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Jerry Reinsdorf hustled from his office through the bowels of U.S. Cellular Field, into the crowded lobby, past a glass case displaying a World Series trophy and out into the parking lot, tossing a thin leather bag into the backseat of his black Cadillac.
It was a Thursday evening, an hour before the first pitch of the Chicago White Sox game against the Tampa Bay Rays. Thirty minutes later and six or so miles away, the Chicago Bulls would tip off Game 3 of a first-round playoff series against the Brooklyn Nets.
Photo by:CHICAGO BULLS
Good thing he knew a dozen alternate routes.
“When I was a kid my only real ambition was to own a car,” Reinsdorf said, pulling out of the lot as a guard stopped traffic. “Some day, I wanted to own a car. But then you change your goals. When I got a car, I wanted to own a car that I didn’t have to make payments on. Now that I don’t have to make payments, I keep the cars forever.”
The owner of controlling interest in two franchises that together are worth upward of $1.5 billion, Reinsdorf got his current ride three years ago, and he figures he’ll keep it for three more. It is identical in color, interior and options to the Caddy that he drives in Phoenix, where he and wife Martyl spend their winters. He goes back and forth frequently. He likes the seats to feel the same and the switches to be where he expects.
Working his way through Chicago’s Southside neighborhoods, Reinsdorf offered a running commentary on traffic and potential alternate routes. He wasn’t driving fast, or zigzagging down side streets. He was calculating. Maneuvering.
Executive Editor Abraham Madkour talks with Senior Writer Bill King about the story behind Jerry Reinsdorf's Lifetime Achievement Award.
When longtime White Sox partner Eddie Einhorn visits from New Jersey, Reinsdorf meets him curbside at the airport, trunk popped. When MLB executive vice president Tim Brosnan caught a ride back from St. Louis aboard Reinsdorf’s jet after a World Series game, Brosnan asked whether someone might call ahead to line up a ride from Midway, where they were landing, to O’Hare.
“What do you need a car for?” Reinsdorf asked. “I’ll take you.”
It was 4:30 a.m.
“Almost dawn, and the owner of the Chicago White Sox is giving me a ride across town,” said Brosnan, who has used Reins-dorf as a sounding board while working through many of MLB’s commercial issues through the last 15 years. “He wouldn’t take no for an answer. That’s just Jerry. He’s just amazing that way.”
Speak with the people who have grown close to him, and to those who have crossed swords with him, in his three decades as a team owner — 32 years in baseball, 28 in the NBA — and you will hear it again and again, as if they’re singing the chorus from one of the old Tony Bennett songs he seeks out on the car radio.
Employees who have been with him for 20 and 30 years. Executives at the leagues. Commissioners. Agents. Business partners. They say it all the time.
“That’s just Jerry.”
Reinsdorf still remembers the first time he was in New York after buying the White Sox in 1981. He grew up in Brooklyn, rushing to Ebbets Field on summer mornings to get the best seats in the general admission section. The team went west the same year that he went away to college, but the Dodgers — the Brooklyn Dodgers of Pee Wee Reese and Jackie Robinson and Duke Snider — Reinsdorf never let them out of his heart.
Walking down a Manhattan street on the way to a meeting, it hit him. He remembered the phrase that Dick Young, the acerbic sports columnist, coined to describe the owners.
“You’re now one of the lords of baseball,” Reinsdorf thought to himself. It was surreal.
“People who don’t know me must think of me like I used to think of owners of baseball teams,” Reinsdorf said during a recent, reflective conversation in his office after a White Sox game. “But that’s not what I’m like. That’s not what I’m like at all.
“I’m the same asshole I was when I bought the team.”
It was the top of the fifth inning, the Sox leading the Cleveland Indians 1-0 on a brisk April afternoon, when a slight commotion erupted at the back of the owners’ suite at U.S. Cellular Field, where Reinsdorf, recently retired slugger Jim Thome and longtime Southside politician Bill Lipinski had been trading stories and observations while watching the game.
“All right, shoes off!” Reinsdorf demanded, readying his guests for the shoeshine man who visits the suite each game. After a glance toward Thome, Reinsdorf amended his directive. “Boots off, too!”
The man collected the shoes and ducked out, leaving the occupants to watch the next two innings in their stocking feet. They got back to their stories, most involving games and players, present and past. They dissected strategies, wondering aloud why manager Robin Ventura didn’t call for the bunt with two on and none out. When Reinsdorf’s iPhone chimed during what might be a pivotal moment — runner on second, with two out and light-hitting Blake Tekotte at the plate — he glanced at it, then shook his head. It was from Ed Rendell, the former Pennsylvania governor, who since leaving office has emerged from the closet as a devoted White Sox fan.
