Clark Griffith

Clark Griffith

P, OF, SS, 1B, 3B, 2B
The Old Fox
November 20, 1869
5' 6"
156 lbs
Major League Debut:
4-11-1891 with SL4
Hall of Fame:

Clark Griffith had a long and illustrious career in the game of baseball. He was born just four years after the conclusion of the Civil War, learned to throw a sinkerball from "Old Hoss" Radbourn in the early 1890s, won twenty games seven times for two Chicago teams in the 1890s and early 1900s, managed the first game for what would become the New York Yankees, managed and then bought an interest in the Washington Senators in the 1910s, and served as owner of that team until his death at nearly 86 years old in 1955. Griffith was baseball in the District of Columbia for nearly 50 years. Though he was a private man who was very much a product of the19th century, Griffith enjoyed his status as owner of the Senators. He liked the fact that his position gave him access to the movers and shakers in Washington D.C. He often said that no man could become President of the United States unless he had his picture taken with him. He knew eight presidents very well, from Taft to Esienhower.

As a player. he won 237 games in a career that spanned 23 years. and in 1901, at the urging of Charles Comiskey, Griffith was one of the first stars to jump from the National League to the new American League. Griffith served as manager and star pitcher for the White Sox, leading the team to the American League's first pennant. He was 24-7, with a 2.67 ERA, hurling five shutouts. The team won 83 games.

Griffith served as vice president of the League Protective Players' Association, and in 1900, he led the members in baseball's first universal strike. The players wanted the minimum salary raised to $3,000 and their uniforms paid for by the owners. Honorable demands aside, The Old Fox had the ulterior motive of helping old friend Ban Johnson establish his rival American League. He contrived to get every player to pledge not to sign a new contract without LPPA approval. This tactic crippled NL owners. At the urging of Charles Comiskey, Griffith was one of the first stars to jump from the National League to the new American League. Griffith served as manager and star pitcher for the White Sox, leading the team to the American League's first pennant. He was 24-7, with a 2.67 ERA, hurling five shutouts. The team won 83 games. Griffith persuaded 39 other NL stars to jump to the AL. After leading Chicago again in 1902 he moved on to the same duties with the newborn New York Highlanders (later Yankees) from 1903 to 1908.

A tremendous animosity grew between Griffith and the New York owners. Oddly enough, the NL took him back with open arms to manage the Cincinnati Reds from 1909 to 1911. But when Johnson convinced him to rebuild the ailing franchise in Washington, Griffith had a home for life.

As a manager for the White Sox, Highlanders, Reds, and Senators, he won 1,491 games with a .522 percentage. He guided Comiskey's White Sox to the first pennant in AL history, in 1901. He is credited by some as being the inventor of the "squueze play," which he first deployed with the Highlanders and Willie Keeler, and later perfected with Washington.

"Manager Griffith says he has a new one called the "squeeze play," which is working wonders," reported the Washington Post on April 9, 1905. And a storyw as told over and over by several sportswriters of a play in 1904 that may have been the birth of the suicide squueze. From the Post of January 12, 1908:

"Boston was playing at Hilltop Park in 1904 and Jack Chesbro was on third, and Keeler at bat. Chesbro broke for home on the pitch, and Keeler, not having been tipped off of Chesbro's daring intention to steal home, chucked his bat at the sphere and the ball fell out of reach of both the pitcher and third baseman, Keeler getting first and Chesbro scoring. After the game [N.Y. Manager] Griffithasked Chesbro why he had started to run home. He replied that he thought he had seen the signal. Then Griff asked Keeler why he hit the ball, and Willie answered, 'I didn't see what else there was for me to do to prevent Chesbro from committing suicide.' "

As an owner, Griffith put his faith in young ballplayers, hiring 27-year old second baseman Bucky Harris to manage the Senators in 1924, and 27-year old shortstop Joe Cronin to do the same in 1933. Both times it paid off, as the Senators won the pennant in their first seasons under their new managers.

Another one of Griffith's major strategic contribution to the game was the development of the relief pitcher. While in New York, he yielded to the pressures from his Tammany Hall owners and pitched his two premier starters, Jack Chesbro and Jack Powell, a staggering 845 combined innings in 1904. In 1905 both were markedly less effective, and completed many fewer games. The Old Fox finished many games for them personally, making a career-high 18 relief appearances that season. Along with John McGraw, Griffith revolutionized baseball with his reliance on the bullpen. He subsequently developed the first great relievers, Allan Russell and Fred Marberry. He turned relief strategy into a weapon against McGraw's Giants in the 1924 World Series. In Game Seven, Griffith sent in a succession of relief pitchers that led McGraw, committed to the lefty-righty percentages, to remove star first baseman Bill Terry from the game. When Griffith finished up with the great Walter Johnson, the Senators went on to win the Series with a 12-inning triumph.

As owner of the Senators, Griffith was a keen promoter. Though he opposed the idea of night baseball, he resorted to using it during World War II to allow fans to see the games after along days working in war plants. He was one of the first major league owners to hire comedians to entertain crowds, including Al Schact and Max Patkin. During World War II, Griffith signed Bert Shepard, who had lost his leg in battle, believing the pitcher was an inspiration to other disabled veterans.

Griffith died in 1955 at the age of 85. 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.

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