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Autumn has arrived with its spectacle of reds, yellows and new TV programming.
In Chicago, that includes a shift in the sports broadcast landscape. The Rickettses and their Cubs have ditched WGN-TV to start their own Marquee Sports Network, leaving the lesser spoils of the White Sox, Bulls and Blackhawks to Comcast's NBC Sports Chicago.
Kicking off the new Comcast arrangement last week was a half-hour segment called Crossover hosted by David Kaplan. And, lo and behold, the first guests were Jerry Reinsdorf and Rocky Wirtz, whose teams own three-quarters of the station. The Sox and Bulls own half, the Hawks 25 percent, and Comcast the remaining quarter.
Kaplan lobbed grapefruits at the two gentlemen who responded with predictable, typical answers, such as Reinsdorf's, "The teams are really owned by the fans."
Oh, really? That may be true in Green Bay where approximately 360,000 stockholders own the Packers, but it sure isn't the case anywhere else, much less here at home where Reinsdorf's ownership of the Sox began 38 years ago. The syndicate he leads purchased the Bulls four years later.
About halfway through the slow-moving conversation, Kaplan pointed out that Reinsdorf and his group paid approximately $40 million for the two teams which now are valued around $4 billion.
"The value of the teams is irrelevant," said The Chairman, explaining that the billions only come into play if and when a team is sold.
Kaplan failed to ask a follow-up question to such gibberish. Nor was there a reaction when Reinsdorf declared, "Nobody gets into sports to make money. You're in it because you love the sport. You wanna do well for your city. You wanna bring happiness. The joy that you bring to a city; that's what it's all about."
After wiping my eyes and cuddling with my blankie, I said to myself, "Then why were you a step away from moving the Sox to St. Petersburg in the late '80s when public funding to build a new stadium wasn't forthcoming? Are you saying we all would have joyously waved goodbye?"
In addition, Reinsdorf's timing couldn't have been worse since Forbes published an article over the weekend claiming that The Chairman once told former Florida Marlins president David Samson, "Here's my advice to you: Finish in second place every single year because your fans will say, 'Wow, we've got a shot. We're in it.' But there's always the carrot left. There's always one more step to take."
According to the article, a Sox spokesman said that Reinsdorf couldn't remember making such a statement. Curiously, that's not a denial.
In any case, we have him on video saying all he wants to do is bring joy to the fans who own the team. Investigating the Bulls' website on a whim that ticket prices have been slashed in the interest of goodwill and to make fans feel a burst of happiness, I found that a family of four could purchase seats for opening night against the Raptors for $40. These are in the upper environs of the United Center where seven-footers appear to be the size of third-graders in order to watch a team that's won a tick less than 30 percent of its games the past two seasons.
Seats in the first balcony for that contest go for $120. If I want to see LeBron and the Lakers on Nov, 5, a seat next to the ceiling costs $70 while that $120 chair for Toronto mushrooms to $270.
After eliciting Reinsdorf's altruistic drivel, Kaplan might have inquired about cutting ticket prices, or asked, "So you wouldn't mind losing money as long as you make people happy?" Or, "If you're so magnanimous, why isn't your public perception more positive?"
Of course, this was the very first effort in the new format, and Kaplan was just starting a new role. He was, in effect, interviewing his bosses. If you thought Kaplan was intent on a 60 Minutes kind of exchange, the clicker provided relief.
If we were to step back 60 or 70 years, Chicago did have an owner who apparently was sincere about making fans happy regardless of revenue. That would be P.K. Wrigley, who became owner of the Cubs in 1932 after the death of his father. Until his own passing in 1977, Wrigley was famous for declining to install lights at the North Side ballpark, and it cost him millions.
Wrigley didn't step foot into the stadium that still bears his name for the last 20 years of his life. Maybe it was too painful to actually watch a team that in 16 seasons (1947-62) never finished above .500. He felt that the game needed to be played in sunshine which accommodated kids and retirees, but working people were otherwise involved. Most days the upper deck was closed until the weekend when the nine-to-five weekday working class folks could come to see the Cubs. Mr. Wrigley had Ladies Days and promoted, "Twenty thousand seats go on sale the day of every game." Well, of course, they did. Some days it could have been 30,000 or more.
However, the Wrigley Company had been selling chewing gum since the end of the 19th century, a most lucrative endeavor which covered any losses incurred by the Cubs.
Reinsdorf and most, if not all, other owners do have something in common with Wrigley. They were wealthy when they arrived on the scene. For the vast majority of us, owning a professional sports franchise is out of the question. Jerry can smugly spew that he's not in it for the money. He doesn't have to be. He was well-heeled when he got here.
Reinsdorf's specialty is tax law and tax shelters. He knows how to get things done. He is a product of Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn whose alumni also include Barbra Streisand, Mae West, Neil Diamond, Bernard Malamud, Sid Luckman and many others who achieved fame and fortune in a variety of fields.
Soon after purchasing the White Sox in 1981, Reinsdorf sold Balcor, his real estate company, for $102 million, more than enough to cover the $20 million price tag for the Sox.
Similar to the Wrigleys, many owners of yesteryear were wealthy. The Yankees' Jacob Ruppert (1915-36) was a deep-pocketed brewer who built the most successful franchise in history. The Briggs family in Detroit made auto bodies in the early days of the automobile industry. Other owners brought cash to their franchises from outside business interests.
But there were notable exceptions whose sole business was baseball. Most prominent was Connie Mack, owner of the Philadelphia Athletics from 1901 to 1950 when he also was the manager of the team. His 7,755 games managed will never be broken. Mack never fired himself.
The Griffith family in Washington and later Minnesota also depended solely on their baseball business as a livelihood from 1920 until 1984, as it was for Bill Veeck with Cleveland (1946-49), St. Louis with the Browns (1951-53) and later in his two tenures with the White Sox.
While Veeck is remembered for his many promotions - which, not incidentally, did bring joy to people - he also drew more than a record 2.6 million fans in Cleveland in 1948 when the Indians won the World Series. That attendance mark - achieved in just 67 dates due to doubleheaders and a 154-game schedule - stood as a record for 14 years. Of course, the Sox also won a pennant in 1959 when Bill owned the club.
While Reinsdorf rarely is visible at the ballpark, Veeck attended each game, sitting in the press box among the writers, whom he enjoyed immensely. You could also find him around town at various watering holes, and he made hundreds of personal appearances promoting his teams. His name also was listed in the phone book.
So for those of us who were around in those days, Jerry Reinsdorf talking about how much he cares about the fans and our happiness leaves us scratching our noggins in disbelief.
"You can't realize the value [of your franchise] unless you sell it, and if you sell it, then you're not doing what you love," said Reinsdorf on Crossover.
In a fantasy world, picture Reinsdorf selling just one of his teams and using the cash to pay off the city's deficit. Now that might just spread a whole lot of happiness.
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Posted on Feb 21, 2020