Carl Pohlad, owner of Twins, winner of two World Series
MINNEAPOLIS - Carl Pohlad, a billionaire banker whose Minnesota Twins won two World Series titles during nearly his nearly quarter-century as owner, died yesterday. He was 93.
The Twins and Major League Baseball each issued a statement confirming his death.
"His devotion to the Minnesota Twins, the Twin Cities, and Major League Baseball was remarkable," Bud Selig, baseball commissioner, said yesterday. "In my long career, I have never met a more loyal and caring human being."
When Mr. Pohlad paid Calvin Griffith $38 million for the Twins in 1984, he was widely credited for saving baseball in Minnesota. With the purchase, he inherited a promising group of young players including Gary Gaetti, Kent Hrbek, and future Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett.
"I live and die by every pitch," Mr. Pohlad told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "I want so badly for them to win. . . . If it isn't competitive and you don't have a team with character, it won't be any fun."
Minnesota won World Series championships in 1987 and 1991, triumphing in tense seven-game showdowns against the St. Louis Cardinals and the Atlanta Braves. Fans filled the Metrodome, waving Homer Hankies, but the ballpark, built inexpensively to open in 1982, quickly became shunned by many for its artificial atmosphere.
Revenue streams were also limited, which hurt the Twins' ability to keep up with high-spending teams in bigger media markets.
As the team threatened to leave, Mr. Pohlad's reputation took a hit.
He threatened to sell the club to a North Carolina investor named Don Beaver in 1997, a deal later shown to be a maneuver to persuade the state to support funding for a new ballpark.
Upset by the lack of stadium progress, Selig floated the idea of eliminating the Twins, a plan blocked in court before the 2002 season. But word leaked that a frustrated Mr. Pohlad had volunteered his team as a contraction candidate in return for a $150 million buyout from his fellow owners.
The 1997 legislative session was particularly acrimonious, with opponents criticizing the size of public financing bills and arguing that Mr. Pohlad should offer more of his own money for a ballpark.
After a decadelong pursuit to replace the Metrodome, the Twins got the go-ahead from the state in 2006 for a $522 million ballpark funded mostly by a county sales tax. The team was to contribute $130 million.
"I told Carl a long time ago, in life you'll be forgiven for everything except one thing: being successful," businessman Irwin Jacobs, a longtime friend and business partner, once said. "People are going to be jealous. You know, he made good, and he did it on his own."
A football player at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., who served in the Army during World War II, Mr. Pohlad remained active into his 80s before a variety of back and leg ailments made it hard to get around and ultimately impossible to walk. Even after turning 90, though, he continued to make regular trips to the Metrodome to watch his team play - often wearing his lucky red socks and stopping by manager Ron Gardenhire's office before the game.
Mr. Pohlad built his fortune in banking, real estate, and other ventures in the Upper Midwest.
He and his brother-in-law, Russell Stotesbury, assumed control of a small bank holding company in Minneapolis called Bank Shares. Mr. Pohlad took control of the company after Stotesbury died in 1955 and slowly built a small empire of banks and other businesses.
Born poor in West Des Moines, Iowa, where his father was a railroad brakeman and his mother a maid, Mr. Pohlad shunned the limelight and lived much of his life as an outsider.
"For years Carl was so far from the establishment that it wasn't even funny," one banker told author Jay Weiner for the book "Stadium Games." "Most of the establishment - they'd kind of snicker at him. 'What the hell is Pohlad doing now?' they'd ask. Little did they know that the fox was in the henhouse."
Though the public largely perceived him as a hard-driving miser, Mr. Pohlad and his wife, Eloise, who died in 2003, together donated millions to charitable causes. They founded the Twins Community Fund, which gave $3.3 million to charities in 2005.
Twins players often voiced frustration over the payroll, which was slashed in the late 1990s after the first ballpark plans fizzled and the post-championship rebuilding process was scrapped, then restarted.
Once the Twins developed a core that could compete and baseball's revenue sharing began to increase, Mr. Pohlad spent more on salaries, and the team took three straight American League Central titles from 2002-04. But each year popular players were let go to keep the payroll in check.
Mr. Pohlad's leaders in the front office frequently argued that annual eight-figure operating losses caused by the outdated Metrodome made it impractical to spend any more.
Former general manager Terry Ryan routinely praised Mr. Pohlad for his loyalty. Though the Twins were terrible during Ryan's first six seasons on the job, Mr. Pohlad stuck with him and watched Ryan become one of baseball's most respected GMs.
Managers Tom Kelly and Gardenhire also seemed to be big fans - and friends - of the owner.
"Whenever you needed something from the boss . . . he'd get it done for you," Kelly said at a 2005 ceremony honoring Mr. Pohlad's induction into the team's Hall of Fame. "As a manager having the responsibility of entertaining the fans and putting on a good show, you couldn't ask for a better man to go to."