The 25 most influential figures in Chicago baseball

The 25 most influential figures in Chicago baseball
May 29, 2013, 11:15 pm
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Patrick Mooney and Dan Hayes

The main crosstown takeaway: It just doesn’t have the same buzz.

The Cubs sold only 31,279 tickets to Wednesday’s game against the White Sox, a 9-3 victory in which backup catcher Dioner Navarro hit three home runs and became the star at Wrigley Field.

The city has been focused on the Bulls and their Derrick Rose Watch, as well as another playoff run for the Blackhawks, and the Bears are always making headlines. Both baseball teams will be facing hard choices this summer and look like they could be sellers by the July 31 trade deadline.

[MORE: Complete Cubs coverage

If the Cubs and White Sox are going to be the big story again – and not just by process of elimination – it will be determined by the 25 most influential figures in Chicago baseball:

Jerry Reinsdorf: The White Sox chairman is one of the most powerful men in baseball, enjoying an exceptionally close relationship with commissioner Bud Selig and using his influence to shape labor deals and organize Major League Baseball’s television and digital properties. A force in building the United Center and U.S. Cellular Field, the owner of the Bulls and White Sox has brought seven world championships to Chicago, while creating a family atmosphere inside those organizations.

Theo Epstein: The Cubs president has total control of baseball operations after helping build two World Series winners in Boston. A rival GM predicted one more here gets him into the Hall of Fame, and that resume gives him the juice to oversee a total teardown, though the shy executive who guards his privacy hates being the story. Broad responsibilities include creating “The Cubs Way,” focusing on the No. 2 pick in the June draft and syncing everything up with the team's business plan.

[RELATED: Complete White Sox coverage

Tom Ricketts: The Cubs chairman is dealing with the learning curve that comes with being a new owner, making the home-run hire (“Theo-mania”) while the team has struggled on the field since his family bought the team (as well as a stake in Comcast SportsNet Chicago) from Tribune Co. in October 2009. The terms of that highly leveraged $845 million sale has the Cubs looking everywhere to generate revenue and kick-start the major-league payroll. The guy who met his wife in the bleachers is said to care deeply about his family’s legacy and preserving Wrigley Field for the next generation.

Rick Hahn: The White Sox general manager oversees the major-league club day-to-day after 12 seasons in an assistant role, where he had been involved in negotiating contracts (Paul Konerko, John Danks, Gavin Floyd, Alexei Ramirez), claiming Bobby Jenks off waivers and trading for Carlos Quentin. That reputation drew interest over the years from the Cubs, Cardinals, Mariners and Mets as those franchises searched for a GM. The graduate of New Trier High School, the University of Michigan, Harvard Law School and Northwestern’s Kellogg Graduate School of Management got promoted to a dream job last October.

Ken Williams: The White Sox executive vice president is the only GM to build a World Series winner in this city since World War I. In his 12 seasons as GM, the team finished above .500 nine times and won the franchise’s first championship in 88 years. He’s moved on to a bigger title and broader portfolio, expanding his role in amateur and pro scouting while maintaining a kind of father-son relationship with Jerry Reinsdorf.

Crane Kenney: The polarizing president of business operations has lasted two decades with the Cubs, rising through Tribune Co. before aligning himself with the Ricketts family. His No. 1 goal is to generate revenue through the Wrigley Field of the future and the new complex in Mesa, Ariz. He’s on deck with the Cubs planning to opt out of their WGN television contract and become free agents after the 2014 season.

Jed Hoyer: The Cubs general manager earned two World Series rings as a Red Sox executive, helping engineer the Josh Beckett/Mike Lowell trade with the Marlins in November 2005. After running his own show in San Diego and assembling a Padres team that won 90 games in 2010, he oversees the major-league club on a daily basis, essentially dividing the work with Theo Epstein.

Jason McLeod: The Cubs senior vice president of scouting and player development is viewed as a future GM after helping build the Red Sox foundation and restock the Padres system. The track record in Boston includes draft picks like 2008 AL MVP Dustin Pedroia, All-Star pitcher Clay Buchholz and future Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo. His fingerprints will be all over “The Core” on the North Side.

Scott Boras: The super-agent had an icy relationship with the White Sox over the years, but he will impact the rebuilding project on the North Side, representing potential cornerstones in the draft (Albert Almora, Mark Appel, Kris Bryant) and pushing his clients to free agency (Jacoby Ellsbury, Shin-Soo Choo) at a time when teams are locking up players with long-term extensions.

