Thursday, March 17, 2011
Posted: Wednesday, March 16, 2011 3:48 PM Updated: 2:50 PM
By Brett Ballantini
GLENDALE, Ariz. In a detailed and revealing chat with team beat writers, White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf opened up about a wide variety of topics, from his teams status as division favorites, the feisty White Sox fan base, the Ozzie-Kenny feud, even his own mortality. Naturally, Reinsdorf led off with his take on being all-In and just how close he came to tearing down and rebuilding his club for the 2011 season.
The 75-year-old owner spoke on his Camelback Ranch office patio, overlooking the ballpark complex he spurred the building of, prior to his ballclub taking on the defending champion San Francisco Giants on Wednesday afternoon.
As ballyhooed as the White Soxs effort to catch the Minnesota Twins by going All-In with a club-record 125 million payroll, Reinsdorf basically was backed into pushing all his chips to the middle of the table.
Last year, we finished second, six games out, Reinsdorf said with regard to going All-In for 2011. And the question really was how do we get better than Minnesota and stay ahead of Detroit. We didnt draw very well last year; essentially we broke even financially. So the first thing Kenny and I decided we were going to do was rebuild, because we just didnt feel we could count on the attendance supporting the level we had to get to spend to get better to beat Minnesota.
Reinsdorf didnt just want to lower the payroll and leave his team gutted, however. Further complicating matters: Team brass didnt figure the draft picks earned by losing Paul Konerko and A.J. Pierzynski would do enough to rebuild the team.
Taking into account opposing teams trying to buy low on talent the team made available, Reinsdorf was cornered: It didnt look like we could get enough back in trade, so all we would end up doing was having a worse team with a low payroll. We would make money, but we wouldnt be building for the future. I didnt mind taking a step back, because weve done it before. But I didnt want to take a step back without feeling really good that step back was going to help us going forward.
So if taking his team fully-out wasnt going to work, Reinsdorf flipped the script and started considering how his team could immediately catch the Twins.
What would we have to do to get better than Minnesota? We were going to have to spend more money, Reinsdorf said. We felt we could take a chanceit was a better alternative than getting bad for two or three years.
When he broke it all down, the direction of the team came crystal-clear to the longtime owner, delivered to his roundtable in typically precise fashion: The idea of being bad for two or three years is a horrible thought when youre 75 years old.
Reinsdorf was demure when asked to pick the White Sox to win the AL Central in 2011, citing a prediction he made in 1991 where he tabbed the Twins as a seventh-place team, whereupon prompting Minnesota to go out and win a World Series.
We can compete with the Twins, Reinsdorf offered. Minnesota, Detroit, the White Sox, any one of those teams could win.
The owner does see one advantage the White Sox may have on their division rivals, however.
The nice thing, for us to win, we dont have to have guys with exceptional years, he said. All were asking or hoping for is everyone has his normal year. If everybody has his normal year, we should be in it all the way.
Jerry built it; will they come?
If the Chairman knows anything about White Sox fans in his 30 years helming the club, its that the fan base is a show-me groupblind faith comes in short supply on the South Side. So Reinsdorf knows that starting out strong is a key to turning a profit in 2011.
We know if we do get off to a good start and we do draw, well probably cover the payroll, he said. If we cant, we still have the resources where we could sustain a loss this year, if we had to.
Reinsdorf noted that there had been no overall increase in season ticket sales in 2011 compared with 2010: Were running right about where we were last year. Our fans are optimistic and enthusiastic but they want to see success out on the field.
But the headmaster bristled when the notion of the White Sox asking too much of fans was brought up.
We put the risk on ourselves. Were spending the money, Reinsdorf said. We never expected people to go wild and buy tickets like mad. We know we have to prove we have a team worthy of winning the division. If we do, well draw better. Last years attendance 2,194,378 was the lowest in a long time since 1,930,537 in 2004, so its obvious we have enough fans to come out and have us draw a break-even attendance of 2.6 million, 2.7, 2.8, if they like what they see.
Despite the fact that White Sox fans traditionally take on a show-me stance with regard to catching Sox fever, Reinsdorf noted that team sponsorships running ahead of expectations, a key element of team revenue.
