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Clark Griffith

Pitcher/Manager/Owner
Born: November 20, 1869(1869-11-20)
Clear Creek, Missouri
Died: October 27, 1955 (aged 85)
Washington, D.C.
Batted: Right Threw: Right 
MLB debut
April 11, 1891 for the St. Louis Browns
Last MLB appearance
October 7, 1914 for the Washington Senators
Career statistics
Pitching Record     237-146
Earned run average     3.31
Strikeouts     955
Teams

As Player

As Manager

Career highlights and awards
  • Owner, Washington Senators (1920-1955)
  • American League Pennant: 1901
  • National League ERA champion: 1898
  • 2-time league shutout leader (NL & AL)
  • 7 20-win seasons
Member of the National
Empty Star.svg Empty Star.svg Empty Star.svg Baseball Hall of Fame Empty Star.svg Empty Star.svg Empty Star.svg
Induction     1946
Election Method     Veteran's Committee

Clark Calvin Griffith (November 20, 1869–October 27, 1955)[1], nicknamed "the Old Fox", was a Major League Baseball pitcher, manager and team owner.

Griffith entered the American Association in 1891, pitching 226 ⅓ innings and winning 14 games for the St. Louis Browns and Boston Reds. He began the following season with the Chicago Colts, and in 1894 began a string of six consecutive seasons with 20 or more victories, compiling a 21-14 record and 4.92 ERA. Griffith lowered his ERA over the following years to a low of 1.88 in 1898, the lowest mark in the league.

As a pitcher, Griffith was known for doctoring the ball; he frequently threw spitballs, cut balls and scuff balls. He also claimed to have invented the screwball.

When Ban Johnson, a longtime friend, announced plans to form the American League, Griffith was one of the ringleaders in getting National League players to jump ship. Using the cover of his post as vice president of the League Protective Players' Association (a nascent players' union), Griffith persuaded 39 players to sign on with the new league for the 1901 season. Griffith himself signed on with the Chicago White Stockings as player-manager. He won 20 games for the final time in his career and led the White Stockings to the first AL pennant with an 83–53 record.

Griffith in 1903.

At Johnson's suggestion, Griffith left Chicago in 1903 to take over as manager of the New York Highlanders. The Highlanders had just moved from Baltimore, and Johnson knew that for the league to be successful, it needed a strong franchise in the nation's biggest city. After a falling-out with the Highlanders' ownership, Griffith returned to the National League as manager of the Cincinnati Reds in 1909. In 1912, again at Johnson's suggestion, he returned to the American League as manager of the Washington Senators. At the time, the franchise had little going for it other than star pitcher Walter Johnson. In the American League's first 12 years, the Senators had never had a winning record or finished higher than sixth. Griffith engineered one of the biggest turnarounds in major league history, leading the Senators to second place. In nine years, his Washington teams only finished below fifth twice.

For all practical purposes, Griffith retired as a player in 1907, though he made brief appearances on the mound for the Reds (1909) and Senators (1912, 1913 and 1914).

When Griffith took over as manager of the Senators, he also bought a 10 percent interest in the team. In 1919, Griffith joined forces with Philadelphia grain broker William Richardson to buy controlling interest in the Senators. Griffith boosted his share to 19 percent, while Richardson bought a 40 percent interest. Richardson reached an agreement with Griffith that allowed Griffith to speak for both of their interests. This all but assured his election as team president that November. At the same time, the Senators' home park, National Park, was renamed Griffith Stadium. Griffith stepped down as manager after the 1920 season to devote all his energy to the front office.

Griffith was known for running the Senators on a shoestring. This was almost out of necessity; even with Richardson's assistance, he was forced to mortgage his Montana ranch to raise the money he needed to buy control of the team. Unlike most other owners, he had no other income other than the Senators and Griffith Stadium. However, the Washington Redskins and other tenants enabled him to turn a profit for 21 years in a row.

He was, however, known for his faith in young players. He twice entrusted 27-year-old players to manage his teams--Bucky Harris in 1924 and Joe Cronin in 1933. Griffith's wagers appeared to pay off, as the Senators won the pennant in both years under their new youthful managers. In Harris' case, they won the 1924 World Series.

Griffith presents U.S. President Harry Truman with game tickets

In 1949, after a string of mostly humdrum seasons, Griffith almost lost control of the team when the Richardson estate sold its stake. Griffith was reelected team president, but it was understood that unless the team improved, the next vote would go against him. Griffith proceeded to buy up stock from minority owners until he owned 52 percent of the club.

One of Griffith's most trusted friends and respected scouts was Joe Engel, whom he placed in charge of the Chattanooga Lookouts at Engel Stadium. Engel was the first to scout Joe Cronin for the club and said, "I knew I was watching a great player. I bought Cronin at a time he was hitting .221. When I told Clark Griffith what I had done, he screamed, "You paid $7,500 for that bum? Well, you didn't buy him for me. You bought him for yourself. He's not my ballplayer - he's yours. You keep him and don't either you or Cronin show up at the ballpark." As mentioned above, Cronin eventually became player-manager of the Senators, and even married Griffith's niece.

He finished his managerial career with a 1491–1367 record. His 1491 wins ranked 19th all-time as of 2005.

Griffith died in 1955 at the age of 89. Ownership of the club passed into the hands of his adopted son, Calvin Griffith, who led the charge to have the club moved to Minnesota and become the Twins.

Clark Griffith was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1946.

See also

References

  1. ^ "Clark C. Griffith of Senators Dies" (PDF, fee required). The New York Times: p. 25. 1955-10-28. http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=FB0711F73A5E107B93CAAB178BD95F418585F9. Retrieved 2008-10-12.  

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