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Pohlad begins his farewell
by Curt Brown

So long, at least for now.

Hoping his departure will help get a ballpark built in St. Paul, an upbeat and emotional Carl Pohlad began to bid farewell Friday to the baseball team he's owned for the last 16 seasons.

"The tradition of baseball, I'm convinced, will go on with the new vigor and the new blood we have in the ownership of the team -- we'll be world champions in just a few years," said Pohlad, who agreed Thursday to sell the team to fellow sports investors Glen Taylor and Bob Naegele for $120 million. The sale, set to close June 30, would only happen if a complicated plan to build a new ballpark in St. Paul wins support from voters, legislators and Gov. Jesse Ventura.

If St. Paul voters reject a half-percent sales tax increase Nov. 2 or the Legislature once again balks at funding a stadium, the team would return to Pohlad's portfolio. But the 84-year-old billionaire banker refused to consider that scenario Friday as he offered heartfelt goodbyes to Twins employees.

"If the St. Paul vote fails? I don't even want to think about that," Pohlad said. "I don't think it's going to fail. This is a day of optimism. . . . Our whole objective has been to do whatever we can to keep baseball in Minnesota and I think we're close to achieving that objective."

As he glanced down a Metrodome press conference table at Twins manager Tom Kelly and World Series icons Kirby Puckett and Kent Hrbek, Pohlad's voice halted.

"I'm having a hard time talking because I'm a little emotional here," he said. "I hope our legacy is favorable, but who's to say? We've done our best."

A faded reputation  

Despite presiding over World Series winners in 1987 and 1991, Pohlad has become a lightning rod for animosity after bungled stadium efforts at the Legislature, a threatened sale to North Carolina businessman Don Beaver and seven straight losing seasons. In August, St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman insisted Pohlad must step aside if the push for a $325 million outdoor stadium were to have any chance of becoming a reality.

"Nobody likes to hear anything negative about themselves, but that's the price you pay for being in sports," Pohlad said. "That's the privilege of the press. And everybody else can make whatever remarks they want to. We have no choice but to accept it."

Amid the recent errors on his scorecard, Pohlad hopes Twins fans remember why he bought the team for $36 million in 1984. Original owner Calvin Griffith was threatening to move the team to Florida.

"We saved baseball and if it hadn't been for our action 16 years ago, we wouldn't be here right now," Pohlad said.

New economics  

He said cataclysmic shifts in baseball's economic landscape -- including corporate owners in Atlanta and Anaheim, Calif., and lucrative new stadiums in Baltimore, Cleveland and Denver -- should be considered when fans look back on his Twins tenure.

"We did the best we could operating the team," Pohlad said. "Our record was handicapped by the low revenues we had to work with. Any team that doesn't have what I call the machine -- a new stadium -- will not be able to compete."

Even with new stadiums, owners of Major League Baseball franchises in San Diego and Pittsburgh have complained that small-market teams are doomed unless baseball changes its economic ways. Pohlad said he hopes a blue-ribbon commission studying baseball's financial situation will make recommendations soon to cure some of the game's ills.

Whatever the panel comes up with and whatever happens with the St. Paul vote, Pohlad kept flashing back to the two moments that were the pinnacles of his ownership: the last outs of the Twins' championship seasons in '87 and '91.

"There will never be another moment in my life that compares with those," he said.

Twins president Jerry Bell had tears welling in his eyes as he listened to Pohlad's farewell speech.

"I was fine until [Thursday] afternoon when it was done and Carl went into the office by himself and closed the door," Bell said. "Maybe this will be the extra little push to get it done in St. Paul. Or maybe it will be a big push.