One month and one day after Minnesota Twins owner Carl Pohlad’s death, his son Jim Pohlad sat with reporters from MinnPost, the Twin Cities dailies, the Associated Press and mlb.com for his first lengthy interview since the funeral.
As Twins Sports chief executive officer, Jim Pohlad — one of Carl’s three sons — will be the baseball voice for the family. In a wide-ranging, 56-minute interview, Pohlad identified himself as more a fan than a baseball executive. He’s gung-ho about the team possibly signing free agent Joe Crede and feels as frustrated as most fans over general manager Bill Smith’s inability to add a free agent of consequence.
Still, he doesn’t see the Twins ever throwing money around like the Yankees, even after the new ballpark opens next year.
Q: Condolences on Carl’s passing … Could you talk about the way the team will be run after your father’s passing?
Jim Pohlad: There’s really going to be no difference, I don’t think. Dad was a little less involved in recent years, and during that time I don’t think … you can ask Jerry or Dave if they noticed any difference. I don’t think that there is, and I don’t think that there will be.
Q: How do you feel you’re similar to your father, and how do you feel you’re different, as the person at the top?
JP: People like my dad don’t come along very often. So the odds of me and my two brothers being anywhere like him, as unique a person, obviously aren’t very good. But we did learn a lot about how he did things. The loyalty to, and commitment to, promoting from within and the stability of the Twins are the most important things. We aren’t going to change any of that.
Q: So you’ll be a hands-off owner and let the baseball people run the baseball operation?
JP: That’s how we would characterize how Dad did it. If you would agree with that characterization, we intend to keep it that way.
Q: Some owners are known to be very visible, and some are very loquacious, like Hank Steinbrenner. When Bud (Selig) owned the Brewers, he was known to walk through the press box and banter with the media. How visible will you be as owner, and how do you feel about being in the spotlight?
JP: The spotlight is not something we’re seeking out, that’s for sure. One column this morning referred to me as the owner. Let me clear that part up right now. I am not the owner. Our family owns the team. I’m the one that, on most Twins matters, will speak for the family. As far as trying to be visible, I probably don’t go to as many games as I should — not as many as these guys [Bell and St. Peter] go to — but I’ll try to be visible. I’m not against banter. (laughter)
Q: When ownership passes from one generation to another, sometimes the family maintains the team for a long period of time, and sometimes the family sells. Do you envision the Pohlad family still owning this team in 20 years?
JP: Yes. But the way things are these days, no one can ever say die. That’s certainly our goal. We have no intentions of doing anything otherwise. The way things are, 20 years ago, baseball may not exist. Who knows? It’s just a bad time.
Q: Why does your family feel that way? Because it’s a community asset, or a good investment?
JP: There are so many different things about it, so many facets to it. It is a community asset. It will be a good investment. It hasn’t so far been the best, but we have confidence in the future. And it’s something that various members of the family are interested in to varying degrees.
Q: How has the economy affected the way it’s going to be run?
JP: I don’t believe it’ll have any literal affect, unless it’s some prolonged thing that nobody anticipates, on how the Twins are operated. Right now, there are no new policies or anything to reflect the economic situation. But we are sensitive to it, and we understand it affects people. … We’re not saying we’re not going to sign any new players, or there’s a hiring freeze, or those kind of policies. Sure, we run different models based on projections on attendance and stuff. But they aren’t dictating changes in policy.
Q: Actually, since you’ll be operating that new stadium in a year, you might be one of the few businesses in the country that’s going to be hiring.
JP: As the ballpark is being built, it does provide employment. As we begin to take on additional responsibilities with regard to the ballpark, different than we had in the Metrodome, we will be hiring people.
Dave St. Peter: Everything from maintenance to security … some marketing, some sales … but I think it will be done in a real responsible way. When you compare where we’ll be at in 2010, compared to the industry, we’ll still be one of the smaller front offices in baseball. Full-time jobs, probably talking 40 to 50, with a significant increase in part-time work.
