was wooing “Baseball’s Last Dinosaur” in hopes of becoming the owner of the Minnesota Twins. He invited Calvin to New York in late 1983 to wine and dine him. It was a time when the Griffith family was finally coming to grips with the reality that its ma and pa operation could no longer successfully compete in the era of free agentry, arbitration and corporation-owned baseball teams.
Calvin was not born with Bernie Sanders’ class consciousness. But he was born as a street kid son of an alcoholic in Montreal and never forgot it or stopped being impressed with how the rich and famous lived.
“I had the thrill of my life going through Mr. Trump’s towers there and seeing all those million dollar condos he had,” remembered Calvin with almost child-like innocence. “Whoooeee! It was so superb it was unbelievable. Johnny Carson has a condo there.”
Even more unbelievable would be the financial discussion that followed, with Trump making an offer reported at $50 million. Today that would be almost $123 million.
“It was a lot of money no question about it,” said Calvin. “I never thought I’d get in a room talking about the kind of money he was talking about. It was more than (Carl) Pohlad ever offered, definitely.”
Griffith was referring to the Twin Cities banker to whom in the next year he would eventually sell the Twins – to his later regret. More on that later. But in 1983, Calvin had his choice of bidders and Trump had definitely gotten his attention.
Twins attorney Peter Dorsey, who went along for the meeting, confirmed Trump’s serious interest in the Twins as well as the bravado with which we’ve all become familiar.
“We met up in his office and he said, ‘I’ve got something that a lot of other people have and I don’t have something that a lot of people do have. I don’t have a board of directors or shareholders. And I do have a helluva lot of money,” said Dorsey repeating Trump’s sales pitch.
When the two sides disagreed on a price, the multimillionaire real estate developer got the chance to prove his wealth, recalled Dorsey. “Just like that he said ‘I’ll up it $3 million.’ Just like that. In a second.”
Imagine for a second what could have been if Trump had succeeded in gaining ownership of the Minnesota Twins. Control of a Major League franchise might have given him a forum bigger than The Apprentice. Think Calvin was controversial, guess again. How would The Donald have handled the Players Union, Cuban asylum seekers, female sportswriters in the lockerroom, Reggie Jackson?
Trump’s day-to-day unfiltered egotism versus Minnesota Nice would also have been epic. Of course he would almost certainly have sought immediate glory. It might have meant infusions of cash to bring star power to the Twins. It might also have meant impulsive decisions that endangered the young core Calvin’s organization had developed and which would bring a World Series championship to the Metrodome in 1987.
Of course my guess is that Trump would never have been able to handle those gloomy, indoor confines for long. In fact, I seriously doubt he would have long found much of interest in the Midwest. He never identified long-term plans, but Trump’s Florida financial interests suggest that the Twins might have soon been not been coming north from Spring Training. Or maybe he would have just ripped the roof off the insiders’ stadium.
Hard to say where it all might have gone. But it could have been really huge.
However something kept Calvin from leaping at Trump’s offer – tempting though it clearly was – to the likely benefit of Minnesotans today. Despite his initial awe, the Twins owner was no pushover. He knew he had plenty of options, with hungry cities like Tampa lining up, as well as potential Twin Cities buyers.
I think it was basically Calvin’s loyalty, along with maybe a bit of leftover guilt from moving the Senators out of Washington D.C., that tipped the scales against Trump – along with anyone not from Minnesota. Taking a lower cash offer from Pohlad also had something to do with mistaken ideas about his loyalty. It certainly had nothing to do with a home-grown grandstander named Harvey Mackay. But more on that also in the book.
Meanwhile we can all likely be thankful that we aren’t yet having to see our national pastime played in a stadium with Trump in control. No doubt it would have had really high outfield walls. The Green Monster would have been put to shame by the shameless Orange Trumpster.