And Then Carl Pohlad Picked Up a Phone....

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I just read of Carl Pohlad's death at age 93. He is a part of my experiences in baseball, and I'm remembering him now. From 1976 until 2004, I had a venture company that operated as a provider of whatever entrepreneurs might be missing in start-up or turn-around businesses. That might include capital, access to credit, managerial input, etc.

In 1988, I was asked to step in as CEO of an Indy bank in a crisis management situation. I did, managed to protect the bank from it's holding company that declared bankruptcy, and eventually sold the bank to a larger one. The bank had a specialized portfolio of about $90 million in radio station loans, and I wanted to sell the portfolio. Another bank with that specialty was the Marquette Bank in MInneapolis--a very large bank owned by Carl Pohlad.

I called him, managed to reach him and found a very cordial, up-from-the-bootstraps man whose early life and career (in Iowa) resembled mine (in Indiana). He said he would like me to come to Minneapolis and meet with him--and I did. At that point he was in his early 70's and walked gingerly with a cane. I had been told by his secretary to expect no more than a 15 minute meeting, because "Mr. Pohlad is not much given to idle chit chat and his health is such that he avoids long meetings".

In about 20 minutes, he and an assistant decided they would likely buy the loan portfolio for its face value of $90 million--assuming due diligence was successful. (It was.) But then we started talking baseball, and I recounted my experience as a First Chicago banker for the the Wrigley family and the Cubs and told my Leo Durocher story.

His secretary interupted after about half an hour, and Carl said that he was fine. I told Carl that I had watched two players on the Indianapolis Indians (which was then the AAA team of the Expos) that I thought could be successful in the bigs. They were Alonzo Powell, an outfielder, and Bob Sebra, a hard throwing right hander. As I recall, both had had the proverbial cup of coffee in the bigs--but hadn't stuck.

I suggested to Carl that the Twins ought to have them on their radar. And then Carl Pohlad picked up a phone and called someone in Twins management. He said, "I'm talking to a man who seems to know his baseball, and he is telling me of a couple of prospects that we should be interested in. Here he is." He handed me the phone, and I passed along Powell's and Sebra's names. Fast forwarding, a year or two later the Twins traded for Powell. Powell was sent to the Twins AAA team and a year later left for a very successful career in Japan. Sebra played for a few years in the bigs, but had Ceda problems. He too threw the radio pitch (you could hear it, but you couldn't see it). But he never developed good enough control, and he was a marginal pitcher. In all, my meeting with Carl Pohlad lasted over two hours.

He spoke to his reputation as an owner who wouldn't put as much money into the team as others did. The criticism hurt him, but he was tough and believed that each of his enterprises should pay their own way. He said that he took no money personally from the Twins. We talked a couple of times during the due diligence period, and he was always a gentleman.

One additional chapter. A dozen or so years ago, one of about 60 or so young I.U. fraternity members--that I more-or-less adopted when several of them had pretty badly screwed up the lives of all of them--asked me for help. He had matured into a solid graduate, was creative and wanted to interview a small video production company in Minneapolis that produced promotional and commercial videos for companies. His name is Adam Kitchell.

I learned that the company was/is owned by Carl Pohlad's son. I called Carl Pohlad's office and his secretary remembered me. I talked to Carl who told me to write a letter of recommendation to his son, and mention that he had asked me to do so. Adam got the job and after a few years joined a large, similar firm--also in Minneapolis.

Tonight, I'm feeling sadness. But I'm happy to have known Carl Pohlad--even in the brief way that I did. As the guy (Morris I think) used to say with some Agustin dialect on SNL, baseball has been very, very good to me. It is a sufficient metaphor for life.