Carl Pohlad, 1915-2009

pohlad_large.jpgCarl Pohlad, the owner of the Minnesota Twins, has died, Twins officials said today.

Pohlad became a lightning rod for controversy while trying — and eventually succeeding — to get taxpayers to pay for a new baseball stadium. He died a year before Target Field opens.

While Pohlad is best-known for his ownership of the Twins, he built his wealth through a diverse set of investments including Marquette Bank (which he sold to Wells Fargo for $1 billion). As president, he bought up 30 other banks before selling it to FirstBank (now USBank). He also owns or has owned a Pepsi bottling operation, United Properties, and Mesaba Airlines. He also owned Twin City Rapid Transit, the streetcar and bus service of St. Paul, which was acquired by Metro Transit in 1970.

According to Forbes Magazine, Pohlad was the 78th 102nd richest man in America, and the 245th richest man in the world. His net worth was estimated at $3.6 billion. He ranked as the third-wealthiest Minnesotan, trailing Whitney MacMillan and Cargill MacMillan Jr.

“I had no experience dealing with reporters, especially sports reporters,” he told MPR’s Mark Zdechlik in 2001 on the subject of criticism of Pohlad during his bid to get public financing for a new stadium. “I don’t want to see the Twin Cities without a baseball team and I’ve proven I want to keep them here.” Find the old interview here.

But the public never warmed to a Pohlad image of baseball savior. He served on the committee that voted to eliminate — “contract” it was called at the time — the Twins during the height of public debate over public financing of the Twins stadium at the Capitol. Eventually, lawmakers voted to tax Hennepin County residents for the stadium.

Pohlad contributed a fraction of the cost, calling it “fair and substantial”. One of his last public appearances was the groundbreaking for the new stadium in 2007. Pohlad was also the richest owner in baseball.

Businessman Irwin Jacobs, a close friend of Pohlad’s, said “when Carl was hurting, he didn’t want anyone else to know his pain. When someone else was hurting, he wanted to know your pain.” He said Pohlad “lost a literal fortune keeping the Twins here. I told him, ‘Carl, get out of it, if people don’t appreciate it, move on.’ and he didn’t and if it was me, I’d have done it. I wouldn’t have put up with it.” ( to entire interview)

Pohlad came from a poor upbringing. He was one of eight children during the Depression years in Valley Junction, Iowa. He served in World War II in the U.S. infantry, before returning to Iowa and starting a career in banking.

“Carl never lost sight of the fact of his roots and where he came from, “Jacobs said. “How many people are losing their fortunes today because they’d forgotten where they’d come from. He always evaluated risk.”

Pohlad was the finance director for Hubert Humphrey’s last Senate campaign, but his politics was hard to pin down. In the latest election cycle, for example, Pohlad contributed to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign and Norm Coleman’s re-election campaign for Senate. He also financial supported DFLers Amy Klobuchar, Patty Wetterling, and Jim Oberestar and also Republicans Gil Gutknecht, Rod Grams, and George Bush.

His wife, Eloise, died in 2003. The couple had three children. They released a statement on their father’s death this afternoon:

Carl was the leader of our family as well as the founder and leader of our family businesses. We’ve loved and respected him and are enormously proud of his accomplishments. And we will all miss him deeply.

We greatly appreciate the support and prayers of our friends, colleagues and the community. We especially appreciate the support of our employees throughout the Pohlad family of companies at this difficult time. 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.

On his last visit with Pohlad last week, Jacobs said Pohlad told him he was going to do “one more deal after the first of the year.” He said there was no deal; he just loved the excitement of the possibility, Jacobs said. “I hope this community appreciates what Carl has done . They’re such good people and they give so much. I just hope they treat the boys in the way they should be treated. This community should cherish the history of Carl Pohlad here,” Jacobs said.