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Hartman: Pohlad should give Twins chance to stay here
by Sid Hartman

This is a tough column to write because I admire Twins owner Carl Pohlad and his family for all of the great things they have done for this community.

But the Twin Cities has done a lot for the Pohlad family, too, and helped him become a wealthy man. I hope he remembers this part of the equation in the coming days.

After meeting with Pohlad this week, there is no doubt in my mind that he has made up his mind to allow contraction to eliminate the Twins if Major League Baseball goes along with its plans to get rid of two clubs -- Montreal and the Twins.

I left the meeting with tears in my eyes because for the first time I believed major league baseball is gone from this state unless somebody can change Pohlad's mind. I was so shaken by the result of the meeting that the parking lot attendant asked me what was wrong.


I recalled how hard people such as Minneapolis Tribune and Star publisher John Cowles Sr., Tribune and Star sports editor Charles Johnson and Gerry Moore, head of the Metropolitan Area Sports Commission, worked to get baseball here, and now one man can make a decision to deprive this area of its major league team.

There's no doubt a lot of people in this community believe Pohlad and I are close, and that this column is another ploy to help Pohlad get a new stadium.

Believe me, that's not true. Pohlad is extremely disgusted about the lack of progress to build a stadium and is convinced the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks have ended any immediate chance of getting a ballpark. He has come to the conclusion that this community doesn't care if it has major league baseball.

More than rumor There is no doubt there is some serious talk about contraction among major league owners. It is not just a rumor, and there will be more talk when the owners meet in Chicago next week.

One major league insider told me that baseball has had 10 to 12 lawyers working on the possibility of contraction. Realizing what a horrible effect the loss of major league baseball will have on this city, I believe there is a way to save baseball here and work it out so Pohlad will not lose as much money and eventually make back some of his losses when a stadium is built.

I don't believe Pohlad should continue to lose money in baseball just because he is one of the richest men in this area. But on the other hand he should find a way to keep baseball here. And I know for sure that Major League Baseball won't eliminate the Minnesota franchise if Pohlad doesn't want that to happen.

Keeping major league baseball here is so important that if contraction is for real there should be enough top civic leaders in this area who would step up and buy, say, 80 percent of the club and even allow Pohlad to continue as president and a member of the Major League Executive Committee. He might not get the amount he would get for contraction, but I believe he wants to continue to live here and have citizens of this area appreciate that Pohlad kept baseball here. Those same people would never forget that Pohlad agreed to contraction.

You take 81 baseball dates out of downtown Minneapolis and a lot of restaurants and other businesses will suffer. And how about the money the state government will lose in sales tax, income tax from visiting players -- close to $10 million a year -- and the number of jobs that would be lost? How about the people who earn a living cleaning the stadium after baseball games and work at the concession stands.

Taylor would help Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor tried to buy the Twins in the past without any success. Taylor said while he is not eager to own a baseball team, he would do whatever he can do to keep baseball here and would try to put together a group to invest in it.

But they should do this only if they are assured that a stadium will be built in the future. And I'm sure our great governor, Jesse Ventura, doesn't want to be responsible for losing major league baseball. And the Legislature would go along with Ventura if he wanted the stadium.

Pohlad said that over the years he has spent $15 million lobbying for a new stadium without any results and that he is not going to pour more money into baseball for the next four or five years it would take to build a stadium.

However, Pohlad paid only $38 million for this franchise in 1984, a real bargain compared to today's prices for franchises. He has borrowed most of the original purchase price and the money needed to pay for the losses. And the Internal Revenue Service allows him to deduct interest and some of the losses.

Last season the Twins showed an operating profit but not enough money to pay the interest on Pohlad's loans. Twins officials claim they will lose money because the amount of revenue-sharing they receive will decrease because of increased attendance and other spending. But those are positive signs that the franchise is healthier than it has been in years.

This season attendance at the Metrodome increased to 1,782,926, an increase of 723,211 from 2000. Gross gate receipts also increased to $18,442,520, an increase of $7,618,746. The Twins' concession income was $4,025,627, an increase of $2,291,475.

This was the first franchise in the American League to draw 3 million fans, and last season proved that if the Twins field a winning ballclub -- after eight consecutive losing seasons -- fans will come out.

People upset I can't remember getting as many angry calls, e-mails and voice-mail messages after my column last Friday when I said contraction was a real threat. And every place I went, I was stopped and it was the same old story. People couldn't believe Pohlad would be going along with eliminating baseball here.

In that column I asked Carl if he would be part of contraction if it came about. Pohlad was quoted as saying "That is what any sane man would do."

Many of those calling or sending e-mails brought up the fact Pohlad had just sold his banks for a reported $1 billion.

There is no doubt the Sept. 11 incident caused some worry for Pohlad and other people with big assets and investments. There also is little doubt the value of everything Pohlad owns has decreased.

But no matter what you think about Pohlad, the bottom line is this: Baseball is close to leaving Minnesota.

Twins not top choice Major League Baseball would prefer to eliminate the Tampa Bay Devil Rays or Florida Marlins rather than the Twins. However, the Devil Rays have a long-term lease and a big debt. The Marlins will not be eliminated because owner John Henry does not want to lose his team to contraction. So, baseball is working on a plan whereby the ownership of the Montreal Expos will use the money they will get in contraction to buy the Marlins. Then, Henry would use that money to buy the Anaheim Angels from Disney.

The only way they can get rid of Montreal is to find another team. And Pohlad makes it clear that he is sick of losing money and sees no future in baseball here and is willing to take the $200 million or so that will be offered in contraction.

If this plan goes through, there will be a lawsuit, and it will come out that baseball owners have told Pohlad that under no circumstances will they eliminate the Twins if he wants to stay.

I can't believe Pohlad wants to be part of the long-term ramifications if he agrees to let baseball leave Minnesota without making a strong effort to keep it here with help from other partners. Pohlad has said many times recently he is willing to sell the club.

It's time for potential partners to step forward and help Pohlad. It's now or never for baseball in Minnesota.