Monday, January 5, 2009

Carl Pohlad, 1915-2008

Quite frankly, The Common Man doesn't know how to feel tonight, following the news of Carl Pohlad's death. Pohlad, the owner of the Minnesota Twins and one of the richest men in America, was largely responsible for the best and worst parts of Twins history, has consistently earned The Common Man's vitriol over the past 10 years and has largely become a despised, Mr. Burns-esque figure in the Twin Cities.

Pohlad slashed payroll in the mid- to late-nineties, allowing the team to sink deeper and deeper into the second division with little hope of escaping. He flirted with selling the team to an owner who would move the club to North Carolina. He talked openly about moving to Virginia. Both were exposed as efforts to extort a new stadium out of the Minnesota legislature. In 2001, he volunteered his ballclub for contraction, further poisoning any and all goodwill he had left with Twins fans. At 93, he had become less a person than a caricature of a miserly old man.

His failure to win the hearts and minds of Twins fans was particularly instructive, The Common Man thinks, in shaping not only the way The Common Man views baseball (and the larger cultural apparatus), but how the extensive and pioneering Twins-related blogosphere views the game. Disproportionately more than other teams, the Twins have engendered an online following that is critical and skeptical of the team, while still loving and rooting for it. And this community of bloggers was one of the first to develop in any number., Will Young, Batgirl, and others represented a first line of healthy skeptics who knew they couldn't trust the team's spin or the local media, and so struck out on their own in search of answers. And so, in a way, perhaps Pohlad is responsible for some of the online revolution and explosion of online baseball content as well. Indeed, many draw inspiration from Gleeman's example, and his work and support has contributed mightily to the growth and development of The Hardball Times,, and other individual bloggers. The Common Man thinks that this contribution is worth acknowledging.

And, for all his faults, in 1984, Pohlad bought a financially troubled Twins team and resolved to keep them in Minnesota. He sanctioned the hiring of Andy MacPhail in 1985, which led to the Twins' pair of championships in 1987 and 1991.

He kept Kirby Puckett in Minnesota following the 1992 season, making him the highest paid player in baseball for a few months. And perhaps too sentimentally, he kept trying to add pieces to the team in the wake of the team's 1991 win, trying to wring one more championship out of Puckett's decline phase and staving off a full rebuilding.

What's more, Pohlad was an entirely self-made man. Born to poor Czech immigrants in Iowa, Pohlad built a network of banks throughout the Midwest, clawing his way into a vast fortune. And he served the country with distinction during World War II. By all accounts, he raised good children and was a devoted son. Indeed, there was much to admire about the man, and his accomplishments, even though he got his start by forclosing on farms in the Great Depression.

And perhaps that's how The Common Man will best remember Carl Pohlad, as a man of contradictions who did much to shape the prism through which The Common Man views the world. Pohlad's example taught that anything is possible. Success is attainable for those with talent, luck, and determination. But success can lead to resentment and revulsion when that success is abused, and a public trust is broken. His story is a very human one, very compelling, and The Common Man hopes to learn more about how it developed, particularly in its final years, in days ahead.

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