After 24 years of owning the White Sox, Reinsdorf got to celebrate a World Series title in 2005.
Photo by:GETTY IMAGES
This is Jerry’s world. Baseball and politics. A shoeshine and a good cigar. And stories. Always stories.
Settling into a soft leather chair in the seating area of his office after the game, surrounded by — bear with us as we attempt to do it justice — dozens of inscribed photos, a rack of autographed bats, several shelves lined with assorted tchotchkes, a row of seats from Ebbets Field, an authentic Gold Glove that was a gift from player development head Buddy Bell, and much, much more, Reinsdorf looked over the long, brown Cuban that he’d chosen to close the afternoon.
“You smoke cigars?” he asked, leaning into a torch lighter that jetted a thin, blue flame. He reached across a glass table for a home plate-shaped, stone ash tray that former Sox slugger Ron Kittle carved for him.
And then he began.
It all started — the baseball part, anyway — in 1976, when Reinsdorf answered a Wall Street Journal classified placed by John Alevizos, a Boston real estate developer who briefly served as general manager of the Atlanta Braves.
Alevizos was looking for partners in a bid to buy a major league team. Reinsdorf told Alevizos to count him in. They went after the San Francisco Giants, but it didn’t pan out. Two years later, Alevizos tried to buy the Cleveland Indians. I’m in, Reinsdorf told him. But they didn’t get that one, either. Two years later, it was the New York Mets. In again. No dice again.
It was in front of the mirror, shaving one morning, that Reinsdorf came to a revelation. He didn’t want to invest in a team in another city. And he didn’t want to go in as a limited partner. He wanted to be at the games and he wanted to call the shots.
Jerry Reinsdorf didn’t want to invest in a baseball team, he wanted to own one. There were two of them in Chicago. And one, the White Sox, was said to be in peril.
Bill Veeck was a popular owner, a man of the people on the working-class side of town, but his pockets weren’t deep enough to compete. Reinsdorf asked a friend with ties to Veeck’s ownership group to find out if the team might be for sale. He learned that, in fact, Veeck was negotiating to sell to two of his minority partners. Reinsdorf knew they couldn’t come up with the money. So he approached Veeck with an offer. Veeck took the terms to his partners.
The second-born of Reinsdorf’s three sons, Michael, remembers the events of that summer clearly. He was 13 years old and away at camp for eight weeks. Reinsdorf always sent his son the Sunday sports sections, along with copies of Sports Illustrated and The Sporting News. That summer he sent neither.
When the boy got home, he found out why. The papers were filled with news that his father was in talks to buy his favorite team. He wanted to tell his son himself.
Bill Veeck (left) hands Reinsdorf the keys to the White Sox in 1981 after Reinsdorf and partner Eddie Einhorn bought the Southside Chicago franchise for $20 million.
Photo by:AP IMAGES
“I met him by the garage door and I burst out crying,” Michael Reinsdorf said, thinking back to that sad day. “My dad just hugged me and he said, ‘It’s not over.’ I really didn’t understand.”
Jerry Reinsdorf was equally surprised, if only slightly less crestfallen. But he had reason to remain hopeful. He’d gotten a call from the commissioner, Bowie Kuhn. “Just hang in there,” Kuhn told him, without explaining much more. That’s the same thing he told his son.
Reinsdorf was in the process of selling his company, which occupied most of his time and attention, while, within the insular walls of MLB ownership, the drama of the White Sox sale unfolded. In spite of Kuhn’s warnings not to, Veeck brought the sale to DeBartolo to the league for approval. He needed 10 votes, but got only eight. Though there were all sorts of whispers about why DeBartolo would not be approved, American League President Lee MacPhail said it was a simple preference for local ownership.
Behind the scenes, things were playing out for Reinsdorf in a manner that not only would deliver him the team, but would set the stage for him to join baseball’s inner circle.
Kuhn wanted to know more about Reinsdorf, so he called the owner of the Milwaukee Brewers, Bud Selig — now the commissioner of baseball — to see if he knew him. It turned out that one of Reinsdorf’s close friends was a fraternity brother of Selig’s at Wisconsin. Reinsdorf used that entree to set up a meeting.
“We had a long talk,” said Selig, who remembers being struck by how many things and people they had in common. “We got along great. And that’s never changed, really.”
