Chicago White Sox sinking into 'muck' of controversy


White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf

If there’s one point of agreement among all Chicago White Sox fans, it’s that the Three Stooges who run the team and its baseball operations are completely incompetent. And from the viewfinder of, you know, baseball success, that’s an undeniable truth.

But from the perspective of the gruesome threesome themselves? Well, that’s a different story altogether, because baseball success has little to do with their personal success.

Let’s start at the top

More than 40 years of ownership and only one year winning in the playoffs? In the No. 3 market in the country?

Wow, that’s pitiful. Unless winning games and titles was never the goal in the first place.

Jerry Reinsdorf proclaimed the quiet part out loud recently in a speech out west when he said the idea is just to keep the rubes interested enough to buy tickets in September, but even that may exaggerate his concern for putting out a good, or at least acceptable, product.

After all, what Reinsdorf is at heart, and soul, is a tax attorney — a man who has spent his life absolutely dedicated to avoiding taxes in each and every way legally possible, and even to lining his own pockets with the tax money of others in the case of the stadium boondoggle. And at that, he’s a rousing success.

Reinsdorf went from IRS attorney to the side of the tax avoiders, to doing so on his own behalf — first in the notorious tax-avoidance realm of large-scale real estate, and then the equally-notorious arena of professional sports, with its gigantic ripoff of double depreciation. Heck, it’s surprising he hasn’t found a way to put up a few derricks in the outfield to claim the oil depletion allowance. And, of course, by holding off on selling a team he no longer seems to care about, Reinsdorf will be using a (legally) larcenous provision of the tax code to save his heirs many millions in inheritance taxes on their prospective capital gains.

Those gains will be huge. While he’s happy to throw his weight around as the “owner” of the Sox and has the organization structured so only he has any say about anything, Reinsdorf may only own about 20% of the White Sox (the actual amount isn’t public record). Based on latest Forbes estimates, that’s still $400 million worth, unless he also wrote the contracts so he or his heirs are entitled to more than his share of the proceeds.

Of course, making money in the usual sense is obviously also a very big deal to Reinsdorf, who at first glance seems downright brilliant at increasing the value of the team. That is, until you check the facts.

The Reinsdorf group bought the Sox from an impoverished Bill Veeck in 1981 for $20.5 million. That’s barely the cost of parking and a beer at a ballgame these days, so getting the value to almost 100 times the purchase price looks like genius, right? Except ...

Except the Cubs were bought by the Tribune Corporation the same year for slightly less — $19 million. It’s common these days to see the Cubs as much bigger and richer, but that wasn’t always the case. And while the Tribune was generally thought to run things very badly before selling to the current owners, nonetheless the Cubs now have twice the estimated value of the Sox, at $4.1 billion. Reinsdorf is a comparative failure.

Still, that’s a lot of profit, with a whole lot of tax breaks in the interim. Fans may not care, but in his own eyes, Reinsdorf has got to feel he’s a humongous success.

Can’t blame him, from his point of view. Forbes pegs his net worth at $2.2 billion. If you had a spare $2.2 billion, you’d probably feel pretty successful, too.

And we haven’t gotten to the control freak part, yet. Let’s do that.

It is obvious from every Jerry Reinsdorf public action that he’s obsessive about control. From trying to crush the players’ union to trying to run who’s in the commissioner’s seat to trying to determine who else gets to own teams, he throws his weight around pretty much everywhere. He hasn’t always succeeded in the broader world — hence the “trying to” part — but within the Sox, he’s a rousing success.

Heck, Reinsdorf is so obsessive about control he’s even dragged White Sox Charities into a near-failure category on Charity Navigator by giving himself absolute power over that board and not allowing anyone on it who isn’t beholden to him for a paycheck — legal, but a no-no in the charity world.

Of course, the PR spin on that is how he’s so “loyal.” Really? Well, loyal, yes — to himself. It’s not noticeable that he’s loyal to players. Most certainly not to fans, whom he seems to despise. Nor to the team’s reputation.

Nope. It’s not loyalty. It’s control. Affix your lips to his posterior so strongly that it would take the jaws of life to separate you, and you’re in. And that’s no matter how incompetent you are — incompetent from the viewpoint of fans, that is. As you hang out the helicopter window by those firmly affixed lips, you’re not incompetent to him — you’re exactly what he wants.

So much for Moe — what about Larry and Curly?

Royals v White Sox
Ken Williams calling to find out what his job is supposed to be
 Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Sure, as fans we think Ken Williams and Rick Hahn are blithering idiots, though we’re willing to give Williams credit for 2005. And we wonder over and over how either can still be employed.

The answer to that lies in the control freak section. The Tony La Russa debacle — not just the forced hiring by Reinsdorf but the apparent hiding of the HOFBP’s second DUI from the senior members of his staff who would have to live with the fallout — showed just how firmly affixed those two sets of lips are to the boss’s keister.

Anyone with an iota of self-respect, with a single disc of backbone, with any ... well, we’ll refrain from vulgarities, but you get the point ... would have resigned. Obviously, neither Williams nor Hahn did. And so they remain on staff, and Reinsdorf gets to claim credit for “loyalty.” If either had raised a stink, you would have seen just how much loyalty really existed.

Meanwhile, no one even knows what Williams does these days. Heck, he may not even know. Probably has something to do with baseball. Or maybe concession stands.

San Francisco Giants v Chicago White Sox
Admit it — you’d get a good laugh out of making millions while messing up your job, too.
 Quinn Harris/Getty Images

As for Hahn, could there be a bigger failure? Not from a fan perspective, or a baseball perspective — but from a personal perspective, both he and Williams are roaring successes.

Both rake in seven-figure salaries, without being held accountable for anything by the person paying those salaries. Wouldn’t you like to make millions and have zilch in terms of responsibilities? Admit it — of course you would. And when you did, you’d consider yourself a tremendous success, and rightly so.

Heck, Hahn even gets to live in his old hometown, in the same school district he attended. Rousing success, all the way around.

Instead of castigating the duo, we should probably be congratulating them. Or at least we should if they weren’t spitting on us — figuratively, not literally, mind you — day after day after day after year after year after year.

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