Q: How involved will (your brothers) Bill and Bob be in the management of the team?
JP: Who? (laughter). They’re interested. We talk about stuff. They were brought up to date on the progress of the ballpark, and the planning for it. If we were to do significant long-term contracts, they would be aware of it and weigh in.
Q: Your payroll … In 2007, it got up to $74 million for a while. You were under that last season, and right now we’ve got you at $59 million or $60 million. As you’ve gotten closer to a new stadium, the payroll has come down. How does that sit with ownership when people ask why you’re not spending more on players right now?
JP: I’ve said before that I’m a fan first and foremost, more so than a baseball person. I’m excited by transactions. You like that kind of stuff, and so do our fans. We certainly don’t discourage it, nor are we going to go out and say, because I like that as a fan, go do it, unless you think it’s in the best interest of the team.
Q: As a fan, do you ever have the urge to call up [general manager] Bill Smith and say, “What are you doing? Go get me a third baseman.”
JP: Yes. (Laughter) It’s true. I admit that. But there have been different ownership models for different teams throughout all the years of baseball. Maybe that’s the thing that separates us from some of those models. You may have the urge to, but we don’t.
Q: Are you surprised by how quiet it’s been on the transaction front this off-season?
JP: I wouldn’t say I’m surprised by it. We’re not done. The season hasn’t started yet. It still could happen. There’s nothing from us saying, “We’re done going into the season.”
Q: At least two principal owners, in Florida and Milwaukee, were appalled by the amount of money the Yankees threw around in free agency this winter. Mark Attanasio of Milwaukee said it’s time for a salary cap. Is it time to level the playing the field and have a salary cap in baseball?
JP: I couldn’t speak to that. What it’s time for is each individual team to manage responsibly their particular franchise and understand that what each individual franchise does, does affect everyone else. We are partners. If you don’t remember that, you can have all the devices you want and it’s still not going to be effective.
Q: Did you or your father, whenever there was a record-setting signing by somebody else, ever look at each other and go, “What’s going on here?”
JP: You shake your head about that in the broad world also, not just baseball. But often, you don’t know all the facts. I don’t really understand the ins and outs of the Yankees payroll and their revenue streams, so I assume that whatever they’re doing, they’re doing responsibly.
Q: Is Joe Mauer a candidate for a “legacy contract,” where you make sure you keep him?
JP: We like all the people we’ve signed to long term contracts, and we’d like to keep them … At the Diamond Awards, we saw Kent Hrbek, a hometown person with great influence on the team, still here and supporting the Twins wherever he can. Joe Mauer shares some of those characteristics, particularly being a hometown person. You can put value on those things and sometimes factor that stuff in.
Q: How do you feel about the job Bill Smith has done?
JP: We have a high level of confidence in him. He was highly recommended by Terry [Ryan]. The performance of last year was certainly beyond our expectations. Those two factors result in a continued high level of confidence.
Q: What are your expectations for the team this year?
JP: I think you’ve got to have high, high expectations, not to put any undue pressure on them, on the pitching staff. What you always hope in baseball is that each year, players perform better than the year before. Obviously there are some players that perform on such a high level, you hope they maintain. But the young players, you hope they move up and do better than they did last year. If both those things happen, it could be a great year. But as we know, what the team looked like at this time last year and what it ended up looking like are kind of two different things, so who knows?
Q: Your family has spent a lot of money already in that ballpark. Is your family going to be able to continue your father’s community and charity endeavors?
JP: Yes, it should get even better. That was part of the planning the transition over a matter of years. With the foundation and the Twins Community Fund, it should be even better than it was before.
Q: Your father put a lot of his own money into this team over a period of 20 years. He might have gotten some of it back in the last few years as the team became more profitable, and you got more revenue sharing from Major League Baseball. Could you put a rough dollar figure on how much money your father put into this team while he owned it?
JP: No. (laughter) We’ve basically taken no money out of the team since we’ve owned it. Obviously, a lot of the years there wasn’t any [to take].