Spin forward 33 years and you still will find them talking, likely about the most pressing matters of the baseball business, but almost as often about ballplayers from childhood — “You probably don’t remember George ‘Shotgun’ Shuba,” Selig will say, agitating his old friend — or about politics.
Both spend much of the winter near Phoenix, where they live about 15 minutes apart. When they are in town and not otherwise committed on a weekend afternoon, they meet for lunch, always at the same place, a Chicago-style Jewish deli called Goldman’s. Reinsdorf favors the gefilte fish. Selig likes hot dogs, with ketchup, a choice that drives Reinsdorf nuts.
Reinsdorf laughs when he thinks back to a stretch in December, when they lunched there for eight consecutive days.
“How do you find something to talk about every day for eight days in a row?” Selig’s wife, Sue, asked Reinsdorf.
“That’s not the problem,” Reinsdorf told her. “The problem is how do you find something to order eight days in a row at the same restaurant?”
Once, years ago, Sue Selig joked that
Reinsdorf and MLB Commissioner Bud Selig have been close friends for 30-plus years.
Photo by:AP IMAGES
To paint Reinsdorf as a back-room puppeteer, as some have over the years, misrepresents the way many who are in the know characterize his role. As evidence, Reinsdorf brings up several key junctures at which he wanted his baseball brethren to zig, but they zagged, most often at the behest of Selig.
During the baseball labor dispute of 1994, Reinsdorf argued at a committee meeting in Chicago that it was time for management to impose its own labor rules, as allowed because the two sides had reached impasse. MLB’s chief negotiator advised that they should wait two weeks, using the threat of imposing as leverage. Reinsdorf questioned whether waiting might nullify the impasse. The committee voted on the matter. Reinsdorf lost 18-1.
Eventually, the court ruled against MLB in the dispute, saying the sides had been at impasse, but MLB lost its right to impose, as Reinsdorf warned it would.
“I had it right,” Reinsdorf said. “But nobody went along with me. So we had to fold our tent.”
Even after the teams were back playing in ’95, but still working on a new CBA, Reinsdorf didn’t want to make the deal that negotiators brought to the owners. Selig did. The new deal was voted in.
“To this day, [Selig] frustrates me because he doesn’t listen to me,” Reinsdorf said. “What I have is not power, it’s influence. If I can argue intelligently at a committee meeting, I can have influence. To me, power is what Selig has. He can go to people and get them to vote with him whether they agree with him or not. If I can’t make my case, then I don’t carry the day.”
It’s the making of the case — the study and the analysis and the working of the phones — that Reinsdorf revels in. He loves the committee work and the votes, so much so that he has missed only one owners meeting in 32 years, and it was because of a hospital stay. At first, it was Einhorn who was laid up. But when Reinsdorf went to visit, he was so overwhelmed by the sight of his friend hooked to life support, he fainted. Doctors kept him overnight for observation, and he missed the meetings.
Reinsdorf had no idea when he bought the Sox that this is what ownership would be like; that league matters would matter to him so much. The first lesson came from his own path to purchase.
With DeBartolo’s offer torpedoed by Kuhn and the swing votes of two American League owners, Veeck had no choice but to go back to Reinsdorf.
Reinsdorf and Einhorn were christened into ownership by unanimous vote on Jan. 21, 1981, during a meeting of American League owners in Chicago. The next order of business — and the first for newcomers Reinsdorf and Einhorn — was a vote on the sale of the Seattle Mariners by song-and-dance man Danny Kaye. That sale also was approved. It all took less than an hour.
All these years later, Reinsdorf has turned the moment into a stand-up bit.
“Danny Kaye is dancing around, he’s so happy,” Reinsdorf said, taking on the persona of a classic Borscht-belt comic. “He’s singing. He’s dancing. I came back and said to Einhorn, ‘What have we gotten into if this guy is so happy to be getting out?’
“That was the first clue that things were going to be different than I thought they were.”
Another, far more serious clue came only five months later, when a player strike halted the season for eight weeks, wiping out more than a third of the season. While the strike threatened the club’s financial viability, it allowed Reinsdorf to set the stage for three decades of influence.
Reinsdorf was testifying during a grievance hearing that addressed the issue that led to the strike: The owners’ attempt to require teams that signed free agents to give up similar major league players as compensation. The head of the union, Marvin Miller, was pushing Reinsdorf to admit that draft picks, which the union favored as compensation, were a valuable commodity. It looked as if he might get him there. Instead, Reinsdorf argued that they actually weren’t worth much, since few of those drafted players ever advanced to the big leagues.