There are some good signs, he said. The White Sox fans really break into two categoriesprobably all teams fans do. Hardcore fans are going to come out no matter what you dothey want to see the White Sox. But you have to also draw the front-runners If they hear were playing well, then theyll come out.
As the White Sox father figure to bother GM Ken Williams and manager Ozzie Guillen, Reinsdorf felt a unique sense of responsibility to see that fences were mended after last years he-saidhe-said war of words and chin-jutted posturing. But that mending wasnt as difficult as people think.
That was foolishness that grew out of Oney Guillens Twitters or Tweets or whatever they are called. Thats not going to happen again, Reinsdorf said. Ozzie and Ken have too much of a history of getting along and working. Theres a natural tension between managers and general managers; it always exists and it will flare up from time to time. Right now, they are on the same page.
Reinsdorf also feels that the extent of the relationship being damaged has been overblown by media and the fans.
I dont think they have ever not been on the same page as far as the team is concerned, he said. This was just personal bickering, and they got it behind them.
As for a recurrence of the so-called foolishness, the owner was supremely confident there would be no relapse.
They both realized that there was a certain childishness, Reinsdorf said. I didnt have any long conversations with these guys. I didnt sit them down and say, You guys have to get along. I didnt beat either up individually. I just said to each of them, You guys really need to work together, and they both agreed in like 10 seconds and said Youre right.
I would be surprised if the two of them are not here for a long time.
The Guillen trade
Reinsdorf was also clear about the non-existence of any trade with the Florida Marlins involving Guillen.
There wasnt going to be a trade, he said. The Marlins approached us about wanting to talk to Ozzie. OK. We couldnt trade Ozziehe has a contract to manage the White Sox. If he asked we could let him out of his contractI love Ozzie, but if Ozzie didnt want to be here, I would consider letting him out of his contract. But not for nothing.
With the understanding that talks would only move forward at a cost, Reinsdorf drew upon his pristine negotiating skills and turned up the heat on South Florida.
I said to the Marlins, If you want to talk to him, we have to agree on what we get if he decides to leave, Reinsdorf said. We couldnt agree on that. If we had been able to agree, Ozzie probably still wouldnt have left. We couldnt have traded himand we would have tried to keep him. I would have gone to Ozzie and said, OK, the Marlins want to talk to you and weve given them permission to talk to you, but I hope to God you dont leave. It would have been his decision, not our decision.
Reinsdorf is also just as enamored of his young manager as ever.
Ive known Ozzie since he was 21 years old, and I remember thinking at the time acquiring him from the San Diego Padres, his rookie year, that Ive never seen somebody this young with the baseball instincts he had, the Chairman said. He always had a brilliant baseball mind, and as he got older, it just got better. He knows how to run a game He just understands baseball. He knows not to ask a guy to do something he cant do.
Tony LaRussa told me years ago that the biggest thing a manager has to do is put players in a position where they can do what they are capable of doing and never ask them to do things they cant do, and Ozzie is real good at that. Hes up there with what I would consider the really good managers in the game.
Pale Hose future is bright
Reinsdorf was bullish on the future and was clearly delighted that going all-in wasnt going to compromise the long-term health of his South Side club.
I feel very good, he said. Weve got some talent thats coming. Paulie is tied up for a few years, A.J. a couple years, Adam Dunn, Gordon Beckhams young, Alexei Ramirezs young.
Reinsdorf also tipped his hand about the kind of scouting reports hes been getting, citing Jordan Danks by name in saying he has looked very good this spring, and probably a year from now we will see him.
Of course, Reinsdorf has been giddy about his team before and been burned.
There is a lot of talent coming, but its a crazy game, he said. Its hard to plan for more than one year at a time, although the talent is in place now for the future.
Gut-punch to Scott Boras
Asked about how he determines when to commit to a young player, as the White Sox did this offseason in extending Ramirez for at least four years, Reinsdorf was honest in saying, First, Kenny and assistant GM Rick Hahn have to say they want to commit to a guy. Its different for each player as to when is the right time. And you can be wrong. You can obviously make a mistake.
Then, he cited a onetime fan favorite.
Sometimes, the agent makes a mistake. We were ready to commit to Joe Crede, and Scott Boras didnt want to talk about it. Look what thats cost Crede.
