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How A Fan's Protest Led The Minnesota Twins To Remove A Statue Of Their Former Owner

Jun 21, 2020
Originally published on June 21, 2020 4:10 pm
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Another sign of change taking place in Minnesota in the wake of George Floyd's killing has been at the ballpark. On Friday, the Minnesota Twins removed a memorial to the team's former owner, Calvin Griffith, over his history of racist attitudes and remarks. Griffith inherited the Washington Senators in 1955 and eventually moved the team to Minnesota, where they were renamed the Twins. In talking about that move, Griffith once said, quote, "I'll tell you why we came to Minnesota. It was when I found out you only had 15,000 Blacks here." And he goes on to say, "it's unbelievable. We came here because you've got good, hardworking white people here."

Lifelong Twins fan Mike Tucker has been staging what he called a one-man boycott of the team over the Calvin Griffith statue. And he spearheaded the effort to have it removed. We read about him in Sports Illustrated and decided we had to hear more, so we've called him up. And he's with us now from Minneapolis. Mike Tucker, thanks so much for being with us.

MIKE TUCKER: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: So how did you fall in love with the Twins? The Sports Illustrated piece described you as a ride-or-die Twins fan.

TUCKER: Oh, I fell in love back in junior high, when a good friend of mine was collecting baseball cards. And he got me started collecting baseball cards. And about the same time, the Twins had won the '87 World Series as underdogs. No one gave us much national attention. So they won despite all odds. So it's like a Cinderella story. You know, and who doesn't like an underdog story?

MARTIN: You know I'm a Mets fan, so I'm trying to just keep it together right here. But I'll take you at your...

TUCKER: Hey, nobody's perfect.

MARTIN: (Laughter) Oh, OK. Thanks for that. All right. So it must have been - I don't know, you tell me - when you found out about Calvin Griffith's history, it just must have hurt. How did you find out about it, and how did you feel when you did?

TUCKER: I found out after walking around the stadium during a game in 2015. I noticed the statue for the first time. I'd seen it before, but I didn't pay any attention. So I read a little placard and it said he was a former owner. When I got home, I Googled him. And one of the first things that came up was a vice.com article from 2015 that had outlined his rhetoric and his quotes. And did a little more digging, there was a Star Tribune article that stated he was the last owner to keep his players segregated in the early '60s for the road games in Florida. So some people have said, hey, yeah, he's not a racist because he said these one things. Well, I'm not - I didn't just look at the one thing. I looked at his body of work, and his body of work was telling me he proudly wore the badge of a bigot.

MARTIN: So how did you start getting the statue removed? I mean, I know that you'd been staging a one-man boycott. But did you try to get other people to not go? Did you ever write to the management or what did you do?

TUCKER: Yeah. So initially, when I read that, I decided to no longer attend Twins games and to no longer buy their merchandise. So then it wasn't until about two weeks ago, after I saw the Columbus statue come down in the state capital here in Saint Paul. I decided, you know, I got to, like, do a bit more than a one-man protest. So I started a Facebook group. Someone in my group immediately start a petition and the ball started growing, gained a lot of momentum. We were emailing the Twins, direct message to the players on Facebook, on Twitter. I received not one response from any avenue.

MARTIN: But the statue did come down, I mean, on Juneteenth, no less. And the Twins organization released a statement about the statue's removal, saying, quote, "we cannot remove Calvin Griffith from the history of the Minnesota Twins, but we believe removal of the statue is an important and necessary step in our ongoing commitment to provide a Target Field experience where every fan and employee feels safe and welcome." So you said they never responded to you in person, but the statue did come down. You think you had an effect?

TUCKER: I would like to believe I had an effect. You know, and even if it's a small change in a lot of people's eyes, every small change that reckons with our past leads us to a more inclusive society.

MARTIN: Can you just explain to people why you think this matters. Recognizing the fact that a lot of these statues are coming down around the country, why do you think it "matters"

TUCKER: To me, it's sort of a very personal thing. But I think it's - we could use it as a bigger metaphor for what's going on in our city and state and our nation. You know, some people will see it as a very literal thing that I just removed a tangible statue. But to me, I've removed a barrier and a testament to an environment that allowed the kind of police brutalization and murders of people of color in our city. You know, if you have a city adorned with racist decorations, it doesn't matter if it's one or if it's 20. You know, like, and the people who share these ideals today, you know, they kind of feel like validated, you know. So I just want to inspire people like my mom inspired me back in the day. She would bring me to Martin Luther King Day marches in my hometown of Duluth, Minn. So she planted seeds of activism. And I've just been inspired by all the history, the books. I feel obligated to do any part I can. And we can all do a little part.

MARTIN: That's Mike Tucker. He is a Minnesota Twins fan who's been pushing for the team to remove a statue of Calvin Griffith since 2015. Mike Tucker. Thank you so much for being with us.

TUCKER: Thank you for having me, appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.