Craig Leipold was the lead partner in the purchase of the Minnesota Wild in January 2008. He fired Doug Risebrough, the team president and general manager, in April 2009, at the end of his first full season of ownership.
The new GM, Chuck Fletcher, tried Todd Richards as a coach, and then Mike Yeo. Leipold saw a product incredibly boring to watch, and an arena with open spaces on game nights.
Last July 4, Leipold committed $196 million to sign free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter and changed everything. The Wild will be Minnesota’s dominant sports story when the Stanley Cup playoffs open in a month, and it could stay that way well into June.
Last July 1, Norwood Teague officially took over as athletic director at the University of Minnesota. Three weeks later, he hired basketball specialist Mike Ellis as an associate athletic director.
The tandem was mortified by what they saw from Tubby Smith’s basketball team over the bulk of the Big Ten schedule. The rumblings were strong for several weeks that Teague and Ellis would get rid of Smith. They did so with such rapidity that they forget to tell Tubby before the news leaked.
The turn down from Shaka Smart threw the hiring process out of whack for Teague and Ellis, but the tandem continues the effort to land a prominent name in coaching for the job.
What we have found out is there’s now an AD committed to taking the Gophers out of their second-division comfort zone in the big two sports, men’s basketball and football. Teague wants to compete seriously with the pros in this pro town.
Last May 10, the Vikings again showed that they are the sports entity with muscle, powering a very-flawed financial package through the Legislature which approved a $975 million stadium.
The Taj Ma Zygi is now scheduled to open in 2016, with the strong possibility that owner Zygi Wilf won’t have to spend a nickel of his own money to reach the team’s $477 million share. Naming rights, seat licenses and what’s basically free NFL money should cover it for the Zygmeister, and then some.
Into this trap of newsmakers, Leipold and Teague and Wilf, all with big ambitions for the teams they oversee, stumble the Twins.
The ballclub faces a late spring, a horrid schedule and overwhelming pessimism — and does so with a payroll that has fallen by $37 million from Season 2 (2011) in Target Field to Season 4.
Note: I always include the $5.2 million paid to Tsuyoshi Nishioka’s team in Japan and thus arrive at $118 million as the 2011 payroll. The reason is to keep offering mentions of Nishi, the baseball blunder of the 21st century.
The outcry over last week’s information that the Twins would open 2013 with a payroll of $81 million was more an indication of a growing apathy than anything.
That was being reported two months ago, and apparently the locals weren’t paying attention.
Maybe you’re in the club that feels the Twins should have given old friend Kyle Lohse a three-year deal in the mid-$30 millions, and sacrificed a draft choice early in the second round.
To what end? To finish 72-90 and last by a whisker in the AL Central, rather than to repeat 66-96 and finish last more decisively?
Zack Greinke? You betcha.
He woke up every morning as a free agent last fall, saying, “I’m out here in southern California, with huge offers to stay with the Angels or to go to the Dodgers, but the team I really want to pitch for is the Twins. That way, I could start on Opening Day in Minneapolis in a 22-degree windchill.”
The Twins will suffer greatly at the gate this season. The announced attendance figures to be in the 2.3 million range, with well under 2 million actual bodies in the ballpark.
So be it.
This is a season to get organized and get more quality player development in the minors. But this is it.
Come next winter, Jim and Bob Pohlad, the active owners, and their GM, Terry Ryan, must make a dramatic move — a Leipold move, a Teague move — or the Twins will have returned to the second half of the ’90s.
You remember those years, right fellas? That was when apathy defeated baseball annually, and in a landslide.
Patrick Reusse can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays on AM-1500. firstname.lastname@example.org