Minnesota Twins owner Carl Pohlad should be the pride of the Twin Cities these days, celebrating his team's run to the American League Championship Series. But instead of taking victory laps around the exclusive Minnesota Club and celebrating the postseason sellouts, the 87-year-old billionaire is dodging verbal jabs like "Smilin' Carl," "Grand Turkey" and the "Grinch of the Frozen North."
"I don't think he's the most popular business leader in the state," said Minnesota legislator John Marty.
Pohlad has been in an ugly dance with the normally agreeable citizens of Minnesota for the last six years, threatening to relocate the team to North Carolina or close it down altogether if taxpayers don't build him a new stadium so he can move out of the dated Metrodome.
Cajolery, tears, pleas, bluffs, flip-flops, dares -- and no stadium. The result is one, long public relations disaster that may be reversed only by winning the World Series.
"You can't offer your team for contraction and expect people to forget about it," said Clark Griffith, a Minneapolis attorney whose family sold the team to Pohlad 18 years ago and now is trying to buy it back. "On the other hand, this is his third postseason in 17 years of ownership. That's pretty good. It's very hard to be critical of a person who's fighting for the championship of the American League."
Marty is less gracious.
"He's like a little kid," he said. "He's going to take the team and go home if you don't give him the (stadium) subsidy."
Pohlad did not return a telephone message left at his office. Dave St. Peter, the Twins' senior vice president for business affairs, said Pohlad deserves credit for keeping baseball in Minneapolis when the team might have left for Tampa Bay back in 1984.
"The Pohlad family has been good for baseball in Minnesota, I don't care how much they get criticized on the stadium issue," said St. Peter. "They've provided the resources for one of the strongest minor league systems."
Pohlad genuinely seems to be enjoying the team's success. He was in the locker room in Oakland last week after the Twins defeated the Athletics to advance to the ALCS. Pohlad stood off to the side, dodging showers of champagne, offering thanks to players and managers, and accepting congratulations. This week he has been at the Metrodome during Games 1 and 2 of the ALCS, watching from a suite with Commissioner Bud Selig.
It was a long way from last November, when Selig asked which owners would be willing to work with the league to terminate their franchises, and Pohlad raised his hand.
"This (Pohlad) was the guy that was ready to sign the contract and take the Twins out of existence," said Bill Lester, executive director of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission. Lester's group successfully sued to stop the move, and owners and players recently reached a labor agreement that will postpone contraction of any team until after the 2006 season.
"But for the grace of a lawsuit by the commission last November, we might be watching a monster truck jam instead of postseason baseball," Lester said.
Selig seems to have absorbed most of the recent public resentment over the issue of contracting the Twins, allowing the public to soften a bit toward Pohlad. "Contract Selig," said one sign at this week's Metrodome, according to several people who watched the game.
"There is anger over him being a willing seller in the contraction process, but it's hard to build up a great deal of animosity toward this very elderly man," Lester said.
"(Pohlad) was dodging the bullet a little bit. Not because of his stealth, but because Selig became such a lightning rod. Bud became the arch villain."
One of the big questions is what Pohlad will do with the team, given its success this year. Pohlad has told reporters he is optimistic that the team's success will now bring him his new stadium. Or at least a new owner. And there is recent speculation that one of his sons may take over if the state builds him a stadium.
St. Paul Pioneer Press columnist and radio talk-show host Joe Soucheray said the public is eager to know what Pohlad is thinking.
"He's always been a hard guy to read," said Soucheray. "For all I know, he's in a park every day winning a chess championship."
Actually, he is running a $2 billion empire built on banking, Pepsi Cola franchises, airlines and baseball, according to Forbes magazine. The magazine said Pohlad is the 88th richest person in the U.S.
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