Longtime Twins owner Carl Pohlad was born on August 23, 1915. The son of a Slovak immigrant grew up dirt-poor in what is now West Des Moines, Iowa.
According to a January 6, 2009 Jim Caple article, Pohlad’s earliest business enterprise was “contracting to pick cockleburs … for farmers in the area, then subcontracting the work to other boys and pocketing the 25-cent difference.”
After high school, he played football at Compton Junior College in southern California. The entertainer Bing Crosby saw Pohlad play and recruited him to his alma mater, Gonzaga University in Spokane, WA. While in school, Pohlad earned a little extra money boxing in clubs along the West Coast, occasionally hopping freight trains to get where he was going.1 He dropped out of school his senior year to focus on his lucrative side job of selling repossessed cars.
Pohlad was drafted into the Army in 1942 and served as an infantryman during World War II in France, Germany, and Austria. He was wounded in battle and awarded two Bronze Stars, an Oak Leaf Cluster, and three Purple Hearts.
After the war, Pohlad partnered with his brother-in-law, taking control of Marquette Bank in Minneapolis in 1949—just three years out of the Army. Pohlad took sole control of the bank after his brother-in-law’s death several years later. He branched out from there, establishing a web of banking, bottling, real estate, and other companies.
In 1984, the billionaire financier bought the Twins from Calvin Griffith for around $38 million, almost certainly preventing the team from leaving Minnesota. Fun Fact: Donald Trump—who published The Art of the Deal just three years later—actually bid $50 million for the team, but Griffith elected instead to sell the club to Pohlad, leaving millions on the table from The Great Negotiator.
Pohlad enjoyed early success unprecedented in Minnesota men’s professional sports, winning a World Series in just his third full season as owner, and again four years later. That’s two more titles than the Vikings, Timberwolves, and Wild combined.
Ever the shrewd businessman, Pohlad was a frugal owner, always looking to maximize value. Sure, he made St. Paul native Jack Morris the highest-paid pitcher in the American League in 1991, and re-signed Kirby Puckett to two massive new contracts, but, for the most part, Pohlad emphasized building the team from the ground up through a farm system this is still regarded as one of the best in the game.
The Metrodome was one of the worst ballparks in major league history, and Pohlad’s tenure as owner was marked by various schemes to get a new publicly funded stadium. One such scheme intended to motivate the state legislature to fund a new ballpark was threatening to sell the team to a North Carolina businessman.
Undoubtedly the biggest stain on his legacy was volunteering to go along with Bud Selig’s 2001 plan to dissolve the Twins in exchange for a $150 million buyout. (The scheme was ultimately shot down in the courts prior to the 2002 season, and the Twins went on to win the division the next three-straight years, and five of the next nine years).
Pohlad—the son of a dirt-poor Slovak immigrant who grew up to be the second-wealthiest man in Minnesota—never fully retired before passing away at home in Edina on January 5, 2009. He was 93 years old.