I have been a Twins fan for 25+ years. The MLB network rebroadcast Game 7 of the 1991 World Series a few nights ago and, even writing about that game triggers memories of watching it on my parents living room floor. Seeing Dazzle Man Dan Gladden and his gorgeous mullet trot to home plate with the winning run. My face inches from the TV because I had to make sure I had heard Jack “Yeah, my son is not me” Buck correctly, the Twins had just won the World Series. Those were great times.
As I have gotten older, I have watched my team change. The Dome got older and, what was once a novelty, became a punchline. Twins fans were told that, because of revenue restrictions relating to the Dome, the Twins’ only way to compete was to draft and develop in-house talent. Amazingly, we did.
From 2001 to 2006, the Twins were competitive for the division title each year, somehow managing to even win it a few times. Unfortunately, we never rekindled the ’87 or ’91 magic and got back to the World Series. However, those teams did accomplish one significant thing: they built Target Field.
The quality of the teams in the aughts finally helped get the legislature off its sizable rear and on board with a state-financed ballpark for the hometown nine. And what a ballpark it turned out to be. Target Field is one of the most enjoyable sports venues in the country. There are few, if any, that can equal its atmosphere.
Prior to the opening of that palace we call a ball field, Twins management assured the fans that the state’s commitment to the team, remember, we built the stadium, meant a more significant payroll and, hopefully, a more consistently competitive team. Aside from a magical (though abbreviated) playoff run in 2010, its inaugural season, Target Field has not hosted any playoff games. What is worse, the “financial commitment” that the Twins assured fans would come has been severely lacking.
Oh sure, they gave big money to hometown boy/team savior Joe Mauer. But if you do not think that contract will pay the Twins back ten fold during Joe’s lifetime, maybe you should just stop reading now. I am not sure I can get through to you. Heck, the Twins even threw $80 million at AL MVP Justin Morneau. I can almost hear the ghost of Carl Pohlad, “SEEEEEEEE…we are huge spenders…what are you trying to do? Get everyone all fired up for no reason? Here, have a dollar hot dog”
Rather than focus on those two reasonably large contracts, though they are the only two the Twins have signed in the last 10 years, let’s focus on overall revenues. This is the critical piece. If the Twins are balancing a financial mess each year, as we have been lead to believe, one would expect their operating margins to be razor thin.
From 2006 to 2011, the Twins operating income, the money that the Pohlad family deposits in the bank, was just a touch north of $140 million. $140 million. That does not feel razor thin. And it is not like that number is skewed by one or two massive years. In fact, Twins operating income has been like a metronome, knocking out right around $20 to $25 million a year for the last six years.
But what does that mean? After all, baseball is a big dollar business. Maybe $140 million is chump change. Right? I mean, maybe?
Well, for comparison’s sake, the Detroit Tigers (Twins’ division rival and comparably-sized metropolitan fan base), lost just south of $60 million during that same time period. But, you know what else they lost: two World Series.
Like the Twins, the Tigers realized a sizable bump in their operating income when they opened Comerica Park in 2000. They immediately returned that money into the team. Unlike the Scrooge McPohlads, who are unwilling to have a year where they bank less than $15 million, Tigers owner Michael Ilitch has followed through on his promises to use the revenues generated by the new stadium to build a championship contending team. He has made mega-deals with Justin Verlander, Prince Fielder, Miguel Cabrera, and countless others.
Hang on though, in full fairness and disclosure, that is only half the story. We should also take a peek at the net worth of each owner to make sure that Michael Ilitch is not some uber-wealthy (by owner standards), championship-crazed nut who can afford to stop at nothing to win. Our friends at Forbes put Michael’s net worth at around $1.7 billion. A lot of cash to be sure. However, the Scrooge McPohlad family’s net worth is approximately $3.6 billion. Gee, only $2 billion more.
Despite that almost incomprehensible difference, two billion dollars is a TON of money (actually it is two tons if we are talking c-notes), the news broke today that the Tigers re-signed Annibal Sanchez to a 5 year, $80 million deal. This on the heels of the Twins recent mega-deal, the signing of the domitable Kevin Correia to a 2 year, $10 million deal. So, the ownership group, the McPohlads, that could have signed 12,449 Annibal Sanchez contracts, or 6,801 Zach Grienke contracts, and still have more money than his division rival. Instead, that owner signed super-5th starter, Kevin Correia. Just. Brutal.
What is brilliant about the whole situation? There is no outrage. None. Zero. Zilch. Nada. For some reason, the good people of Minnesota have embraced the “little engine that could” mentality. Twins fans wear their “small market” badge with pride! It is a marketing coup on the same scale as the pet rock and the Honey Boo Bot. Not only are people are paying money for this, but there is demand for everything Twins.
Please do not get me wrong. I am a huge fan of frugality. I grew up that way. And I get it, we pinch our pennies here in the Midwest. We are sensible people. But that is the crazy thing, there is no reason for it. Not only have the Twins not been in financial straits the last 6 years, they have actually been generating a substantial profit!! Like, swan-dive-in-the-bank-with-the-dollar-sign-on-the-outside profit.We should not be frugal for the sake of being frugal. Not when the goal is to win.
In the classic Brian Singer flick “Usual Suspects,” Kevin Spacey’s character, borrowing a line from Charles Baudelaire, a 19th century French poet and philosopher, informs the cop interviewing him that the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he did not exist.
I am no 19th century French poet, but the greatest trick the McPohlad family ever pulled was convincing Minnesota that our club’s stinginess is reactionary and not a choice. I have $140 million reasons why nothing could be further from the truth.
The fact is, there is no fiscal cliff for the Minnesota Twins. Only a gold-lined road from Target Field to the McPohlads’ bank. If this happened in Philly, where the fans are more…aggressive…for lack of a better word, Target Field would nothing but a pile of rubble. But not here in flyover country. While we are busy pinching pennies for the McPohlads, they are pinching us for millions.