After the hearing, Kuhn hosted a meeting at MLB’s offices.
“Eight or 10 of the real movers and shakers were in there,” Reinsdorf said. “The giants of the game, really. I walked in the room and they started applauding me. All of a sudden, I was in.”
The Sox started the season at 16-24, and Reinsdorf feared disaster. They dropped the first two games of a road trip in Oakland, then fell behind 5-0 in the first game of a Sunday doubleheader.
“I’m thinking, this season is going down the drain,” Reinsdorf said. “I really didn’t know if we could stay in business. If this thing was going to be that bad, I thought we might go broke. I really thought we might go broke.”
All these years later, he’s still amazed at how quickly it turned. They came back from down 5-0 to win the first game of the doubleheader. Jerry Koosman shut out the A’s in the second.
“We hardly ever lost the rest of the way,” Reinsdorf said, smiling from behind a puff of smoke. “It was a great ride. We clinched on Sept. 17. It was euphoric.”
In many ways, those first two seasons made Jerry Jerry, or at least set up Jerry the real estate syndicator, a man who made tens of millions putting together deals worth billions, to become Jerry the baseball owner. He would complete the sale of his company, allowing him to devote all his time to the team. He would become a close friend and ally to the man who would become commissioner.
Most importantly, he would learn that to be in the game, he had to be in the Game.
“From way early on, Jerry felt he had to know what was going on, because we kind of got — I’m not going to use the word that he and I would use — but we learned a lot from our first year in the game,” Einhorn said. “That strike really hurt us and hurt everybody. And we saw how the group worked. It wasn’t all for one. And he always told me, ‘I’m not letting what happened to us when we first came in ever happen again. I want to know what’s going on.’
“After that, he got on every committee he could. Between that, and his relationship with Bud, he knows what’s going on, always.”
He knows. And he influences.
The head of MLB’s labor department and overseer of its economics, Rob Manfred, remembers getting his first, clear glimpse into the level of Reinsdorf’s engagement when he started working as an outside attorney on baseball matters in 1987.
“Most owners could tell you what they thought about a salary cap,” Manfred said. “Jerry could tell you what he thought about how draft choice compensation operated. He had a more detailed knowledge of labor-related industry issues than most. And he was always engaged.”
When Reinsdorf was on MLB’s negotiating committee leading up to the stoppage of 1994, he had to leave for a day to deal with a bad tooth. Holed up in a Washington hotel, Manfred got word that there was an urgent message from Reinsdorf, who was calling from the dentist’s chair.
“He thought we were going to give the store away while he was at the dentist,” Manfred said. “He just wanted to make sure nothing was getting away from him.”
The head of MLB’s Internet company, MLB Advanced Media, speaks of Reinsdorf as an architect and founding father. “Jerry was there on day one,” said Bob Bowman, CEO of MLBAM, who interviewed with Reinsdorf before taking the job. “And he was actually there on day negative-two.”
The seeds of MLBAM were born in 1999, while Reinsdorf was dining with then MLB President Paul Beeston and executive vice president Bob DuPuy. They were discussing the Internet. None of them completely understood it. But out of that dinner they concluded that however applied, MLB’s Internet rights would be valuable, and the best way to handle them would be to consolidate them.
It was a watershed for baseball.
“That, I think, is what I’m most proud of,” Reinsdorf said. “I think ultimately our interest in BAM will be worth more than our interest in the teams is.”
Reinsdorf was standing at the back of an increasingly crowded midcourt suite as tip-off of the Bulls’ playoff game against the Nets approached, watching the early innings of the White Sox game against the Rays on TV, when Hall of Famer and Bulls ambassador Scottie Pippen came up behind him, tugging at his arm and motioning him to the nearby bar.
“I’ve got a surprise for you,” Pippen said, reaching for a brown paper bag.
Pippen pulled out four electronic cigars. Reinsdorf opened one, adjusting the mouthpiece on the tip and gave it a try. He smiled as a puff of sweet, cigar-smelling water vapor floated in front of his eyes. “I guess they’re legal,” Reinsdorf said, and Pippen laughed.
Settling into his seat at the suite’s back row as the game began, Reinsdorf scanned a carefully arranged cadre of guests. In the seat to his left was Gar Forman, the Bulls’ general manager. Directly in front of him sat Pippen, alongside son Michael Reinsdorf, whom Reinsdorf tapped to run the Bulls as team president 2 1/2 years ago. Off to the right were Reinsdorf’s youngest son, Jonathan, and another cast member from the Bulls’ dynasty, Toni Kukoc. Wives, grandchildren, extended family and friends occupied the remaining seats.