Clearly, the owner is no different from many White Sox fans, in that one of Reinsdorfs favorite players is his routine Opening Day starter.
I love Mark Buehrle, Reinsdorf said. Hes just a fun guy. He knows hes made a lot of money, and the way he lives, there is no way he will spend all the money that hes made.
When I was younger, when I sold my business and friends sold theirs, we said now we have f-you money. Buehrles got f-you money.
Asked to clarify, Reinsdorf laughed and said, Lets say he has enough money to be independent.
Translated into baseball termsespecially in light of Buehrles inability to stop answering questions about retirementthe owner was clear.
Mark Buehrle is not going to want to play if he cant pitch up to his standards, Reinsdorf said. Hes not going to want to be a 5-12 guy. As long as he enjoys playing, hell want to keep playing. When he wants to quit, he knows hes got enough money.
With his boyhood idol Duke Snider passing away recently and with a number of close friends passing away recently, the delicate topic of mortality did come up in our conversation. But the 75-year-old owner was in great spirits after getting some good news from his annual physical at the Mayo Clinic.
Youre catching me on a really good day, Reinsdorf smiled. I had my stress test and they told me the amount of time I was on the treadmill was normal for a 52-year-old. So Im feeling real good today.
Reinsdorfs dry humor was on full display, however, continuing, Now Ill probably get killed in an accident on the way home. But as Los Angeles Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully says about guys being day-to-day, Arent we all? But at least I know my health is very good right now.
Roland Hemond and the Buck ONeil Award
Last month, longtime White Sox executive (and current Arizona Diamondbacks exec) Roland Hemond won the prestigious Buck ONeil Award for his overall service to the sport. Hemond became just the second winner of the honor, after the late ONeil himself. Reinsdorf was instrumental Hemonds win.
Im on the Hall of Fame board, so I was one of the voters, he said. Its a secret ballot, so you dont know who won. But based on the conversation before you vote it was pretty obvious Roland was going to win.
Having a good sense of Hemonds win, Reinsdorf wanted to be sure he could witness the moment the emotional Hemond would get the call from the Hall, so the owner made up a reason to meet together.
Im sitting there, and I had it all in my mind the bull---- I was going to give him about why I was there, Reinsdorf continued. Then his cell phone rang. He looked at his cell phone and said he was going to return the call. I said urgently, No, answer the phone. So he answered the phone and immediately started crying.
Hemond, still in tears, tried to call his wife, Margo, to give her the news, but couldnt find the words. So it was Reinsdorf who broke the terrific news of the Buck ONeil Award to Hemonds wife.
If you look at the criteria of the Buck ONeil Award it fits Roland in every respect, Reinsdorf said. There wasnt, I dont think, anybody close to deserving as Roland.
Jerry for the Hall?
A question about Reinsdorfs own worthiness for Hall of Fame induction was met with a dismissive, Nah.
Unfortunately, he may have a point. Look at a Hall of Fame worthy basketball center like Artis Gilmoreunquestioningly Hall-worthy, but with a career spread across three teams, without a single one retiring his jersey. Reinsdorf, having delivered seven titles to the city of Chicagoall but two of the citys total over the past 48 yearsis caught between two teams and sports, making the honor more likely for him in basketballs Naismith Hall of Fame than Cooperstown.
Weve only won one World Series and that seems to be a significant thing, adding still with a trace of bitterness that the man who moved his boyhood team to the West Coast, Walter OMalley, is enshrined, I havent moved a team out of Brooklyn. I dont know.
With another tip to his own mortality, Reinsdorf did allow for enshrinement, with a caveat: Not in my lifetime. Maybe after I die.
And that other team
Reinsdorf backtracked from quotes that had him expecting four championships from his Chicago Bulls, part of the reason he is a bit hesitant to do many interviews at all.
I didnt make any predictions for the Bulls, he explained. I said, chance, I used the word chance. It wasnt a prediction The Bulls havent won one title yet.
So, the owner was unwilling to predict how well his now top-seeded Bulls will fare in the postseason? Said Reinsdorf: Im not going to make any predictions other than I think we are going to be very competitive.
Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.com's White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute White Sox information.