Clark Calvin Griffith (November 20, 1869 – October 27, 1955), nicknamed “The Old Fox”, was an American Major League Baseball (MLB) pitcher, manager and team owner. He began his MLB playing career with the St. Louis Browns (1891), Boston Reds (1891), and Chicago Colts/Orphans (1893–1900).
He then served as player-manager for the Chicago White Stockings (1901–1902) and New York Highlanders (1903–1907).
He retired as a player after the 1907 season, remaining manager of the Highlanders in 1908.
He managed the Cincinnati Reds (1909–1911) and Washington Senators (1912–1920), making some appearances as a player with both teams. He owned the Senators from 1920 until his death in 1955.
Sometimes known for being a thrifty executive, Griffith is also remembered for attracting talented players from the National League to play for the Senators when the American League was in its infancy. Griffith was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1946.
Griffith was born in Clear Creek, Missouri, to Isaiah and Sarah Anne Griffith. His parents were of Welsh ancestry. They had lived in Illinois prior to Clark Griffith’s birth. The family took a covered wagon west toward the Oklahoma Territory.
Along the way, the family encountered hungry and disenchanted people returning from the Oklahoma Territory, so they decided to settle in Missouri. Griffith grew up with five siblings, four of them older.
When Griffith was a small child, his father was killed in a hunting accident when fellow hunters mistook him for a deer.
Sarah Griffith struggled to raise her children as a widow, but Clark Griffith later said that his neighbors in Missouri had been very helpful to his mother, planting crops for her and the children.
Fearing a malaria epidemic that was sweeping through the area, the Griffith family moved to Bloomington, Illinois.
A childhood incident taught him about the money side to baseball, Griffith recalled. When he was 13, he and a few other young boys had raised $1.25 to buy a baseball.
They sent one of the boys 12 miles on horseback to make the purchase. The ball burst on the second time that it was struck. Griffith later found out that the boy who purchased the ball only spent a quarter, keeping the leftover dollar.
At the age of seventeen, Griffith had made ten dollars pitching in a local baseball game in Hoopeston, Illinois.
In October 1955, Griffith was in the hospital with neuritis when he suffered a stomach hemorrhage. Though he appeared to be improving, Griffith died a few days after he was hospitalized. He was nearing his 86th birthday.
After his death, newspaper accounts described Griffith’s longtime relationships with U.S. presidents. During World War I, he successfully petitioned Woodrow Wilson to allow the continuation of baseball. He did the same with Franklin D. Roosevelt during World War II.
He had also begun a tradition of presidents throwing out the ceremonial first pitch at a season’s first Opening Day game, which started with William Howard Taft.
When the Baseball Hall of Fame was being built and was looking for baseball memorabilia, Griffith donated several photographs of these presidential first pitches.
League president Will Harridge called Griffith “one of the game’s all-time great figures.” Griffith was survived by his wife, who died of a heart attack two years later. He and his wife had no children, but they raised several relatives.
A nephew who became his adopted son, Calvin Griffith, took over the team after his death and led efforts to have the club moved to Minnesota and become the Twins. Another nephew, Sherry Robertson, played infield and outfield for the Senators and the Philadelphia Athletics in the 1940s and 1950s.
A monument was erected in honor of Griffith at Griffith Stadium. After the stadium was demolished in 1964, the obelisk was moved to Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, where the Washington Nationals played between 2005 and 2007.
A collegiate baseball league, the National Capital City Junior League, was renamed in honor of Griffith after his death. The league suspended operations in 2010.