Reinsdorf’s first order of business was to adjust the angle on the TV monitor in front of him, which was tuned to the White Sox game. First-round playoff games trump April baseball games. Still, Reinsdorf needed to be plugged in.
The Bulls played sloppily at the outset, and Michael Reinsdorf, who has cheered for the team he now runs since he was a boy, took it the way many in the arena did, which is to say badly. Behind him, his father shook his head.
“He gets excited,” Reinsdorf said. “Way too early in the game to get excited.”
Jerry Reinsdorf glanced down to check on the Sox.
“56 pitches with two out in the third,” he said. “Not good.”
He lifted his head up in time to see the Bulls miss from long range.
“Beginning of the year we were so good with 3-pointers,” Reinsdorf said.
This is what it’s like to own two teams playing on the same night.
The observation regarding his son’s stress level was a striking one, coming from a man who, in the words of his friend Selig, is “no day at the beach” when his teams come up short.
Reinsdorf is a notorious in-game worrier. He can’t help himself. Ballgame snacks are the primary culprit in weight swings that have plagued him for the last 30 years. He is proud of a fitness regime with a personal trainer that has helped him drop 25 pounds of late. But friends have seen him go up and down before and worry that he’s only a pennant race away from the elevator back up.
The bigger the game, the greater the worries.
There was the marathon Game 3 of the 2005 World Series when, stationed down the left-field line in Houston, Reinsdorf was so aggravated after a 14th-inning double play that he rose from his seat and headed for the suite behind him. As he was climbing the stairs, history unfolded. Geoff Blum homered to put the Sox ahead in the longest World Series game ever played.
“I walk into the box, and on the monitor I see a ball disappearing over the wall,” Reinsdorf said. “I didn’t see the home run.”
Then there was the time in the ’93 NBA Finals, when Martyl, who doesn’t much like sports, joined her husband for Game 6. Reinsdorf thought he was holding it together well under tense circumstances until his wife told him otherwise.
“Be calm,” she said, “you’re embarrassing yourself.”
A few minutes later, the stranger sitting on his other side leaned over to speak to him.
“I can’t believe you can stay so calm in this game,” he said.
“Tell my wife,” Reinsdorf replied.
The story behind how Reinsdorf came to the Bulls owners’ suite isn’t as winding as his quest to purchase the Sox, but it’s equally instructive.
Through 32 years as an MLB owner and 28 as an NBA owner, Reinsdorf remains a fan at heart.
Photo by:GETTY IMAGES
“What a stupid investment this is,” Steinbrenner said. “I don’t know why I’m in it.”
“It’s because you guys don’t know what you’re doing,” Reinsdorf told him. “The Bulls could be a very successful basketball team.”
The problem, Reinsdorf believed, was in the ownership structure. Three investors — Lester Crown, Lamar Hunt and Phil Klutznick — shared control. Nothing happened until they discussed it and agreed. The general manager, Rod Thorn, was paralyzed.
Steinbrenner dropped the subject and they finished dinner. But, a week later, Reinsdorf got a call from Crown. “George tells me you like the Bulls,” Crown offered. Reinsdorf said he did.
“Well,” Crown said, “just about everybody else is fed up and they want to get out.”
Reinsdorf said he’d happily put together a group to buy their shares, but only if he had control. Crown and Hunt had no quarrel with that.
The shares that Reinsdorf would hold and syndicate would make up the majority — 56 percent purchased for $9.2 million. Crown, who only bought the team to keep it in the city, liked the level of engagement and expertise that Reinsdorf was willing to bring to ownership.
Reinsdorf never aspired to own a basketball team. But in a few years running the White Sox, he’d come to understand the market for sponsorships and media deals.
Anyone who has dealt with him will tell you that Reinsdorf has a masterful understanding of leverage. He knew that if he was talking to a beer or soda company, he’d be in a stronger position if he owned two of Chicago’s five major teams. When he talks through the Bulls roster plans with Forman and John Paxson, executive vice president of basketball operations, Reinsdorf often probes for assessments of the broader player market.
“Jerry is very good at guiding you through your thought process,” said Paxson, who now has worked for Reinsdorf as a player, an assistant coach, a broadcaster and a front office executive. “One thing Jerry doesn’t buy into is that just because a team pays a certain guy an amount of money, we have to pay another guy that. That’s not how he sees it. It all depends on the market. And he’s going to ask you about it.”
