SBJ/May 20-26, 2013/Events and Attractions

Reinsdorf values people he knows and trusts

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When Steve Schanwald was in the intensive care unit of a Chicago hospital, recovering from surgery after a heart attack, one of the first people to call him was Jerry Reinsdorf.

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.”

About a dozen years ago, Pizer was beginning the process for salary reviews for White Sox employees when he found that, because so many people had been there for so many years, they were bumping up against or exceeding the salary range at many positions. He wanted to make sure his boss knew. It’s fine, Reinsdorf told him. He should keep allocating the raises he thought they deserved.

“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.”

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