clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The White Sox Plague, Part One: Ownership

Renisdorf don’t spendisdorf

St Louis Cardinals v Chicago White Sox
Don’t try to hide, Jerry, we see you.
Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

Being a White Sox fan is basically a mental disease: We exist in a state of delusion where we convince ourselves things will change, that our situation will get better, and time and again we’re left sniffing the same trash as before — only it’s a year moldier.

As self-help therapy fighting the repeated White Sox ravaging of my psyche, I’m committing to writing a multi-part series on the virulent disease that is rooting for the 2022 Chicago White Sox. It is dangerous because it comes at you from so many different angles, and each one inflicts pain in its own insidious way.

I’d recommend you get boosted before reading this shit.


For a man who has brought seven championships to the city of Chicago (six, if you’re ESPN), Jerry Reinsdorf is an exceptionally unpopular character in these parts. Now more than 40 years into being principal owner of the franchise (proving you don’t need to be having fun for time to fly), he has presided over generally mediocre teams and gained a reputation for cheapness and meddling that is unique among even the billionaires’ clique of MLB owners.

Even the most die-hard White Sox fan has little doubt that Reinsdorf has been more of a hinderance than a help in putting a winning product on the field, especially of late. So how is it that he simultaneously cuts the checks while acting as so much dead weight?

Contract Limitations

The White Sox are now in the unenviable position of standing alone alongside the Pirates and A’s as the only franchises who have yet to give out a fully-guaranteed, nine-figure contract. In fact, the White Sox haven’t even gotten three-quarters of the way there, with Yasmani Grandal’s four-year, $73 million deal the franchise record to date (Joséa Abreu’s original 6/68 deal follows close behind, but given the average annual value it pales in comparison).

In fairness, the Angels have shown that extending nine-figure deals is no guarantee of victory, and can even prove crippling if the foundation of the team is not solid. But Jerry’s stinginess is noteworthy for a team playing in the third-largest market in the league. Sure, the Cubs often have held the bulk of the market share, but Jerry passed on numerous opportunities to ensure the White Sox were the premier franchise in town, and his legacy will largely be settling for second place. Indeed, the accusation that second-best has been his goal all along is an easy one to believe, despite Jerry’s protests otherwise.

Reinsdorf’s ownership style has been largely risk-averse: Avoid long-term commitments (you can count on one hand the number of 5+ year commitments he’s authorized in 40 years, and that includes his last foray into the biggest contract in the majors, to Albert Belle, one Jerry happily terminated after two years), don’t spend money to make money, and keep the team in the black regardless of whether fans show up. Naturally, the net result of this philosophy has been fans generally not showing up, answering Reinsdorf’s own commitment to his franchise.

Given the lack of success with short-term deals, it’s curious that Reinsdorf hasn’t made more of an effort to attract top-tier talent. The Rick Hahn era has been particularly notorious for getting negative value out of such deals without at least the near-term excitement a big name would bring.

But even in the short term Reinsdorf has his limits. Yoán Moncada’s 2024 season is the only guaranteed one-year payout of more than $20 million on the books, and will be the first in team history barring an unexpected splurge. The second-tier results pretty well jive with the second-tier shopping list. Unless the team gets less dollar foolish and more penny wise, this sad state of affairs figures to continue.

Nepotism

One positive thing about Jerry that many past and present White Sox employees have pointed to is his capacity for loyalty. Generally, those who have shown great loyalty to the franchise have had their loyalty rewarded in kind; Paul Konerko and Abreu are strong recent examples of this. This has even extended to lower-level employees, who largely have had positive reports about their working environment and corporate family.

While I applaud this philosophy on some levels, it is absolutely crippling them in that it causes clearly unqualified personnel to occupy key positions long after they’ve proven they’re not fit for the job (or even shown they were EVER fit for it) so long as they pay the appropriate fealty to ownership. This willingness to prop up ineptitude and failure is practically a staple of Reinsdorf-owned teams (re: GarPax).

No other franchise would tolerate as failed a GM as Hahn for this long, yet arguably no other GM in the league has a more secure position so long as Jerry owns the team. Tony La Russa, for all his bona fides, would not have been asked to manage any other team in the league, yet here he is, Jerry’s good buddy. Robin Ventura was on nobody’s radar as an MLB manager, and he pretty much had to fire himself well after showing he was in over his head. The list goes on.

This sad state of affairs is likely to persist to the end of Reinsdorf’s ownership. With the end of the road being so close (he’s likely to sell his interest in the team in the next few years), the typical pattern of waiting for problems to remove themselves so they can be replaced by new problems doesn’t seem liable to go another round.

Insular Helicopter Ownership

While every owner has some involvement in the running of their franchise, close observers of the franchise have consistently stated that Reinsdorf’s governing style is unique among his peers — and not in a good way. Most owners set a budget, occasionally set a goal for the team to reach on the field, and leave the rest to their respective front offices. With the White Sox, seemingly any decision of even moderate importance has to go through ownership.

Need a new manager? Screw interviewing people, Jerry’s buddy needs a job. Want to dole out a 3+ year deal? Gotta get Jerry’s approval, even if you’re staying within budget. Positions need to be filled? Who’s a current or former member of the organization who needs a job? Somebody needs to be fired? Gotta pass that by Jerry. GM needs to be fired? Meh, how can Jerry promote him to keep him around because he likes him?

The unwillingness of the team to look beyond its own walls is frustrating, particularly given it is recruiting internally from a losing culture. And if they want to take umbrage with me using the term, “a losing culture,” I’d like them to refute the results of the Rick Hahn tenure in 10 seasons to date (including 2022 so far):

  • Chicago White Sox: Two winning seasons, both with swift playoff exits
  • Charlotte Knights: Two winning seasons, no playoffs
  • Birmingham Barons: Two winning seasons, one championship (2013)
  • Winston-Salem Dash: Four winning seasons (including 2022), two playoffs, no series wins
  • Kannapolis Intimidators/Cannon Ballers: One winning season, two playoffs (yeah, I know), one series win

Yeah, I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that 11 winning seasons out of 46 is not only a losing culture, but horribly so. The Dash are basically the gold standard for the franchise (not to mention the only ones with a winning record so far this season) and they’ve been losers more than half of the time.


Nothing since 2005 has indicated that this franchise is being directed in a fashion commensurate with winning, yet in a results-based business, Jerry Reinsdorf seems largely uninterested in results beyond the balance sheet. Not to be morbid, but at 86 years old, the clock is running out on his tenure as Chairman regardless of whether or not he sells his stake in the team. Even the most gracious retrospective on his tenure at the helm will not be kind.