Billionaire Carl Pohlad; Owned Baseball's Twins

For a time, Carl Pohlad's thrift was an issue regarding the Minnesota Twins.
For a time, Carl Pohlad's thrift was an issue regarding the Minnesota Twins. (By Jim Mone -- Associated Press)
By Alexander F. Remington
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Carl R. Pohlad, 93, the self-made billionaire who was called a miser when he threatened to fold his two-time World Series-winning Minnesota Twins franchise, died Jan. 5 at his home in Edina, Minn. The cause of death was not reported.

Mr. Pohlad, who developed his thrifty ways while coming of age during the Great Depression, showed his business acumen early, making profits by organizing kids to pick weeds in an Iowa cornfield. While serving as a cook in World War II, he ran a loan business out of a mess tent. In 2008, Forbes magazine listed him as the 102nd-richest American, with a net worth of $3.6 billion.

Mr. Pohlad settled in Minnesota soon after the war and bought the Marquette Bank in Minneapolis in 1949 with his brother-in-law as a partner. Upon his brother-in-law's death in 1955, he assumed sole control of the bank and soon bought other banks and businesses across Minnesota and the Midwest. He later expanded into soft-drink bottling, life insurance and a Las Vegas casino.

Remembering the lessons of the Depression, he worked tirelessly. He "truly believes that if he doesn't work hard, he's gonna be back on a food line or a bread line," his son Robert, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

In 1984, he bought the Twins for $38 million from Calvin Griffith, who had moved the baseball team, the former Washington Senators, to Minnesota's Twin Cities in 1960. Three years later, the Twins won their first World Series championship.

Mr. Pohlad had a genius for timing his deals, but he was not known for sentimentality.

"Pohlad waits very patiently until you're just coming up for air the last time, and then says, 'I'll save you,' " a business rival told Forbes in 1979. "Once he gets through cleaning house and getting a profitable business going, he will sell it off or make money in some way."

He took the same approach to the Twins. For the past 20 years, the team's payroll has been in the bottom half among major league teams, and the Twins were last in 2000 and 2001. Stars such as David Ortiz and Johan Santana blossomed elsewhere because the team would not pay to keep them.

For more than a decade, Mr. Pohlad tried to persuade local politicians to approve a taxpayer-funded stadium to replace the Twins' ballfield, the Metrodome, which was built in 1982.

Frustrated that no stadium was forthcoming and that the team was losing money, Mr. Pohlad threatened to sell the team in 1997, and in 2001, he offered to sell the Twins to his fellow major league owners and fold the franchise. Finally, near the end of his life, a new stadium was approved, with a projected opening in April 2010.

"There were two competing aspects to Carl: His desire to run a legitimate business, and his desire to win," former Twins general manager Andy MacPhail told the Star Tribune. "In baseball, one often comes at the expense of the other. When push came to shove, he wanted to win."

Mr. Pohlad's ownership gave the city its only two World Series wins, in 1987 and again in 1991, behind future Hall of Fame outfielder Kirby Puckett. The Twins' most memorable victory might have come in the seventh game of the 1991 series when pitcher Jack Morris pitched a 10-inning shutout against the Atlanta Braves. The Twins won, 1-0.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2009 The Washington Post Company