Twins owner Pohlad dead at 93
Joe Christensen and Jim Souhan Minneapolis Star Tribune Carl Pohlad liked to tell the story of the 1984 night he told his wife, Eloise, that he had completed purchasing the Twins. "I went home about midnight," Pohlad recalled in a 2004 interview,...
Joe Christensen and Jim Souhan
Minneapolis Star Tribune
Carl Pohlad liked to tell the story of the 1984 night he told his wife, Eloise, that he had completed purchasing the Twins.
"I went home about midnight," Pohlad recalled in a 2004 interview, "woke Eloise and said, 'I bought the baseball team,' and she said, 'Are you crazy?' But she enjoyed it more than any of us did."
Baseball gave Pohlad plenty of enjoyment, too.
He died Monday at age 93 after
25 seasons owning the Twins through some major highs and lows.
The Twins won World Series titles in 1987 and 1991 before entering a dark period that included repeated losses, a 10-year struggle to get a new ballpark approved, a threat to move to North Carolina, the threat of contraction and the rebirth of the franchise in 2001.
Over the past seven years, the Twins have won four division titles, and that new ballpark going up on the west side of downtown Minneapolis, set to open in 2010, is a testament to the Pohlad family's persistence.
"Financially, this has not been what you'd call a successful investment from a pure numbers standpoint," Pohlad said in that 2004 interview. "But when you take into consideration the other things -- family enjoyment and participation -- our family has never once regretted that we got into this."
Eloise Pohlad, Carl's wife of 56 years, died in November 2003. They attended nearly every home game together, and she was said to have played a big part in keeping Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett from free agency.
Without Eloise by his side, Pohlad still attended most games until his health issues worsened in recent years. Through last season, Pohlad could sometimes be found in his wheelchair outside the Twins' clubhouse, with manager Ron Gardenhire hunched over to speak into his ear.
Pohlad was ranked the 102nd-richest American by Forbes Magazine in September 2008, with a net worth of $3.6 billion; most of his wealth is believed to be in businesses and family trusts that will pass to his three sons. His success in other businesses only left Twins fans clamoring for him to spend more money on players.
But he didn't let the Twins stray from their mid-market roots. Pohlad ran the Twins like another business and showed remarkable patience with his key decisionmakers. The team has had two presidents, three general managers and two managers since 1986.
That year, Pohlad hired Andy MacPhail as Twins general manager. MacPhail fired manager Ray Miller and replaced him with third-base coach Tom Kelly.
By 1987, MacPhail had assembled and Kelly had molded a champion. The Twins, with the worst record of any team in the playoffs, upset the Detroit Tigers in the American League Championship Series, then upset the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series.
In 1991, another upset. After a last-place finish the previous season, the Twins defeated the Toronto Blue Jays in the ALCS before taking down the Atlanta Braves in the World Series.
Pohlad presided over Minnesota's only two major pro sports championships. He also presided over a team-record eight straight losing seasons, from 1993 to 2000, before the team righted itself this decade.
Buying the team
Pohlad was credited with keeping the Twins from leaving the state when he bought the team from original owner Calvin Griffith in 1984.
Griffith had threatened to try to move the Twins by exercising an attendance clause in his lease with the Metrodome. A group of businessmen from Tampa, Fla., had expressed interest in buying the team, but Pohlad's purchase of the team erased any chance of the Twins leaving at that time.
Change in image
Years later, in the late '90s, Pohlad would use the same ploy -- threatening to exercise an attendance clause in his Metrodome lease to free the Twins from their Minnesota ties.
When the Twins began to lose and the economics of baseball changed in the mid-'90s, Pohlad complained of the Twins' operating losses. Twins executives estimated he lost $9.2 million in 1998.
His friend and business partner, Irwin Jacobs, said Pohlad was "in agony," having to choose between running a team that was constantly losing money or moving the team and becoming a pariah in the community where he and his sons live.
In 1997, Pohlad agreed to a tentative sale of the team to North Carolina businessman Don Beaver. (The deal would fall through when North Carolinians voted down a proposal to build a new stadium.)
Pohlad then offered a series of plans to the public to try to gain support for funding a new stadium that he said would have made the Twins profitable and competitive -- and would have ensured that they would stay in Minnesota.
In 1997, when Minnesota's stadium debate began, Pohlad's original public offer was to contribute $82.5 million to the deal. Days later, the public learned that the money actually would be a loan that would be repaid with interest by the state -- a revelation that damaged Pohlad's credibility in the debate.
Team's change of fortune
The low point came in November 2001, when major league owners voted to contract the Twins and Montreal Expos. Word leaked that a frustrated Pohlad had volunteered his team as a contraction candidate in return for a $150 million buyout from his fellow owners; the plan was blocked in court before the 2002 season.
The Twins returned to the postseason in 2002, though Pohlad and Commissioner Bud Selig had been cast as villains. Local sentiment toward Pohlad remained hardened even as the Twins added division titles in 2003 and 2004. But the team's future in the state was secured when legislators approved the new ballpark in May 2006.
Pohlad remained under fire for his cheap streak after the 2007 season, as the Twins lost Torii Hunter to free agency and traded away Johan Santana for financial reasons. But opinion softened a bit, when the Twins signed Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer and Joe Nathan to long-term contracts.
The Twins, who committed $130 million to the original $390 million ballpark project, also have added about $37 million to that total for land cost overruns and ballpark enhancements.
The son of a railroad brakeman, Pohlad played football at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash. -- he was a first-string end who had been recruited by Bing Crosby, an alumnus -- before serving in the Army in Europe during World War II.
Pohlad became known as a hard-nosed competitor in the business world. After the war, he and his brother-in-law, Russell Stotesbury, acquired Marquette Bank in Minneapolis. Pohlad took control of the company after Stotesbury died in 1955 and slowly built a small empire of banks and other firms.
As an investor, Pohlad often invested in distressed businesses that he could
liquidate at a profit or add value to and sell at a higher price.
In 1986, Pohlad sold MEI Inc., a Pepsi-Cola bottling company, for more than $600 million. Pohlad shocked subordinates and employees, about half of whom lost their jobs, when he sold Marquette Bank to U.S. Bancorp in 1992 for
Pohlad retained the rights to the Marquette name and started building a new company around the remnants of old Marquette Minneapolis and other franchises. In 2001, Pohlad sold Marquette to Wells Fargo for an estimated $1 billion in cash and stock.
In the sports world, he was known for his often-
deferential handling of the Twins and his activism in baseball ownership circles.
During the mid-'90s, Pohlad became one of baseball's most influential owners, the informal leader of the small-revenue teams that could not keep pace financially or competitively with superpowers such as the Yankees and Braves.
Pohlad's purchase of the Twins was not his only venture into the world of pro sports ownership. In 1986, Pohlad and Jacobs bought 48 percent of the equity in the Minnesota Vikings and fought for control of the team for years before former general manager Mike Lynn bought out Pohlad and Jacobs.
Pohlad said his fondest memory was the 1987 championship celebration.
"The World Series didn't do the same thing that night did for me when I walked around and saw all the families there," he said. "For whatever small part I played in bringing that event there and making that many people happy, so to speak, it was worth everything I've ever done and all the criticisms I've ever received with respect to baseball."
The Associated Press
contributed to this report.