SportsPulse: USA TODAY Sports baseball insider Bob Nightengale discusses the injury to Washington’s superstar
USA TODAY Sports
CHICAGO — Jerry Reinsdorf pulls out a cigar from his humidor, sits back in his office chair, takes a puff, and slowly exhales, with a cloud of smoke billowing in the air.
He’s 81 years old, and has owned the Chicago White Sox for nearly half of his life, purchasing the franchise for $19 million in 1981, and is baseball’s longest-tenured owner.
Now, with all of baseball’s owners convening in downtown Chicago for their quarterly business meetings, with the Miami Marlins’ potential sale to Derek Jeter’s investment group dominating the conversations, Reinsdorf has news to share.
While most of his closest friends and confidants in baseball’s ownership circles have come and gone, with few owners even capable of sharing baseball trivia with him, Reinsdorf plans to keep sticking around.
Power rankings: Dodgers reign as Red Sox rise
Reinsdorf certainly wouldn’t be subjecting himself to all of this pain and misery of losing in the inaugural year of their rebuild, he says, if he had any plans to depart soon. He wants to be around long enough to see his club become a perennial power, perhaps even winning a matching World Series ring for his other hand.
It will take time. They have traded 10 veterans for 19 prospects in the last nine months. The best hope is to be a contender for the AL Central title by 2019. Certainly, no later than 2020.
By that time, Reinsdorf hopes to be having so much fun, why would he ever want to leave?
“Come on, I don’t know what else to do?’’ Reinsdorf tells USA TODAY Sports. “I don’t play golf. My only other outside interest is smoking cigars and telling jokes.
“This gives me a chance to hang around with younger people, and that’s one of the nice things about sports, you get to hang around people who are young, so you feel young.’’
Reinsdorf, who acts closer to 51 than 81, concedes that all of the losing this year has been rough on the soul. Sure, he knows they are supposed to lose. You don’t trade away your nucleus, including Cy Young candidate Chris Sale, and have any notion you’re going to be any better than lousy.
The White Sox entered Tuesday night with a 45-70 record, last in the American League. They swept the Houston Astros last week, but still are on pace to finish with their second-worst record in 47 years, when they went 56-106 in 1970.
Reinsdorf keeps reminding himself that everything is going according to plan, with vice president Ken Williams and GM Rick Hahn tearing a team down to its studs, and building a farm system that’s now ranked as the best in baseball.
Still, it doesn’t make the losses any easier to take while watching virtually every home game from his suite above home plate.
“It’s tough, very tough,’’ Reinsdorf says. “What made it hard for me was my age. I’m 81 years old. How long am I going to be around, right? So why would I want to go for a full rebuild at my age.
“The decision I made was that I can’t be a factor in this thing. As the owner of this team, I have an obligation to do what’s right for the fans. The real owner of a team is the fans, the owner is a custodian. I will be gone one day, but fans will still be there. So you got to run the team what’s right for the fans and not even think about how old I am.
“I do, however, intend to live for a while longer.’’
Reinsdorf laughs, takes a puff of his stogie, knowing he lived long enough to see the Cubs win a World Series for the first time in 108 years, and he hopes not to live long enough to see them win their second one this century.
Yes, it will be painful, he concedes, if he watches Jose Quintana pitching in the World Series for the Cubs. In the first significant trade between the two franchises since 1992, the White Sox traded him at the All-Star break for Cubs’ prized prospects Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease, along with infielders Matt Rose and Bryant Flete.
“I think a lot of people thought we wouldn’t do anything to help the Cubs,’’ Reinsdorf says. “White Sox fans have such an intense dislike for the Cubs. But I have an obligation to help the White Sox.
“I know the White Sox fans will be upset if Quintana pitches them to the World Series, but I also know we got their two best prospects.’’
Besides, the way Reinsdorf looks at it, the Cubs already did them a favor. They fired manage Rick Renteria when Joe Maddon became available after the 2014 season. Renteria became their bench coach a year later, and now is their wildly popular manager.
“It’s hard to suffer through the losses, but it’s not quite as bad because of Renteria,’’ Reinsdorf says. “We play hard every game. Everybody runs hard. They never quit.
“Now, we have some games that guys do some stupid things, but by and large we’re playing the game properly. We’re just losing because we’re short on talent, and that’s a tribute to Renteria.
