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Jerry Gets His Way

We get steamrolled by someone else’s luck

Allen & Co. Media And Technology Conference
Jerry Reinsdorf, a lucky man.

So much of what happens in this life is out of our control, to a degree that is staggering and terrifying when you think about it. Staring too much at the role of circumstance and luck and factors over which you have no influence gives you the sickening feeling of the ice cracking under your feet.

The jackass nephew of some well-paid suit could apply for the job that would change your life. A car could come careening around a corner at the moment you intersect its trajectory. You could be born on the wrong side of an imaginary line and either suffer through life, or be elevated by it. You could meet the love of your life, but at the wrong time, when there is too much past when time’s arrow has flown too far, and there’s nothing, nothing that can be done. Snakes and ladders, man. Snakes and ladders.

That’s life, of course. And that basic lesson — you have such little control over things — is made crystalline in sports. We watch it and, superstitions and clever chants and the absurdity of 12th-manism aside, there’s nothing we can do. The guy we want to hit the ball might miss, and the guy we want to catch the ball might cradle it miraculously in his glove. These things are beyond our ken, and that is what makes sports so deliriously maddening.

And that brings us, as it so often does, to Jerry Reinsdorf. In some ways, the man made his own luck. He took advantage of tax laws and his own persistent intelligence and ambition to become incredibly wealthy. Granted, other people wrote the laws, and if a million things in his life went a different way, he’d be in the stands with us, but in America, we attribute wealth to virtue and ignore the role of luck. It is, however, our luck that Reinsdorf used that incredible wealth to buy our favorite team.

Reinsdorf never has been one of the more successful owners in sports, to say the least. He bought the Bulls after they drafted Michael Jordan, and to his credit let Jerry Krause build two all-time teams around him. Now, he did let Krause run Jordan and Scottie Pippen, and Phil Jackson out of town so that he could build his own legacy, which he did. But that’s the way that Reinsdorf runs his businesses. He rewards people who are loyal to him, and who are indebted his his system of rewards.

The White Sox, 2005 aside, have been a different story. While the 90s and the 2000s were, by and large, pretty damn good, they have cratered ever since. A rebuild failed due to the same people trying the same thing over and over again (“What if we build the plan entirely out of first basemen?”), and after the most miserable season in recent Sox history, Reinsdorf finally made a move. You may have heard that Rick Hahn and Ken Williams were fired.

Of course, you also know that the frontrunner to be in charge is Chris Getz, former not-quite-good-enough-to-be-a-journeyman and current head of player development. As of this writing, it seems close to a done deal. When you read this, it might already be certain.

About that…

You can blame circumstances, trades, etc. You can say the problems predate Getz, which is true. You can even argue that all of the players who did not develop did so for reasons other than player development. All fine and well! But it takes a certain perversity to look at that and say, yup: This is my guy. The one who is in charge of that.

That’s the way Jerry runs his business. As Chrystal O’Keefe demonstrated with acid insight, more and more that twisted loyalty is the only thing that matters to him.

Why? It’s hard to say. It’s partly because that’s the way he does things. He always has, and he will keep doing so. Reinsdorf was born the same year as my father, gone now for nearly 10 years — another sadness and sorrow, the final one, over which we have no control — and it is impossible to imagine him changing his ways. Yeah, Cormac McCarthy wrote a novel with a female protagonist when he was in his late 80s, but the businessman calcifies where the artist expands. And that’s just our luck.

Maybe Chris Getz will turn out to be a great GM. Maybe not having Hahn and Kenny will free his subtle mind. We have to hope so; we have little choice otherwise. Because we’re White Sox fans. Because our team is owned by one rich man, whose money allows him to dictate a not-meaningless percentage of our joy in life. That’s the way it is, in sports as in so much else.

Only the lucky think otherwise.