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Sports

Better Know an Owner: Jerry Reinsdorf, White Sox Fanboy

Most fans would trade their owner for Jerry Reinsdorf. Most players would not.

by David Matthews
Aug 5 2014, 6:00pm

Screenshot via YouTube

Welcome to Better Know an Owner, a regular feature where we introduce you to the men (or women, but it's mostly men) who control the world's teams and leagues. Whether these people are self-made men, the Nintendo Corporation, or third-generation spoiled brats, they're the most important people in sports, and we should know a lot more about them. Today's entry: Jerry Reinsdorf.

Owns: The Chicago Bulls (NBA) and the Chicago White Sox (MLB)

How much did he pay? The White Sox were bought in 1981 for $19 million and he took the Bulls in 1985 for $16 million.

Franchises' present-day worth: The White Sox are valued at $695 million and the Bulls at $1 billion.

Won six championships with: The Bulls

Wishes he won six championships with: The White Sox (has won one)

How he get rich? Reinsdorf made his initial fortune through some (arguably) shady real estate shenanigans (see: Frank Lyon Co. v. United States).

Any other pertinent background information? He's the Brooklyn-born son of a sewing machine salesman who saw Jackie Robinson's debut with the Dodgers and has always loved baseball above all other things, including other sports. There's running joke among Bulls fans that he uses profits from that wildly successful team to keep the White Sox afloat—the Sox being a team that plays in the shadow of the Cubs, a historically terrible team that is nonetheless basically a license to print money. 

Anything weird from his bio that sticks out as eyebrow-raising? You bet. According to Cigar Aficionado, he leveraged a full scholarship offer from the University of Chicago's law school in order to get the same offer from Northwestern. He also worked on a tax delinquency case in 1960 involving then Sox owner Bill Veeck.

Is he an anti-union hardliner? Yes.

Ever hold the city hostage? Yes! He successfully strong-armed Chicago into helping with costs for what is now US Cellular Field. In 1988, mayor Harold Washington and governor Jim Thompson got the state legislature to float Reinsdorf some bonds for construction costs (to the tune of $60 million) and let Reinsdorf keep all of the parking and concessions proceeds—the ultimate in sweetheart deals—when it became increasingly clear that Reinsdorf was on the verge of moving the team to St. Petersburg, Florida.

Does he employ Hawk Harrelson? Yes.

If there's a lockout happening in MLB or the NBA, is Jerry Reinsdorf involved? Yes.

Good things he's done: Revenue-sharing in baseball! Today small-market teams—or secondary teams in major markets who don't have the budget of the Cubs—get to share in the profits of the league as a whole, leading to something that loosely resembles competitive balance. That's partially thanks to Reinsdorf. He's also done lots of philanthropic work in Chicago, which, let's face it, needs all the help it can get. Early on, he saw the internet as a good thing and helped get both the MLB (which is great on the internet) and the NBA (which is great on the internet unless you want to actually stream a game) into the digital realm. The Bulls sold out every home game from November 20, 1987, through Michael Jordan's second retirement after the 1998 season—though you can argue Reinsdorf didn't really have anything to do with that.

Bad things: With other owners, he colluded to drive down the cost of free agents in baseball during the 1980s. He pushed Fay Vincent out as MLB commissioner and was integral in getting Bud Selig into that position. He's gone against players' unions at every turn and threatened to move the Sox all those times.

Do the fans like him: White Sox fans probably do because he likes their team as much as they do.

Bulls fans are another story. It's kind of weird that the White Sox are able to land big free agents from time to time while the Bulls never do, right? Albert Belle way back when and Jose Abreu now? Yes, there are those six titles, but the last 16 years saw the break-up of a dynasty—including quite possibly the best team to ever take the court together—and a painfully long rebuilding process that was only truly over when the team lucked into Derrick Rose. Maybe it was karmic payback for Jay Williams only playing one year as a Bull before hurting himself in a motorcycle accident and Reinsdorf being a decent human and not voiding Williams's contract even though he wasn't supposed to ride motorcycles. But seriously, the Bulls subsidize the White Sox.

Is he a good guy? "Good" is sort of a subjective term. Reinsdorf is one of the most powerful owners in two different sports and his fingerprints are all over some of the best and worst things that have happened in both baseball and basketball over the last 30 years. Is he "cheap?" Arguably, but the only way to stay rich is to not spend your money, right?

Final word: Most fans would trade their owner for Jerry Reinsdorf. Most players would not. 

David Matthews has no desire to own a sports team. Follow him on Twitter.