“This guy is such a gentlemen, even after he was fired, he never said anything about the Cubs. Not one time. He just won’t do it.’’
The Cubs showed their respect to Renteria by quietly giving him a World Series ring, Reinsdorf revealed. They also gave one to former GM Jim Hendry and former manager Dale Sveum.
“I thought it was pretty classy of them,’’ Reinsdorf said. “And I thought giving one to (Steve) Bartman was nice, too. Bartman got a bad rap. I’ve seen the video over and over again. There were three or four other guys reaching for that ball, too. He happened to be the poor soul who touched it.
“It wouldn’t have mattered if Alex Gonzalez hadn’t booted a double play ball right afterwards. Gonzalez got a free pass, and everybody blamed it on Bartman. The poor guy.’’
Reinsdorf, widely regarded as the most loyal executive in baseball, recently signed Williams and Hahn to long-term contract extensions. He has had only four managers in the last 20 years. The last manager they fired was Jerry Manuel in 2003, with Ozzie Guillen departing for a bigger paycheck with the Marlins, and Robin Ventura resigning after last season.
And, yes, despite the fans’ widespread criticism of Ventura, Reinsdorf insists, it was solely Ventura’s decision to leave.
“It wasn’t Robin’s fault we were losing, not Robin’s fault at all,’’ Reinsdorf says. “Robin would still be the manager if he didn’t decide he wanted to step away.’’
And the moment Ventura wants to return to the organization, perhaps as a special assistant, Reinsdorf says, there will be a job awaiting him.
Reinsdorf hopes one day that Guillen will have a managing job, too, or least be on a major-league coaching staff. He’s too good of a baseball man to still be out of the game since 2012 after being fired by the Marlins.
“I feel very badly for him,’’ Reinsdorf says. “Ozzie is a good manager. I’ve recommended Ozzie for several managerial positions that opened up, but his experience in Miami was costly.
“I hope he ends up somewhere. He can help somebody. He just can’t come back here. He burned some bridges when he left here.’’
Still, time has a way of healing wounds. Michael Jordan, now owner of the Charlotte Hornets, used to have public spats with the Chicago Bulls’ front office during their dynasty, but it didn’t stop him from writing a letter to support Reinsdorf’s Hall of Fame candidacy. Reinsdorf was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame last year, and one day will wind up in Cooperstown, too.
Reinsdorf not only has been one of the most powerful owners in baseball for three decades, but along with former MLB executive Bob DuPuy and former Blue Jays CEO Paul Beeston, came up with the idea of MLB Advanced Media, with equal revenue sharing. It was a stroke of genius. Disney has purchased a majority of the company for $2.58 billion, and each team is scheduled to soon receive $50 million checks.
The financial windfall is terrific, but Reinsdorf would gladly hand his check over to the Cubs and wave a “W’’ flag from his house if he could win another World Series championship.
While the Cubs remain the White Sox’s bitter rivalry in town, it’s the Cubs’ own success from their massive rebuild that reinforces the idea the White Sox are employing the right strategy.
“Still, it’s different for us,’’ Reinsdorf says, “than being a new owner and coming to a team. You look at (Cubs owner Tom) Ricketts. He had a bad team to start with. And he was new. Nobody was going to blame him for anything. The same thing with (Jim) Crane and the Astros. They had the luxury of coming into situations that were bad, and nobody expected them to make their teams better instantly. They had a honeymoon.
“With us, we were the guys who made the team bad.
“We were the ones who took us from a World Series winner to a non-contender.
“We’re fortunate our fans have really been forgiving, and have bought into what we’re trying to do.’’
One day, Reinsdorf promises, those fans will finally be repaid.
“If we had kept our team together this year and look at the standings,’’ Reinsdorf says, “who knows, maybe we could have been a wild-card team this year. But I have no regrets. If half of these prospects turn out to be what they’re supposed to be, we’ll be able to contend for quite a while. If they all turn out to be what they’re supposed to be, we’ll have a super team.
“I would love to win another World Series, but what I really want is that when it’s time for me to leave, I want this team to be perennial contenders.
“That’s what I really want.’’
And a legacy that will be remembered for generations.
Gallery: MLB photo of the day