Carl Pohlad, a billionaire banker whose Minnesota Twins won two World Series titles during nearly his nearly quarter-century as owner, died Monday January 5th. He was 93.
The Twins and Major League Baseball each issued a statement confirming his death. Baseball commissioner Bud Selig called Pohlad "a true leader in our sport for the past 25 years." "Since the day Carl Pohlad entered Major League Baseball, he made significant contributions to our game," Selig said. "His devotion to the Minnesota Twins, the Twin Cities and Major League Baseball was remarkable. In my long career, I have never met a more loyal and caring human being. We will miss Carl and all of baseball joins me in sending our deepest condolences to the Pohlad family for the loss of our friend and partner."
According to 2008 rankings by Forbes.com, Pohlad's net worth of $3.6 billion was second among Minnesotans and 102nd in the nation. Still, his teams often had some of the lowest payrolls in baseball. "We've loved and respected him and are enormously proud of his accomplishments. And we will all miss him deeply," read a joint statement from Pohlad's three sons, Bob, Jim and Bill.
They continued: "We want to assure everyone that we will continue Dad's work and his legacy, just as he would have wanted and as he has prepared us to do."
The Twins said Pohlad's "leadership, vision and passion" inspired the franchise to win two World Series championships, two American League pennants and six division titles. "That on-field success would never have been possible without the loyalty and support from Mr. Pohlad and his family," the team said in a statement.
When Pohlad bought the Twins from Calvin Griffith in 1984, he was widely credited for saving baseball in Minnesota. With the purchase, he inherited a promising group of young players that included Gary Gaetti, Kent Hrbek and future Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett. Minnesota won World Series championships in 1987 and 1991, triumphing in tense seven-game showdowns against the St. Louis Cardinals and Atlanta Braves.
"I live and die by every pitch," Pohlad once 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."
Pohlad died at his home in Edina, a suburb of Minneapolis, with many family members and caregivers there with him in recent days. It was at Pohlad's home, following a fancy dinner, where Puckett's agent, Ron Shapiro, reached agreement with the Twins in the wee hours of a December 1992 night on a $30 million, five-year contract that kept Puckett in Minnesota despite bigger offers elsewhere. Pohlad vetoed a deal that summer that was $2.5 million cheaper, but he gave his approval once it was clear Puckett could leave.
"When push came to shove, he knew the value of Kirby Puckett and the value to the community," Shapiro said Monday. He got to know Pohlad well over the years. "He always had a smile, but his brain never stopped working on business deals," Shapiro said. "He was an intense businessman, but that quality of integrity and gentlemanly conduct -- though he stuck hard to what he believed -- really stood out to me."
The Metrodome, built inexpensively to open in 1982, was criticized for a stuffy, artificial atmosphere. Revenue streams were also limited, which hurt the Twins' ability to keep up with bigger-spending teams in bigger media markets. As the team hinted it could leave, Pohlad's reputation took a hit.
He threatened to sell the club to North Carolina investor Don Beaver in 1997, a deal later shown to be a maneuver to convince the state to sign off on new-stadium funding. The legislative session that year was particularly acrimonious, with opponents criticizing the size of public financing bills and arguing that Pohlad should offer more of his own money for a stadium.
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 Pohlad had volunteered his team as a contraction candidate in return for a $150 million buyout from his fellow owners.
After a decade-long pursuit, the Twins got the go-ahead from the state in 2006 for a $522 million stadium paid for mostly by a county sales tax. The team's contribution was about $130 million, and Target Field is set to open in April 2010.
"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."
Born poor in Iowa, Pohlad spent many years far from the celebrity culture of professional sports, building a fortune in banking, real estate and other ventures in the Upper Midwest. Following World War II, he and his brother-in-law, Russell Stotesbury, assumed control of a small bank holding company in Minneapolis and slowly built his small empire from there.
A football player at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., who served in the Army during World War II, Pohlad remained active into his 80s before a variety of back, hip 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 games. Jim Pohlad eased into the lead role over the past few seasons.
Though the public largely perceived him as a hard-driving miser, Pohlad and his wife, Eloise, who died in 2003, together donated millions of dollars to charitable causes. They founded the Twins Community Fund, which gave $3.3 million to area charities in 2005.
At a baseball banquet in January 2006, a wheelchair-bound Pohlad unexpectedly announced a $500,000 donation to the Bob Allison Ataxia Research Center at the University of Minnesota in honor of Allison, a star outfielder for Minnesota from 1961-70 who died of the brain disease in 1995.
Players often voiced frustration over the payroll, slashed in the late 1990s after the first couple of stadium plans fizzled and the post-championship rebuilding process was scrapped and restarted. But once the Twins developed a core that could compete and baseball's revenue sharing began to increase, Pohlad spent more on salaries and the team won three straight AL Central titles from 2002-04.
With the Twins preparing to trade Johan Santana last winter, the Pohlads approved $151 million and 13 years in new contracts for Michael Cuddyer, Justin Morneau and Joe Nathan.
Former general manager Terry Ryan, whose ability to find affordable, productive players was made more difficult by the payroll limits, routinely praised Pohlad for his loyalty. Though the Twins were terrible during Ryan's first six seasons on the job, 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 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."