By Rory Carroll
(Reuters) - The Minnesota Twins on Friday said the club has removed a statue of the late former owner Calvin Griffith from outside Target Field in Minneapolis because of racist comments he made decades ago.
The team said it erected the statue of Griffith, who died in 1999, in 2010 as a tribute to the moments that shaped the franchise's history including its move to Minnesota from Washington, D.C. in 1961, which he orchestrated.
At an event in 1978 he said he chose Minnesota because the state "only had 15,000 Blacks here" compared to more racially diverse places such as New Orleans.
"We came here because you've got good, hard-working, white people here," Griffith said, according to an article https://www.startribune.com/sept-28-1978-calvin-griffith-spares-few-targets-in-waseca-remarks/482828011/?refresh=true published in the Minneapolis Tribune at the time.
He also disparaged a number of black players including Hall of Famer Rod Carew, who left the team in 1979, saying he could not play for "a bigot."
Minneapolis has been in the spotlight since May 24 following the death of a black man, George Floyd, when a white Minneapolis police officer pinned him to the ground with a knee to his neck for nearly nine minutes. In protest, people have demonstrated worldwide against racism and police brutality.
"Our decision to memorialize Calvin Griffith with a statue reflects an ignorance on our part of systemic racism present in 1978, 2010 and today," the Twins said in a statement.
"We apologize for our failure to adequately recognize how the statue was viewed and the pain it caused for many people - both inside the Twins organization and across Twins Territory,"
"We cannot remove Calvin Griffith from the history of the Minnesota Twins, but we believe removal of this 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."
The Twins announcement was made on Juneteenth, the June 19 holiday marking freedom for slaves in the United States.
Last week, a statue of Christopher Columbus was taken down by American Indian activists at the Minnesota state capitol and statues of Confederate leaders have been toppled around the country.
(Reporting by Rory Carroll; editing by Grant McCool)