Patrick Reusse: Loyalty became a Twins hallmark under Pohlad

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 6, 2009 - 7:29 AM
hide

Torii Hunter gave champagne-drenched Twins owner Carl Pohlad a hug in the locker room after their division clinching win in 2003.

Photo: Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

This was a long time ago. We were sitting around the sports desk at the St. Paul Pioneer Press, trying to get some copy edited before heading across the street for a refreshment break at Luigi's Saloon.

A story came rattling across the Associated Press teletype that reported Carl Pohlad, a Minneapolis businessman, was trying to buy the Philadelphia Eagles.

This led to a question: "Who the heck is this guy?"

Nobody knew, the Eagles were sold to another party and Pohlad disappeared from the sports wire for over a decade. Then, in 1984, with Twins owner Calvin Griffith alleged to be eyeballing Tampa-St. Petersburg for possible relocation, Pohlad surfaced and bought the franchise for the bargain price of $38 million.

A July news conference was held to announce the sale agreement. The event was historic, since in Carl and Calvin we had shoulder-to-shoulder the two worst public speakers in the planet's post-caveman era.

Pohlad said the sale was fortuitous since it was time for a younger man to take over the Twins. He was 68 and Calvin was 72 at the time, causing a smart-alecky St. Paul columnist to suggest that "only in the Vatican could this be considered a youth movement."

The Twins were contenders because of the mediocrity of the American League West in '84. They went in reverse as Pohlad spent two years firing most everyone connected with the Griffith regime.

The Twins were 71-91 in 1986. A serious shakeup of the baseball operation started with the firing of Ray Miller in September. Tom Kelly, the third base coach, was the interim replacement.

Andy MacPhail was 33 and serving as assistant in the baseball operation to Howard Fox, a holdover from the Griffith years.

"I was told that I was going to be quarterbacking the managerial search," MacPhail said Monday. "I started with 30 names, broke it down to five to interview, and Tom Kelly and Jim Frey were the last two.

"I was a kid as far as baseball was concerned. I even suggested that we hire Frey as the GM and Kelly as the manager."

Frey came to town for an interview with Pohlad. MacPhail was waiting outside the office.

"Carl was talking to Frey about being the manager, not the GM," MacPhail said. "When he told Frey that I was going to be the GM, Jim basically said, 'See you later.' I couldn't blame him. He didn't know me, and I looked like a Boy Scout."

That's when MacPhail learned he would be the GM. That also explained Pohlad's reluctance to go with Kelly.

"Carl said, 'I'm going to have you as a 33-year-old general manager, and you want me to be put you with a 36-year-old manager?' " MacPhail said.

"That's what took so long -- trying to solve what to do about the experience factor. That's when we came up with the idea of hiring Ralph Houk as a vice president and consultant.

"Carl said, 'Now I got someone for you young guys to run it past before you mess something up.' We also were able to bring in Gebby [Bob Gebhard] as another veteran guy in the baseball operation."

The members of the new baseball operation gained Pohlad's eternal gratitude by winning a World Series in that first season of 1987, and another four years later.

"Once you passed the threshold with Carl and you were trusted, the loyalty he displayed was remarkable," MacPhail said. "That has made the Twins a unique franchise in baseball. In a volatile industry, the Twins aren't volatile."

MacPhail left during the players strike of 1994 to be the president and GM of the Chicago Cubs. He's now in Baltimore. In Minnesota, he was replaced by his assistant Terry Ryan, who went through a rough half-dozen seasons before the on-field product was revitalized in this decade.

"I know there were people who wanted to throw Terry under the bus," MacPhail said. "But he had passed that threshold with Carl, and so had Tom Kelly. And Carl went with his instinct for loyalty."

And the under-the-bus lobbyists -- newer employees who hadn't reached the threshold of trust -- were sent packing.

"I've always considered Carl the reason that in baseball what you hear, from scouts, from minor league people, when the Twins are mentioned is, 'That's a great place to work.' "

Patrick Reusse can be heard weekdays on AM-1500 KSTP at 6:45 and 7:45 a.m. and 4:40 p.m. • preusse@startribune.com

MORE COVERAGE

A1: Through hard work, Carl Pohlad went from working in fields to becoming one of the richest men in the world.

A7: Pohlad endured highs and lows during his time as Twins owner.

C2: The younger Pohlads will continue to guide the team in their father's vision.

  • related content

  • Family will continue to run Twins

    Monday January 5, 2009

    Jim Pohlad will lead the Twins organization with help from his brothers Bill and Bob and do it in a low-key way -- just like his father.

  • Section 220 blog: Few beloved owners in pro sports

    Tuesday January 6, 2009

    It was sport in the media and cyberspace to make fun of Carl Pohlad, with the name calling and calling out serving as shorthand for the things people didn’t like...

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

Advertisement
Golden Gavel by Star Tribune

Countdown to great deals

Bid Sept. 21-29

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close