Clark Griffith and the Mandate of Heaven

Thirteen years after Calvin Griffith threw up his hands and sold the Twins to Carl Pohlad, his son Clark is back with a bid to buy the team and make sure it stays in Minnesota. Why? Because he figures that's the way it ought to be.

"With Carl? Carl and I have become great friends," Clark protests with a straight face. "I met him back in '91 or '92, after there was a question of whether the sale price should be reviewed because of the action by the seller regarding a player named Chris Speier. It was typical business stuff. The meeting started a little icy and then it got kind of cordial. And we started the relationship because of it, talking about any number of things--management issues, Twins issues, all kinds of things."

That's a rosy way to put it. The "typical business stuff" actually involved Pohlad withholding a $100,000 interest payment to the Griffiths, claiming it was "wrongful conduct" to sign Speier to a contract between the June 1984 agreement that Pohlad would purchase the team and the actual sale three months later. As for the Griffith-Pohlad friendship, Clark's good friend and fellow attorney Ralph Strangis says, "I don't know many people who are friendly with Carl Pohlad. They are neutral toward each other, I'd put it that way."

Clark insists otherwise. "I gave Carl a birthday present when he turned 80." He reaches over and hefts his leather valise from his desk. "Like this, only much better. Let me show you..." He spends the next two or three minutes digging through a pile of papers, finds a small catalog, and flips it to the appropriate page. "See, this one here," he says, pointing to an elegant bag over a $225 price tag. "Carl accused me of calling his secretaries to find out what he needed," Clark says, beaming. "I said, 'No Carl, it was just a nice thing and I thought of you when I saw it.'" Later, he says a couple of people tell him he and Pohlad have a lot in common: a love of reading, a penchant for walking around ballparks checking the sight lines.

But there are also many things the two men obviously don't have in common. Carl Pohlad would not rummage up a catalog to prove that a valise he bought for a business friend was superior to the one he himself used. He wouldn't discuss with a reporter his hopes and fears regarding a huge business deal as he was in the process of putting it together. There is about Clark Griffith a compelling combination of ego and insecurity that makes him a charming human being and a less than ruthless businessman.

Carl Pohlad is a ruthless businessman. Currently he is interviewing investment bankers to determine which one is best suited to explore his options vis à vis the Twins. "I suppose selling the team is one of those options, but primarily what we are interested in is focusing on other cities in order to move the team," says Carl's son, Bob Pohlad, the primary spokesperson on Twins-related matters while his father recuperates from back surgery. "[The bankers] will not be hired to entertain offers from people trying to buy the team, although we suspect that different groups such as Clark's might use them for that purpose," adds Bob Pohlad. And what if the bids reached $110, $120 million? "We'd listen," he says.

Why would Carl Pohlad sell the Twins back to the Griffiths? Because and only because it was the best possible business decision.

And why would Clark want to buy the team--because it was the best possible business decision? "Well it has to make sense business-wise, certainly," he says. Later, pointing to a wall full of plaques and diplomas in his office, he says, "I have nothing to prove. Maybe in the '70s. But not now." But nearly everyone close to him agrees that it is the missing link in his life, and Clark himself says that operating a baseball team is the job he is most qualified to do. Press him on the contours of his proposal and you hear a man willing to negotiate to make something happen: Right now, for example, the partnership shares are limited to $10 million or $5 million, but he is not foreclosing the possibility that a Vance Opperman may eventually wind up with more than that. For the record, however, he is firm on the $80 million purchase bid, calling it "very fair, considering the low attendance, the broadcast-rights issues, and the fact that players like Meares and Radke can soon become free agents.

"There is still a lot of risk in this," he says with a sigh. "I'd rather be totally naive and optimistic, a new owner coming in who thinks he can work the same magic with a baseball team that he had making widgets for a gazillion dollars. But I'm not. I waver between knowing enough about the situation to be confident and then knowing enough about the situation to think I'm insane. And you know," he says with another chortle, "the truth is probably right in there somewhere. I'm confidently insane."

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