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Jim Pohlad wants to own team
by LaVelle E. Neal III and Dennis Brackin

Jim Pohlad says his father, Twins owner Carl Pohlad, has asked him this question: Do you see yourself in the future as an owner of a major league baseball team?

The son's answer? "Yes."

Jim Pohlad relates the conversation matter-of-factly, as if his answer should surprise no one. But a minute later, he admits he is well aware of the public perception he and his two siblings, Bob and Bill, have no interest in continuing in the business of baseball when their father, Carl, 86, decides to get out.

"I've read in the newspaper that we're not interested," said Jim Pohlad, who for several years has been the sibling most involved with the Twins. "I've never felt that way. I've never said that. That could be the perception, but that's not the way it is."

This week Jim Pohlad, 48, presided over a postseason interview session that included the organization's top front office officials: President Jerry Bell, General Manager Terry Ryan, Chief Operating Officer Kevin Cattoor and Senior Vice President Dave St. Peter.

Carl Pohlad, who along with Jim heads the ownership group, was unable to attend the meeting.

The most significant news from the meeting was Jim Pohlad's revelation he is willing to carry on as Twins owner for the foreseeable future. He said his personal goal remains the same as it has been for several years: to make certain the Twins remain part of the Minnesota community.

To be sure, he said the family's position is unchanged: it will sell to a buyer who meets their price tag and pledges to keep the club in the Twin Cities. But a sale at this time appears unlikely because of the massive economic problems facing baseball in general, and the Twins in particular.

Major League Baseball's contract with the players' union expires after the World Series. The Twins, still with one of baseball's smallest payrolls, continue to hope to find public support to build a new stadium.

"If we could solve all the problems, we would prefer to retain the team," Jim Pohlad said.

Said St. Peter: "I think, and this comes from Carl, that the [Pohlad] family has an extremely high level of understanding for the importance of baseball to this community. I think that is something that really motivates them."

Numerous issues Twins officials have numerous offseason issues, beginning with the current search for a new manager to replace Tom Kelly, who retired after 15-plus seasons. The club also has to set its payroll after a season in which team officials claim it lost money. And those decisions have to be made despite the uncertainty of the labor and stadium situations.

Team officials are taking it slowly in their quest for legislative support for a new stadium. Bell said he is trying to determine if support exists in the uncertain political and economic climate.

"This could be considered the most obnoxious thing the ballclub could do, to try to get a ballpark in this kind of environment," Bell said. "So you want to know what people are thinking."

So far, Bell said the Twins have been encouraged in their talks with state legislators. Bell said he is actually finding support from fans for a retractable roof stadium, which could push the cost of a new stadium to almost $400 million. Jim Pohlad said the family's offer of a significant contribution for a new stadium remains; the last proposal called for a $150 million offer by the Pohlad family and other private interests.

Although Bell says he was initially pessimistic when he began his most recent talks with legislators, he said this week: "Honestly, the response I've had has been the opposite. Maybe this is the time to build a new ballpark for the social reasons. For jobs as well as enjoyment for the average fan. I have not been discouraged at all."

Baseball officials have been ordered by the commissioner's office not to discuss the labor situation. What happens after the players' contract expires is anybody's guess.

Contraction rumors resurfaced this week, but unlike six months ago, the Twins are not being mentioned.

The budget The uncertain labor situation makes it difficult for Twins officials to set a payroll budget for the 2002 season. The club drew more than 1.7 million fans last season -- an increase of 723,211 -- but the increased revenue translated to smaller revenue-sharing returns from the league.

The 2001 payroll of $27 million was significantly increased late in the season when the club picked up the remainder of Todd Jones' $3.975 million deal and Rick Reed's $7 million contract. Team officials say they want to retain Reed; Jones is a free agent.

Ten players, including Reed, are under contract for about $30 million next season, and Joe Mays and David Ortiz and perhaps Torii Hunter are eligible for arbitration. That means the Twins are looking at a 2002 payroll of at least $40 million to keep the current roster intact.

"There are uncertainties and nothing has been resolved," Pohlad said. "That's all you can say."

Still, Jim Pohlad said he is not ruling out giving the OK to Ryan to pursue a high-level free agent, if that player would push the Twins to the next level.

"When the payroll goes from $27 million up into the 40s, that's kind of depressing," Pohlad said. "You have the same thing you had a year before but you are paying more money for it. At that point, you have to be pretty optimistic in your attendance figures to see any of that repayment on that increase.

"You're already in the big loss area, so the question is: Do you want to make the loss bigger after you get over that hump. You see one more player [available] ... you kind of have made the commitment by then."

Search continues Ryan said it is unlikely a successor to Kelly will be named until after the World Series. Although Ryan will interview outside candidates this week during his stay at the Arizona Fall League, the odds-on favorites remain third base coach Ron Gardenhire and coach Paul Molitor.

Once the interviews are complete, Ryan will make his recommendation to ownership for approval. Pohlad said it's highly unlikely his family would overrule Ryan, but there is one interesting dynamic involved: Molitor has a close relationship with the Pohlad brothers.

"Paul's a personal friend to all of us," Pohlad said. "Is there a soft spot? Maybe. Terry knows that we're friends, and that's the end of it. We want the whole overall structure, the team, including the manager, to be the best possible team. Terry will determine that."

Just as Jim Pohlad largely will determine the course of the Twins' ownership in the years to come.