Members of Congress, fans and baseballers of all stripes reacted strongly last year after Major League Baseball developed a contraction plan for its Minor League system.
Many communities were at risk of losing farm clubs in the Major League. But the plan also raised the possibility that the revered and independent St. Paul Saints would play inside the Major League tent. For five years in a row, the St. Paul Saints drew more fans as an independent league team than many AAA baseball teams across the United States.
Fans flocked to CHS Field after the new ballpark opened downtown in 2015, and the Saints curtailed their financial success in 2019 by winning the American Association League Championship. The Saints had on average more than 8000 fans per game in a stadium with 7210 seats.
But Covid-19 and Major League Baseball’s reorganization plans maintained the holy 28-year-olds as an organization that flourished outside of affiliated baseball. On December 9, the Minnesota Twins and the Saints announced at The Saints would join the Twins Triple-A.
In a recent interview, Marv Goldklang, the Saints’ main owner, talked about how the Saints-Twins agreement came together, the effect of the pandemic on all his clubs, his ideas about playing baseball, and what the Saints were likely to become in 2021 and beyond.
Goldklang has been a pioneer in independent baseball. He helped launch the Northern League in 1993 with founder Miles Wolff and other enterprising baseball people. Tea The Saints became a fan favorite in the Northern League, and later in the American Association.
MLB executives were clearly aware of the Saints’ success, which led them to include the independent club in their 2019 draft document on a restructured affiliate system. “It was the first time we saw our name associated with the twins as a Triple A-affiliated company,” Goldklang recalled. “It came completely out of the left field. There had been absolutely no previous communication at any level with Major League Baseball, the Twins or anyone else. ”
For many months, the concept of the Saints becoming a Triple A club was in suspended animation. But Goldklang, who early in his career practiced law at a large law firm in New York, acknowledged that the baseball world would make big changes by 2020.
Major League Baseball wanted to reduce the cost of player development by shrinking the number of smaller teams, and they wanted affiliated teams to play closer to their parents in the Major League.
Early confidential conversations
While fans and sports writers speculated about what would become of the Saints, Goldklang kept his mother public. But he began talking privately with two people this spring – Dave St. Peter, president and CEO of the Minnesota Twins, and Jim Pohlad, CEO of the Twins. The Pohlad family has owned the team since 1984.
“The material discussions with the twins, as people began to think about this more seriously, probably started around the time the twins approached us with a request to use CHS Field as their alternative location,” Goldklang said. During the shortened MLB season, a group of Twins cab players used CHS Field, located just 10 miles from the Twins home on Target Field in Minneapolis.
“Their experience using CHS Field helped drive these discussions,” he said. “The twins had a very, very positive experience, and obviously the geography was great for the twins.”
CHS field has won awards for the architectural and baseball industries, and the Saints’ creative campaigns have on several occasions pushed the game attendance to the range of 9,000 to 10,000.
Despite the logic of a Twins-Saints connection, both parties wanted to conduct their business discussions privately. Speaking only to Pohlad and St. Peter, Goldklang said: “Everyone was sensitive about confidentiality, so we kept a fairly tight circle about it.”
As the conversations developed and the circle expanded, Goldklang said: “I talked to Derek Falvey. [Twins president of baseball operations] several times, but the point person on the Twins page was Dave [St. Peter]. ”
The talks were not controversial. “It was a classic situation where both the Saints and the twins recognized that there would be meaningful benefits for each to enter into this type of relationship,” Goldklang said. “I do not think it is fair to say that one side had more influence than the other. Discussions never had that tone. “
When the two teams finally revealed the partnership in early December, they revealed that the twins bought a minority stake in the Saints.
“No shareholder in the Saints sells to the twins,” Goldklang said. “The entire Twins investment is invested directly in the Saints.”
Expansion of the owner pool
The Saints expanded the pool of owners to accommodate the Twins shareholding. “The Twins were interested in being our partner,” Goldklang said, and it was clear relatively early in the talks that the Twins were prepared to put money into a partnership agreement. The discussions did not start with a specific percentage [ownership share]”Goldklang said, but it was” part of the ongoing discussion. ”
When the Saints opened their new ballpark in 2015, Goldklang, the organization’s chairman, Saints president Mike Veeck and actor Bill Murray owned more than 80 percent of the team. Even with Twin’s shareholding, the three men remain majority owners.
Veeck is often the public face of the Saints in Twin Cities sports media interviews, and he is the guardian of the club’s “Fun Is Good” culture. Goldklang’s relationship with Murray is even more long-lasting. They originally crossed paths in the early 1980s, when they owned shares in a baseball team in Utica, NY.
Several people have minority interests in the Saints, including Goldklang’s sons, Jeff and Michael. They all work in a baseball and sports management company called Goldklang Group, which is based in New Jersey.
When the Saints’ potential moved to Triple A baseball, Marv Goldklang was already the main owner of two affiliated teams in Charleston, SC and Hudson Valley, NY. Since 1979, Goldklang has also been a shareholder in the New York Yankees.
