James & Chris On: Jerry Reinsdorf caught doing his thing

Jerry Reinsdorf and his foibles are a bit of a pet topic for James Fegan and Chris Lamberti, so they couldn't resist taking some time out to discuss his recent brush with national prominence.

James: Last week, we were treated to New York Times reports that Jerry Reinsdorf is mobilizing against the peaceful, albeit highly nepotistic, transition of the commissioner-ship from Sir Bud, the Mad King to his loyal right hand Rob Manfred.

Chris: In a showdown that Jeff Passan describes as a power grab, Reinsdorf intends on blocking the confirmation of Selig’s hand-picked successor Manfred as commissioner of Major League Baseball. Manfred is a commissioner’s office insider who has the experience, credentials, and personality to woo owners and keep the baseball money train a-chuggin. However, Reinsdorf, who has always fancied himself a small-market owner operating in a big city (this position is debatable but that’s another story) considers Manfred a “sinner” in two ways according to Passan:

Manfred recognizes the large markets ultimately run the game because they're the ones that generate massive revenue. That one is forgivable because, well, it's true. More egregious is this: Manfred calls Reinsdorf out on his politicking. And the only thing more dangerous than a powerful man is one who tells the truth about how he lassoed that power.

The surprise is that Reinsdorf is pitting himself against Selig; the two have been described often as old pals. Apparently Reinsdorf’s chumminess with Selig was contingent upon having a direct line to the commissioner’s office. Now that Manfred is threatening not to extend Reinsdorf the same courtesy, Bud is dead to Jerry.

James: I can envision them still getting together and having their old man breakfast after this and shrugging it off as business. It depends on what the illusion is: their words of praise for one another amid a mutually beneficial business relationship, or that their friendship is not constantly compromising their actual professional obligations. I bet it’s the latter, and it will be easy for them to make nice after this.

Chris: Craig Calcaterra implies that Reinsdorf’s undermining of Selig is a return to democracy. But thirty team owners voting on who will do their bidding is not so democratic. It is rich owners choosing the right person to squeeze every last dollar from the rest of us first and foremost, and second to divvy up the spoils in a way most agreeable to thirty men with an uncontrollable lust for spoils.

The vote does not include the players, over whom baseball’s commissioner has power beyond rebuke. Nor does the decision include the baseball fans who pay the commissioner’s $22 million salary, or for that matter the taxpayers who build baseball teams half-billion dollar cathedrals. No, there’s nothing democratic about it. If Selig’s preference for governance is monarchy, Reinsdorf’s, as always, is plutocracy.

James: Tim Marchman of Deadspin offers a kind of a reversal of ‘The Devil You Know’ axiom. Whereas you said, Manfred would just be another leader picked by the owners to centralize and enact their larger goals of maximum profiteering, he at least offers hope to abstain from some of the hardline, bitter and destructive tactics against the player’s union that Reinsdorf has muddied his hands with in the past. Manfred will surely fight the union, but probably won’t cancel the World Series to do it.

Surely I’m vastly underestimating his ego, but Reinsdorf is a year younger than the departing Selig. Budding into the transition process, threatening the process with a potentially stunning betrayal of allegiances and relationships, just for the sake of forcing his concerns to be assuaged seems par for the course for Reinsdorf. An actual expansion of his role seems less likely.

Chris: But at least we get a bit of the real Reinsdorf from this news story. The Chairman’s public persona is so carefully constructed, he’s become a walking fluff piece. It’s a luxury afforded to a man who owns forty percent of the largest local sports media company; Jerry Reinsdorf gets to control the narrative.

James: This is the part that’s a personal delight to me. Even across Bulls and White Sox beats, coverage of Reinsdorf is very flat. He’s the Chairman, and he’s famously generous to all his employees and friends. And we know this because employees and friends are the only people we ever get to hear about Reinsdorf from.

Instead of sighing romantically at selected examples of how Reinsdorf uses his power, here we have him ruthlessly working to consolidate it and maintain it. Struggle is rarely a pretty process for anyone, but this includes him cursing out journalists on the phone — which is not nice, but hardly sociopathic behavior, as I can attest to being a journalist who makes a lot of phone calls — and working to torpedo the succession plans of close, personal friends.

Chris: Many of us who love sports give Reinsdorf the benefit of the doubt — a tribute to the wonders of cognitive dissonance. Meanwhile he works behind the scenes, consolidating corporate and civic power, too subsidized to fail, and always angling for more of our money.

And so organizing a coup against Bud Selig isn’t one of Jerry Reinsdorf’s more notable transgressions, but it does remind us what he’s all about, and that’s refreshing at least.


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