Though he rarely attends NBA meetings (see story), Reinsdorf got more involved during the most recent lockout, when his basketball brethren asked for his input on revenue sharing, which he dealt with extensively in baseball.
As the owners were hammering out the final details of their new system, a half-dozen clubs proposed amendments, all tailored to carve out terms beneficial to themselves. The first five failed. Then Reinsdorf proposed his. He asked his son how many teams he thought might support it. Three at most, Michael Reinsdorf said.
The first owner to vote was Michael Jordan, who confessed he hadn’t fully digested the proposal. Yet he supported it because of the source. “I’m with Jerry,” Jordan said. Then came another aye vote. And another. And more. By the time the roll call got to the Philadelphia 76ers, the amendment had enough votes to pass. Sixers owner Josh Harris said he wanted to vote for it, but wasn’t clear on all the ramifications.
NBA Commissioner David Stern, who opposed the measure, spoke up, asking whether it might be best if they put it aside until everyone was clear. Reinsdorf immediately thought, wait, he can’t do that. We’re voting. But instead of insisting the vote proceed, he suggested that if anyone were unclear on the matter, they should table it and revisit it later.
It never came back up for a vote.
“If people say to me he’s not a league man in basketball, I point to that vote,” Michael Reinsdorf said. “I was there. He was a league man. I’ve had discussions with him about situations that have gone on over the years, and it surprises me where he sides. I’ve said, ‘What are you doing? This is not good for the Chicago Bulls.’ He just said, ‘Mike, you have to do what’s right.’
“I still struggle with that sometimes. It’s a learning process. I lean toward doing what’s good for the Bulls. I hope one day I can become how my dad is.”
Jerry Reinsdorf went along with the commissioner, content that he had done what Stern said was best for the league.
Then, when he got home, he dug out a copy of Robert’s Rules of Order, the guide to parliamentary procedure. He found the section that prohibited the interruption of a roll call vote and marked it.
He mailed it to Stern.
Eddie Einhorn remembers what the White Sox suite was like most nights during their early years in the game, when it percolated with people who wanted to sidle up to the duo they called the “Sunshine Boys.” These days, it is more often Reinsdorf and an old friend or two. When he’s alone, Reinsdorf will migrate to the far-smaller box next door to watch the game with executive vice president Ken Williams or others from the front office.
Through seven championships and 13 Divisional titles across both the Bulls and White Sox, Reinsdorf’s best moment remains a simple, unexpected gesture following the 2005 World Series.
Photo by:GETTY IMAGES
Though the fold put Einhorn in an understandably foul mood, he remembers the week fondly. He went to Chicago to sit with Reinsdorf for a game against the Rays at the end of the final homestand. The Sox were swooning, but they still had a chance.
It was Reinsdorf and Einhorn, together again in the suite overlooking home plate, sweating every pitch. Going to the ninth, the score was tied at 2.
“Uh, oh, Longoria’s up,” Reinsdorf said to his old partner. “He’s gonna do something.”
He homered, and the Rays won 3-2.
“There we were, like kids again,” Einhorn said, thinking back to that September night. “It was like we were 30 years ago. Just fans. Older, but still just fans. That’s one of the reasons he’s been in it so long. Because that’s what we are.”
As the White Sox scuffled toward the final out of a 3-2 victory against the Indians on that recent, chilly April afternoon, Reinsdorf explained that age and experience have altered his state as an owner.
“I don’t care like I used to,” he said.
“Oh, really?” Lipinski said, raising his eyebrows and then shaking his head, unconvinced.
“It’s total BS,” Michael Reinsdorf said. “He says it. But we all know better. He tried to tell me after we won the World Series [in 2005] — ‘The edge is off now.’ By the end of that next season, when we were starting to fall out of the race, we’re in New York and he’s checking the phone every two minutes. He absolutely cares as much as he ever cared. He just recovers quicker than he used to.”
In his office after the Sox game, Jerry Reinsdorf explained himself more fully.
“I’m 77 years old, so there are a lot of things I used to care about that, now, I say, ‘What’s the difference?’” he said. “All I care about is living now. I still get into the games. But it’s not the same thing. I let all kinds of things pass now that I didn’t used to let pass because I just want to stay healthy and stay alive. That’s my goal. I want to be here for the 100th anniversary of the All-Star Game.
“That’s 2033. I’ll be 97.”
