Twins owner Carl Pohlad put his beleagured franchise up for sale Wednesday on
the belief that new owners would stand a better chance of getting legislative
support for a new stadium.
Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig supported the move, saying a
sale of the team "was in the best long-term interest of the Twins
The ball now goes into the court of state legislators. Twins officials said
any sale would certainly be contingent on a successful stadium plan.
Several legislators said a sale would be a positive step toward stadium
legislation, but not a solution to the Twins' economic problems.
The Twins believe the team could fetch about $160 million, but any buyer
would be expected also to make a big contribution to a new ballpark. The price
tag is based on the Twins moving into a new baseball home with larger revenues
than the Metrodome can provide.
If a buyer can't be found, Pohlad would conceivably have the option of
selling the Twins to his fellow baseball owners as part of the league's
contraction plan for 2003. The team's contraction value, if it's eliminated, has
been estimated at $155 million. Contraction is the plan approved by baseball
owners this winter that would have eliminated the Twins and Montreal Expos.
Pohlad had said before that he was open to offers, and had met with Alabama
businessman Donald Watkins about a possible sale. But Wednesday's action
signaled that Pohlad and his family will for the first time aggressively try to
put the team in new hands, Twins President Jerry Bell said.
"I believe that our fans in the Upper Midwest want the Twins to continue
to play here, which may best be achieved through a sale of the team," Carl
Pohlad said in a statement. "
Pohlad, who has owned the team since 1984, designated Minneapolis attorney
Ralph Strangis to coordinate the sale process. Strangis, a veteran deal maker who brokered the
sale of Musicland Inc. to retailer Best Buy, said he expects to be busy fielding
offers. He also said Pohlad's intention to sell the team is no "head
fake." The Twins believe a deal could be in place by Opening Day, April 1,
contingent on a stadium deal.
"I don't think they would have hired me unless they were pursuing this
as an absolutely serious endeavor," Strangis said.
Asked if he thought Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor would be among
the bidders, Strangis said, "The local list of prospects is pretty well
known. I'm not above calling anyone (to solicit an offer) but I don't think that
will be necessary."
Twin Cities business leader Harvey Mackay said of Taylor, "I can't think
of anyone who would make a better owner."
Taylor couldn't be reached for comment.
Among other potential local bidders are the owners of the Minnesota Wild,
headed by Robert Naegele Jr.
Strangis said he'll keep the bidding process confidential.
The belief of Twins officials that a sale is needed to gain legislative
support for a stadium could signal that club officials aren't optimistic that a
deal with Watkins can be struck. Watkins said he would buy the team and build a
privately financed stadium, but several executives within Major League Baseball
have expressed doubts about his financial wherewithal.
Bell said he informed Watkins Wednesday that Strangis is the point man for
"I told [Watkins] what we were doing . . . it's his call," Bell
said. "If he wanted us to, we could turn the materials [from Watkins'
discussions with Pohlad] over to Ralph [Strangis], or he could withdraw. It's
Watkins said he would make a decision after he talks about the new ground
rules with Strangis. As of Wednesday night, however, he said: "My appetite
for owning this team has not been diminished."
Among city, county and state politicians who are working on various public
plans for a new stadium, Pohlad's announcement was seen positively, but not as a
solution to approving subsidies for a stadium.
Gov. Jesse Ventura, through his spokesman, said it would have been far better
to hear that baseball officials have a plan to improve the financial stability
of small market teams.
"Our assumption is no matter who owns it [the Twins], they'll need
changes in baseball's economics to make it here," said John Wodele.
Sen. Doug Johnson, DFL-Tower, said the Twins' announcement might help, but he
said it was unfair to force Carl Pohlad into a position of selling the team.
"[Selling the team] might pick up votes, but I really don't think that's
fair to Carl Pohlad and the family -- that to save the Twins and build a
stadium, that this pressure is put on him," Johnson said.
He said his decision on a stadium bill will be based on the financing
proposal and "the need for Major League Baseball to fix its salary
House Majority Leader Tim Pawlenty, R-Eagan, said the announcement may
nominally help supporters of a new stadium.
"The ownership of the Twins is a factor in the debate, but not the
factor. So this development is like chicken soup: It can't hurt and it may help
a little," said Pawlenty.
"I think it helps," said Sen. Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar, and
sponsor of a stadium bill. "It brings new energy with the prospect of new
ownership of the Minnesota Twins."
Johnson said the question remains whether the new owners will be willing to
provide 50 percent of the total construction costs of a new ballpark.
"We will proceed as we have in the past and attempt to garner the number
of votes in the House and Senate no matter who the owners might be."
The Senate Tax Committee will consider three stadium proposals starting at 4
Hennepin County Board Chairman Mike Opat and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak
reacted cautiously to the news, saying the impact won't be known until the
situation unfolds further. They have a stadium plan that competes with a
separate proposal to build a ballpark in St. Paul. St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly
couldn't be reached for comment.
Opat and Rybak agreed that -- fairly or unfairly -- the involvement of the
Pohlads has been difficult for the public and some political leaders to stomach.
"This allows the debate to be about keeping the Twins and not the
Pohlads," said Rybak, who is pushing for a ballpark on the edge of the
Minneapolis Warehouse District.
Public affairs consultant Mark Oyaas saw another potential benefit. He has
been working for two years with New Ballpark Inc., a group of downtown business
leaders seeking private investment for a new stadium. Until now, support from
business leaders has been weaker than he had hoped.
"The right change in ownership may inspire energy that's currently
lacking," Oyaas said.
Pohlad lost trust with politicians in his previous efforts to get a stadium
built with public money. In one instance, he pledged to make a personal
contribution for a new stadium, later admitting that what he pledged was a loan.
He also threatened to sell the team to North Carolina's Don Beaver in what
proved to be an empty threat.
Jim Pohlad, son of owner Carl Pohlad, repeated Wednesday that he had hoped to
succeed his father as the primary owner. But Jim Pohlad said his primary
objective has always been to keep the Twins in Minnesota, and he believes a new
ownership team would have the best shot of doing that.
"It would not be the outcome that we would wish for -- seeing someone
else throwing out the first pitch at a new stadium," Jim Pohlad said.
"But at least there'd be a new stadium, and at least the team would still
be in Minnesota.
"We're at a critical point now, and we want to do whatever we can to
keep the process moving along."
Jim Pohlad and Bell declined to reveal whether the Pohlad family has set a
minimum price it would accept. But both said they believed the recent sale of
the Florida Marlins for $158.5 million had helped set the value of the Twins.
"And you could make the argument that our market is better," Jim