The White Sox have made negligible news on the baseball front this offseason, but they made the headlines big time this week after the Sun-Times ran an article on discussions with city officials about building a stadium on a chunk of old railroad yard known as The 78, bounded by Roosevelt Road, Chinatown, the Chicago River and Clark Street, a little place to reside after their current Guaranteed Rate Field lease runs out in five years.
If you live in Chicago, or even just in Illinois, hold on to your wallet, bank account numbers, house, credit cards and even your dog: Jerry Reinsdorf is coming after everything he can gouge out of you.
One final big haul, ripped from his fellow citizens.
There was no mention in any stories of what, if any, financial considerations are being discussed, but you can damn well bet Reinsdorf isn’t planning to spend his or his partners’ money without you kicking in most of it, thanks to the incompetence of politicians. Gouging money from taxpayers is the way of billionaire sports team owners — heck, of big American businesses in general, who hauled in more than $100 billion in corporate welfare in 2022 alone. Reinsdorf, who has dedicated his life to tax avoidance and/or collecting, is going to make sure he gets one of the best deals ever, just like he did last time around when Big Jim Thompson proved to be a very little man and lined Reinsdorf’s pockets with an inane, totally one-sided agreement on a new Comiskey Park.
If you look around the table and don’t spot the sucker, then the sucker is you
Just the sucker by proxy in this case, with politicians the ones actually playing their cards badly — but it’s your money on the table that will soon fly away. And fly away, it will.
The mayor isn’t talking yet. Maybe he’s afraid to. The governor sounded tough at first, saying he didn’t believe in handing out money to rich sports teams, but then he talked about how they’d just naturally consider infrastructure and other amenities like they do for other companies (corporate welfare thrives!!). Given there is no infrastructure at The 78, which is an old rail yard, and it could well be an environmental disaster area. The cost of cleaning that up, alone, could be hundreds of millions or even billions. From you.
Politicians fear being the mayor or governor or council or legislature that lost a sports team, but that’s just because they’re dumb. The mayor of New York when the Dodgers and Giants headed west — without ever engaging in extortion like Reinsdorf does, just because they saw (correctly) a great business opportunity — was Robert Wagner, who got easily elected two more times and whose reputation remained fully intact. Closer to home, the mayor of Milwaukee when the Braves made their contentious move to Atlanta was Henry Maier, and that move devastated him so politically that he was only able to serve 22 more years.
(Maybe they’re just scared of billionaires, even though Governor Pritzker is one. When Chicago police decided there was no chance the bullets in Guaranteed Rate came from outside the stadium, Reinsdorf the billionaire immediately said it was impossible to be from inside because his security was so good, and suddenly the whole case just disappeared. Very mysterious, eh, wot? But I digress.)
What about the other players?
No sucker there.
The 78 is owned by Related Midwest (misnamed in many articles), part of a huge, national real estate conglomerate called The Related Companies. Related is headed by Stephen M. Ross, who is Reinsdorf on steroids, though apparently a lot more philanthropic (with his own money, not claiming what you gave through raffles and such as his own donation, as Reinsdorf does — if you like numbers and are suffering from cabin fever, check out the White Sox Charities IRS Form 990 some day).
Like Reinsdorf, Ross is a tax attorney who saw the light and went into the big tax rip-off sectors for himself. Primarily, like Reinsdorf, Ross’s tax rip-offs come in real estate, but also as the owner of the Miami Dolphins (real owner, at 95%, not a pretend owner like Reinsdorf is, with his reported 19%).
Forbes lists Ross’s net worth at more than $10 billion, more than four times that of Reinsdorf, so he wins the contest for biggest, uh, er, buildings.
Ross has been a huge fundraiser for Donald Trump, so sainthood is not in order, but he does appear to be a big donor to lots of worthy causes. Or so says his Wikipedia page, anyway. At any rate, he’s not apt to be the sucker at the table where The 78 is concerned.
Wouldn’t a South Loop park be nice for residents?
As someone who lives near Wrigley Field and used to walk past the park to and from work, I invite you to a puke-avoidance stroll through our neighborhood after a game and see how that makes you feel. And a drunk-drivers-who-have-no-idea-where-they’re-going dodge-’em game as well. Granted, Sox fans aren’t as likely to be drunken overgrown frat boys as Cubs fans, but that’s just a matter of degree.
Still, a South Loop ball field could be nice. But when Reinsdorf sticks his hand out for a handout, run. Run like the wind.
So, what now? A personal interjection
Who knows? It remains highly unlikely the tax-allergic Reinsdorf will ever sell the White Sox, given the capital gains he’d have to pay (and heirs would avoid thanks to bizarre tax laws purchased by billionaires) as well as the likely much more burdensome recapture of the massive depreciation breaks sports ownership gets. Because I’m only 10 years younger than Reinsdorf and fear he’ll live to at least 110, that doesn’t appear to be likely in my lifetime.
Where the Sox play — Bridgeport, South Loop, Arlington Heights, Nashville or Ulan Bator — doesn’t much matter to me, since I’ve sworn off putting a red cent, dull nickel, shiny dime or wrinkled greenback in the Sox coffers while Reinsdorf is in charge. But as a Chicago citizen and taxpayer, I think it would be a real good idea for the fine folks of Tennessee or Mongolia to be the next set of Reinsdorf suckers.
Bear in mind — 11 years after the Dodgers and Giants went west, the Mets won the World Series, even if it was just thanks to a miracle pulled off by George Burns as God. No reason that couldn’t happen with an expansion team in Chicago, and 11 years is a lot sooner than a White Sox championship is apt to come under Reinsdorf.