For decades, he has had one foot in affiliated baseball, and the other foot in an independent league. Despite the twins’ interest in the Saints becoming its Triple A affiliates, that option would not become a reality until the Saints agreed to pay an affiliation fee.
Some media organizations reported that the fee would be $ 20 million. At a press conference and in media interviews, Goldklang said that the number was not correct. He will not disclose the one-time fee. “It’s a confidentiality agreement that is in effect with Major League Baseball,” he said. Regardless of the fee, it did not track a Twins-Saints partnership.
In the early days of Saints’ existence, baseball purists did not show much respect for the Saints, who played in an underlying ballpark in St. Paul’s Midway in what some viewed as a “beer league.”
Nevertheless, mutual respect was shown when twins and Saints held a joint press conference this month to announce the partnership. The Twins’ St. Peter said his organization was “ecstatic” to enter into an agreement with the Saints.
Dave St. Peter’s relationship
St. Peter, who has worked for the twins since 1990, has known Goldklang for many years, which simplified the negotiations because they already had a positive relationship. Until 2014, Goldklang owned Fort Myers Miracle, which served as Twins High A Minor League affiliate.
“Dave was obviously centrally involved in our relationship, and it was a good relationship not only in terms of connectedness, but we were also actively involved in helping run the Major League spring training for the twins,” said Goldklang.
In their new partnership, Twins and Saints ended up merging interests. “It’s the player development interest from Twin’s perspective,” Goldklang said. “There is an improved brand interest from our perspective. And there are economic aspects on both sides. ”
Both clubs have an overall interest in expand participation in baseball. “We can talk forever about the challenges of increasing interest in the game of baseball among young children who grow up and who get all the opportunities and attractions,” said Goldklang. He is optimistic that by merging with the twins that together they will have a greater impact on youth programming, which includes baseball and softball.
Until the end of 2020, Goldklang did not know how his Charleston and Hudson Valley teams would be affected by Major League Baseball’s adjustment of the Minor League system. However, he and other baseball owners faced more immediate concerns caused by Covid-19.
“The real challenge this year was to tackle the challenge of keeping people busy when no revenue came in,” Goldklang said. “The seasons in Hudson Valley and Charleston were canceled.”
The Saints normally played a schedule of 100 games in the American Association, but it was reduced to 60 games this year. The Saints played their home games in Sioux Falls, SD, in the early weeks of the season, because the state of Minnesota’s coronavirus restrictions banned games at CHS Field.
Finally, the Saints returned to the home fans. “Even when we played matches in St. Paul, we were very limited in terms of the number of fans we could have,” said Goldklang. “We knew we were going to lose a significant amount, and we did. We did it because we wanted to keep our name, our brand, our presence, the experience of coming to a baseball game alive and not losing all year. ”
As a Triple A affiliate, the Saints are likely to play 72 home games in 2021, instead of the 50 home games they played in the American Association. “I’m sure there will be a season,” Goldklang said, but he noted that Covid-19 could disrupt the schedule at the start of the season.
He also expects the Hudson Valley Renegades and Charleston RiverDogs to be back in action in 2021. Under the restructuring plan, the Hudson Valley team will be a high singles A-team for the New York Yankees. Meanwhile, Charleston will be a Low Single-A team for the Tampa Bay Rays.
While Goldklang is well connected in the baseball world, he was kept in the dark for a long time about the future affiliation with his Hudson Valley team. “We did not know until the Yankees actually issued an announcement in early November,” he said.
Loses 18 years manager
The Twins partnership gives the Saints new opportunities, but Goldklang acknowledged that the change also has some bittersweet elements. One of the most difficult conversations he has had this year involved telling George Tsamis that his 18-year term as Saints leader had come to an end. “I have always said that George is family,” Goldklang said. “It hurts to lose him, and it also hurts to see, to know how difficult the experience is for him.”
There will also be some changes in Goldklang’s role. “I will miss being involved with George when I decide which players to sign,” he said. “When I was at the ballpark, I wanted to go out on the court during the batting exercise. I’m not going to do that with Twin’s Triple A players. ”
Under the new partnership, the twins will choose players, managers and coaches. “We are very much looking forward to the new relationship with the twins,” he said. “But I think it will be a part of all of us involved in the Saints that we will miss the last 28 years.”
Goldklang quickly emphasizes that the Saints are not subject to the Twins organization.
The Saints’ ball pig, the characters who act as “ushertainers”, and the sacred love of staging silly events are retained. “There will be no change in the experience of attending a game at CHS Field, except for the players on the field,” he said.
In a decision aimed at its loyal fan base, the Saints management chose to keep the same ticket prices after the Saints became a Triple A team. “That’s who we are,” Goldklang said. “We are about affordable prices. We’re about families. Can we charge more? Would people be willing to pay more to see the Twins stars of the future? Probably. But that’s not what we’re about. ”