You get the sense that, for all his kvetching about baseball’s financial structure, through all his fretting about the Sox lineup and the Bulls bench, Reinsdorf still enjoys the ride.
As he veered right down a driveway into the United Center, a security guard came from around the gate to stop him, waving both hands and shaking his head. Then the guard recognized the car, and the driver.
Apologetically, he waved him through.
He told the Bulls’ executive vice president of business operations to take his time before returning to work. He set him up with his own cardiologist. Then, knowing Schanwald lived alone, he arranged for meals to be delivered to his home for two weeks while he recovered.
“We’ve all had opportunities to leave,” said Schanwald, who went to work for the White Sox as assistant vice president of marketing when Reinsdorf and Eddie Einhorn bought the team, moving over to the Bulls in 1987. “But when you’re working for a great man, the odds of finding an even greater man are very slim. So you stay.”
Reinsdorf will cringe when he reads the phrase “great man.” Through the course of more than six hours of conversation reflecting upon his time in ownership, Reinsdorf made only one request: “Don’t deify me.” When the topic turned to matters like taking vast swaths of the employees to the World Series or the NBA Finals, Reinsdorf responded as if doing anything else was unconscionable.
“If I were in the marketing department and the team was in the Finals or the World Series and I didn’t get to go, or I didn’t get a ring, I’d feel under-appreciated,” Reinsdorf said. “Why shouldn’t I do that for people? It never dawned on me it was a big deal.”
For the last four decades, nobody has seen Reinsdorf from a better seat than Howard Pizer. Pizer and Reinsdorf worked together as tax attorneys 40 years ago. When Reinsdorf bought the White Sox, he asked Pizer to look the business over so he’d know what to do after he closed the deal. It was supposed to be a short-term assignment. They’ve worked together ever since.
Reinsdorf calls Pizer, who holds a senior executive vice president title with the White Sox and has responsibility for managing the United Center partnership, “the guy who holds it all together.” Pizer describes himself as “one of a few people who is willing to tell him something he doesn’t want to hear.”
“Jerry values being surrounded by people who he knows and trusts,” Pizer said. “He sleeps better knowing they know how to do their jobs.”
Many have stories about the culture of loyalty that pervades the White Sox and Bulls. Among all them, one stands out.
Sheri Berto was Reinsdorf’s assistant for 17 years, dating to his days at Balcor. She was 40, with a husband and a 3-year-old daughter, when she died from internal bleeding following routine surgery in 1991.
Reinsdorf was devastated. And he was angry. He commissioned an author to write a book about Berto for the little girl to keep. He named the Bulls’ practice facility the Sheri L. Berto Center. He hired a legal team to sue the hospital for malpractice.
As settlement talks dragged on, Reinsdorf directed Bulls broadcasters that when they mentioned the loss of Sheri Berto, they should note that she died of undiagnosed internal bleeding, and make sure to mention the name of the hospital. The Berto family received a $13 million settlement, the largest ever in Illinois for the wrongful death of a woman.
All these years later, Reinsdorf still can’t discuss the matter without choking up.
“I had to make sure that her daughter and the family were taken care of,” he said. “That was just something I had to do.”
It is a side Reinsdorf rarely shares publicly. Though hailed for his analytic skills and for being a tenacious negotiator, his emotions can get the best of him.
Years ago, he was so torn up over trading White Sox star Harold Baines to Texas that he cried while giving him the news. To salve the wound, he retired his number. Baines, who was 30 years old, would play for a dozen more seasons, serving two more stints with the White Sox as a player and a third as a coach. Each time, his number had to be “unretired.”
“I don’t regret it,” Reinsdorf said, chuckling, “even though it was foolish.”
Reinsdorf remembers getting the first clear view of that dynamic not long after he bought the Chicago Bulls, when he served on the negotiating committee during labor talks in 1988. He dedicated himself to the process so deeply that, when his father died that year, he took a red-eye flight to New York after the funeral. They made no progress and Reinsdorf went home.
A week later, Stern met with union head Larry Fleisher and made a deal.
“He does it all by himself,” Reinsdorf said. “I never really enjoy being part of the industry in basketball, because I had no influence. Nothing to say about anything.
“You go to NBA meetings and David Stern tells you what to do.”
Reinsdorf went out of his way to stress that he and Stern have maintained a cordial relationship, and that he doesn’t mean his observations about the commissioner as a criticism. Teams were bleeding money when Stern took over the league. By navigating so dramatic a turnaround, Reinsdorf figures, Stern earned the trust and support of the owners.