Q: Do you consider yourself particularly well-suited to running a baseball team?
JP: No. (laughter) I do enjoy sports. I follow things. I know what’s going on with all the teams, whether it be the Gophers or the professional teams. I follow golf and, to a lesser extent, tennis. I like sports. Baseball is my favorite. I’m probably more sports-oriented than [my brothers].
Q: Jerry, what’s it like to watch a game with Jim?
Jerry Bell: When Jim says he’s a fan, that’s absolutely right. It wasn’t any different with Carl. When they’re watching the game, they’re focused on the game. The umpire is always wrong (laughter), especially with Carl. There wasn’t much discussion of anything else. Why did [Greg] Gagne swing at that slider again? He always does that, low and outside. Carl knew that, and couldn’t understand why Gagne didn’t know that.
JP: Dad was very reactive at particular moments, but he would get over it very quickly. I don’t know if I would get over it.
Q: Did your dad give you any advice?
JP: Dad wasn’t a big advice-giver. We really observed. I’ve been back here working since 1978, and most of that time, frustratingly so, was observing more so that doing. Only in the last five or six years did the doing eclipse the observing. But that’s the way it was, but in retrospect, it turned out OK. I think I probably listen better than I talk, but it worked out well.
Q: Hennepin County will be spending $2.3 million to deal with the smell from the garbage burner next to the new ballpark. Ten years ago, did the family give any thought to buying property by the Mississippi River in downtown Minneapolis or near the Mall of America, anticipating the day when the state Legislature approved ballpark funding? A bigger site, besides smelling better, might have allowed for a bigger stadium and a retractable roof.
JP: Obviously people proposed that to us, but we never gave it any thought. We are in real estate, but we aren’t real estate speculators. Speculating on land is not part of our business.
Jerry Bell: That would have made it more difficult. If it was on land the family owned, the argument would have been, they’re just enhancing it even more. It would have made it more difficult, not easier. … People said, aren’t you sorry you missed it where the Guthrie [Theater] is? At the time, it probably was. Now, no. This is downtown. The Guthrie is a little bit like the Metrodome — it’s downtown, but it’s not downtown. This is downtown.
Q: How many more games do you think you’ll attend this year?
JP: I want to wait until we go outdoors. (laughter) Actually, it will be more of a special season because it’s the last one in the Dome. As long as they win, I’ll go. (laughter)
Q: To the extent that you do, is there any reluctance to give up your anonymity?
JP: I don’t think that’s an issue. I’m not the show. It’s the players. That’s what people want to come to see. I’m not going to be down there throwing out the first pitch. … Some people want that as part of their job description, and [it is] their motivation for getting into sports. I don’t want that as part of my job description. … I don’t want to give the impression I’m trying to escape it, but I’m not seeking it out.
Q: Does Joe Crede seem like a good acquisition to make?
JP: To me it is. (laughter) But I don’t get the health [information].
Q: Would you convey that to the baseball department?
JP: I wouldn’t tell Zygi Wilf to go out and get Kurt Warner. But the next time we sit down with Billy, I’ll ask, what’s going on with Joe Crede? I’m not bashful about making comments —
Jerry Bell: No. (laughter)
JP: We have a bantering back-and-forth relationship. But I’ll find a way to insert that Joe Crede thing in there.
Q: Do you bring stuff up to Bill?
JP: Oh, yeah. I have favorites.
Q: Jerry, how important is it to have an owner who is invested but doesn’t cross the line?
Jerry Bell: We’ve very fortunate. We see how other teams operate. I don’t want to mention teams, but some teams that are not successful have an overwhelming influence by ownership and their family, and it doesn’t work. Just because they bought the team doesn’t mean they know how to evaluate talent. But some of them think they do, and it just doesn’t work. And you can see their records.
JP: There’s a very narrow line between Jerry and Dave and I. No offense, but Jerry and Dave aren’t exactly the greatest player minds either. (laughter) The main thing is, they get to walk into Billy’s office on a daily basis. I have to do it in a public forum.