Rahm Emanuel: The mayor isn’t exactly a huge sports fan, but he’s been a key player in the ongoing Wrigley Field renovation saga, and ultimately realizes the Cubs are an economic force and tourism draw. The Red Line reconstruction project can’t help the White Sox draw fans to the South Side.

Tom Tunney: The 44th ward alderman has been a key player in the Wrigley Field negotiations, trying to protect the rooftop lobby and all the bars and restaurants impacted by the proposed Jumobtron, plaza and street fests. One politically connected businessman stressed how popular Tunney is in Lakeview, projecting he could have what it takes to run for higher office.

Jim Corno Sr.: The Comcast SportsNet Chicago president has shaped the sports media landscape in the city, overseeing the television home for pro games and surrounding local sports coverage. The 30-plus year television pioneer has longstanding relationships with both teams after guiding the channel from SportsVision to SportsChannel to Fox Sports Net to today's run with CSN.

Peter Liguori: The Tribune Co. CEO will be looking at Cubs inventory on WGN and decide whether it’s time to pull the plug on the superstation idea, while figuring out what to do with the city’s biggest newspaper, part of a portfolio that also includes the team’s flagship radio station.

Brooks Boyer: The White Sox senior vice president of sales and marketing goes up against one of baseball’s most popular franchises, shaping everything from the look and feel of U.S. Cellular Field to advertising campaigns to ticket prices to relationships with TV/radio partners.

Dale Sveum: The Cubs manager survived a 101-loss season and gained more power inside the organization, shaping his staff, recruiting free agents and spreading his hitting philosophy. The front office hired him to grow into the job and perhaps become the next Terry Francona.

Robin Ventura: The White Sox manager has the perfect personality to guide the team through the post-Ozzie era, giving the clubhouse a sense of calm and repairing some of the fractures inside the organization.

Don Cooper: The White Sox pitching coach is the longest-tenured member of the coaching staff and in the middle of his 26th season in the organization, with enough clout to have the manager’s ear on all pitching decisions and give the front office confidence to take chances on change-of-scenery players, thinking “Coop” can fix them. That 11-1 run to the World Series title in 2005 saw the pitching staff post a 2.55 ERA in the postseason.

Herm Schneider: The White Sox head athletic trainer is now in his 35th season and has developed a reputation for keeping his players on the field, a huge asset at a time when teams view healthcare as the next frontier. The White Sox have been on the cutting edge as the healthiest team in the majors from 2002 through 2011, logging 700 fewer days on the disabled list than the next closest team.

Matt Garza: The hyperactive, big-game pitcher in his walk year could swing a pennant race like no other player in this city, assuming he stays healthy and the Cubs trade him at the deadline. But “Garza Being Garza” could also make him a building block on the North Side. It’s one of the biggest questions still unanswered for the Epstein administration.

Paul Konerko: The White Sox first baseman is destined to get his own statue on the concourse inside U.S. Cellular Field as a World Series hero who could make a case for Cooperstown. The captain kept the clubhouse together during the Ozzie Guillen years, the perfect counterweight to the controversial manager. What “Paulie” does once his contract expires after this season could signal what direction they take on the South Side.

Anthony Rizzo: The Cubs first baseman hasn’t spent a full season in the big leagues yet, but he’s already signed a contract that could run through 2021 and be worth some $70 million. That’s face-of-the-franchise territory. The front office thinks the 23-year-old will provide middle-of-the-order power, Gold Glove defense and better value than an Albert Pujols or a Prince Fielder megadeal.

Jeff Samardzija: The dude isn’t looking to take a hometown discount just yet and sign a club-friendly deal after making millions out of Notre Dame by turning down the NFL. The Cubs might wind up paying for a No. 1 guy and putting him up on billboards all over the city. It’s rare for a starting pitcher to be this kind of clubhouse leader.

Chris Sale: The 2010 first-round pick made his big-league debut in the same year he was drafted, and has emerged as an All-Star starter the White Sox can build a rotation around. The lefty’s five-year, $32.5 million deal could run through 2019 if options are exercised. The only concern is how his 6-foot-6, 180-pound frame and unorthodox delivery will hold up across the life of that long-term deal.

Len Kasper: The Cubs play-by-play man is following in the footsteps of Harry Caray and Jack Brickhouse, nearing a decade in the broadcast booth at Wrigley Field, developing a chemistry with new partner Jim Deshaies, making pop-culture references and explaining the game through advanced stats.

Hawk Harrelson: The White Sox broadcaster is the franchise’s lightning rod, the ex-GM who once fired Tony La Russa and recently went viral with “The Will to Win,” a classic rant against sabermetrics. Love him or hate him, “The Hawk” makes you pay attention with his strong opinions and catchphrases.