It is something he and the commissioner have discussed many times. Reinsdorf doesn’t begrudge him that. “It just never gave me the same opportunity to be involved,” he said.
If Reinsdorf already was less engaged in NBA matters as a result of his early days as an owner, that distance only grew in 1990, when the league tried to block him from airing Bulls games on WGN, a superstation that did not hold NBA broadcast rights. Reinsdorf said he suggested a compromise in which he’d limit the number of games that aired, but the league wouldn’t budge.
So Reinsdorf took the NBA to court.
“I said, ‘David, please don’t make me do it,’” Reinsdorf said. “It killed me to have that litigation. But without it we would have gone broke. So that’s what I was forced to do.”
Stern said he doesn’t recall Reinsdorf using those words. But he does remember Reinsdorf saying as much to his fellow owners. For the most part, they sided with Stern. Reinsdorf remembers sitting at dinner at an owners meeting when Jim Fitzgerald, the former Milwaukee Bucks owner who was a friend before Reinsdorf got into basketball, came over and asked how anyone could sit with him.
“I was a pariah,” Reinsdorf said. “After that, I stopped going to meetings.”
Reinsdorf says he is on better terms with the league these days. The family succession plan calls for the Reinsdorfs to retain their stake in the Bulls, while selling the White Sox. Michael Reinsdorf will take his father’s place. Jerry Reinsdorf said he doesn’t think there’s any baggage left from his disputes with the league.
“David and I patched things up,” Reinsdorf said. “We get along real well now. But I act sort of irreverent to him. I think I’m the only guy who busts his balls from time to time.”
Stern laughed when told of Reinsdorf’s assessment.
“Actually, he’s quite wrong — he has much company in that respect,” Stern said. “His fellow owners have also broken the code, because they know I enjoy it. It makes me better to spar.
“We enjoy a good poke back and forth, and we also have a good friendship and we share good memories of very good years.”
Reinsdorf (right) and partner Eddie Einhorn buy the White Sox in 1981.
Photo by:AP IMAGES
NBA Commissioner David Stern presents Reinsdorf and the Bulls the first of six championship trophies in 1991.
Photo by:AP IMAGES
Reinsdorf at Michael Jordan’s first retirement announcement in 1993
Photo by:AP IMAGES
From left: Reinsdorf, Bud Selig, Kenny Williams, Ozzie Guillen
Photo by:GETTY IMAGES
— Compiled by Brandon McClung
The sports industry will salute its finest this week at the sixth annual Sports Business Awards, with the honors to be presented during a live ceremony Wednesday at the New York Marriott Marquis at Times Square.
A total of 74 finalists are up for awards across 15 categories. Finalists will vie for the top honor in media, facilities, agencies, sponsorship, technology, events, teams, leagues and more. Individual honors will be given to the Executive of the Year and Athletic Director of the Year.
In the pages that follow, meet the finalists and see some of the reasons they could walk away carrying the coveted Tiffany crystal trophy.
Best in Sports Event and Experiential MarketingBAAM PRODUCTIONS
SPORTSMARK MANAGEMENT GROUP
Best in Talent Representation and ManagementCAA SPORTS
EXCEL SPORTS MANAGEMENT
THE LEGACY AGENCY
WASSERMAN MEDIA GROUP
Sports Facility of the YearAMON G. CARTER STADIUM
Best in Digital Sports MediaESPN DIGITAL MEDIA
NBC SPORTS GROUP
USA TODAY SPORTS MEDIA GROUP
Sports Event of the Year2012 RYDER CUP
2012 STANLEY CUP FINALS
2012 U.S. GRAND PRIX
2012 U.S. OLYMPIC TRIALS - SWIMMING
Best in Corporate Consulting, Marketing and Client ServicesCAA SPORTS
THE MARKETING ARM
WASSERMAN MEDIA GROUP
Sports Team of the YearOKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
SEATTLE SOUNDERS FC
Sports Sponsor of the YearANHEUSER-BUSCH
BMW OF NORTH AMERICA
COCA-COLA NORTH AMERICA
PEPSI BEVERAGES CO.
Best in Property Consulting, Sales and Client ServicesAEG GLOBAL PARTNERSHIPS
WASSERMAN MEDIA GROUP
Best in Sports MediaESPN
FOX SPORTS MEDIA GROUP
NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE
NBC SPORTS GROUP
Sports League of the YearMAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL
NATIONAL BASKETBALL ASSOCIATION
NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE
U.S. OLYMPIC COMMITTEE