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La Russa Debacle: Another Reinsdorf Disgrace

“At some point, America will grasp that the inept Chicago sports owner was lucky to stumble upon Michael Jordan and, otherwise, will be remembered for a series of historically bad decisions.”

Jay Mariotti

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This is the commentary that should be delivered in Chicago but won’t be. That’s because media in the city fear Jerry Reinsdorf, who isn’t significant to the planet in 2020 but represents all that’s wrong with sports ownership in America. Writers and talk hosts don’t want to incur his wrath. Heads of media companies prefer to curry his favor and make money off his teams. Even national baseball reporters protect him as a source.

Jerry Reinsdorf, the boss of the Bulls and White Sox, is having quite the  crazy week - Chicago Tribune

Me? I never cared in my 17 years as a Chicago columnist, figuring it was important to tell the truth about the chairman of the Bulls and White Sox and suffer the political consequences, even as Reinsdorf tried repeatedly to land me in trouble wherever I worked. One of my former radio bosses, Bob Snyder, told The Athletic that Reinsdorf was the kind of crank who called Disney boss Bob Iger to complain about me when I worked for ESPN. If it didn’t faze me then, it sure doesn’t now. Heretofore, Reinsdorf’s numerous management sins have been unsound and clumsy — none more foolish than dismantling the Michael Jordan dynasty before its rightful expiration date, as “The Last Dance” docu-series recorded powerfully for posterity.

But his recent appointment of a longtime crony, Tony La Russa, as White Sox manager is becoming the sealant that fastens Reinsdorf to a place in sports disgrace. As if the move wasn’t dubious enough for several reasons, including the fact La Russa is 76 and hasn’t managed in nine seasons, now we have this: Reinsdorf made the hire official one day after La Russa was charged in Arizona with driving under the influence.

Near midnight on Feb. 24, according to police records obtained by ESPN, La Russa drove his SUV into a curb near Phoenix’s Sky Harbor International Airport in a collision that left the vehicle smoking. When police arrived, La Russa refused to take a breath test, requiring an officer to obtain a warrant and draw blood samples. A field sobriety test led to his arrest, during which La Russa became “argumentative,” police said. If it’s peculiar that more than nine months passed between the arrest and the filed charges — a gap that Reinsdorf, an Arizona resident for years, surely will contest with his legal team — the issues surrounding La Russa are much more disturbing.

This wasn’t his first DUI bust, you see. In 2007, when he was managing the St. Louis Cardinals, he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor in Jupiter, Fla., where he fell asleep at a traffic light with an illegal blood-alcohol level. In a statement at the time, La Russa said, “I accept full responsibility for my conduct, and assure everyone that I have learned a very valuable lesson and that this will never occur again.”

Well, it apparently occurred again. And now, a young, rising ballclub that needs firm guidance is caught in another messy La Russa swirl, thanks to an 84-year-old owner who allowed his emotions to sabotage common sense during the managerial search. Reinsdorf always has regretted allowing his circus-act general manager at the time, Hawk Harrelson, to fire La Russa as White Sox manager in 1986. Thirty-four years later, he actually thinks La Russa — who won three World Series titles in Oakland and St. Louis but has faded into executive-suite irrelevance since his last championship in 2011 — was the best idea for the 2021 dugout. Already, months before Opening Day, this has become a regrettable farce.

It was disturbing enough that the owner either disregarded or wasn’t aware of La Russa’s dinosaur views concerning police brutality and social injustice. In 2016, he again made the wrong headlines when speaking about the kneeling campaign of Colin Kaepernick: “I think that’s disrespectful, and I really question the sincerity of somebody like Kaepernick. I remember when he was on top. I never heard him talk about anything but himself. Now all of a sudden he’s struggling for attention and he makes this big pitch. I don’t buy it. And even if he was sincere, there are other ways to show your concern. Disrespecting our flag is not the way to do it.” Did Reinsdorf even consider that several players and coaches — including core team members Tim Anderson, Jose Abreu, Eloy Jimenez and Lucas Giolito — knelt during the national anthem on Opening Day this year?

Even that could be set aside as a generational hiccup when La Russa, in his introductory Zoom conference last month, issued an update on his tone-deaf self, saying, “There’s been a lot that’s (gone) on in a very healthy way since 2016, and not only do I respect but I applaud the awareness that’s come into not just society, but especially in sports.” Yet there can be no explaining away of a second DUI. And it looks worse when he hung up on an ESPN reporter Monday after saying, “I have nothing to say.”

Tony La Russa charged with DUI stemming from February arrest

Why would he be so defiant? Reinsdorf has his back, of course. One of the owner’s trusted writers is USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, whose news story about La Russa’s arrest included a quote from the team publicist that the White Sox “were aware” of the charges, followed by this alarming exclusive from the mouth of You Know Who: “A high-ranking White Sox official told USA TODAY Sports that La Russa is in no danger of losing his job, or receiving any discipline by the club.”

That’s Jerry, who once had a manager, Ozzie Guillen, who referred to me as “a f—— fag” and later admitted to a Miami reporter, “I’ve got my routine. Game’s over, stay in the lobby of the hotel, the hotel bar, get drunk and go to sleep. I get drunk because I’m happy because we won or get drunk because I’m very sad and disturbed because we lose. Same routine … for 25, 28 years. It hasn’t changed.” Guillen somehow is shocked he hasn’t been re-hired as a major-league skipper, though, thanks to Reinsdorf, he remains gainfully employed as a Sox analyst at NBC Sports Chicago when legitimate media people nationwide are being laid off.

In Chicago, I was accused of picking on Reinsdorf and ignoring the seven championships he brought to the city. My counter: In almost eight collective decades of ownership — he bought the White Sox in 1981 and the Bulls in 1985 — he has produced exactly one championship (White Sox in 2005) unconnected to Michael Jordan. And he inherited Jordan, buying the Bulls a year after the previous ownership group drafted him. Chicago is supposed to be a major market, right? Imagine such a winning percentage in Boston, where the four major teams have won 12 titles since 2001, or Los Angeles, where the Dodgers and Lakers just won two titles in the same month. In New York, they’d have run Reinsdorf out of town after his abysmal post-Jordan results with the Bulls and his dismal record with the Sox, who finally reached a postseason for the first time in 12 years.

His blunders aren’t limited to the fields and courts. In the late 1980s, Reinsdorf leveraged a threatened move to Florida to win state money to build a new ballpark on the South Side. When he insisted on helping design the park, it became almost instantly obsolete, too steep and hulking with multiple decks of suites, a dud amid the retro building boom of classic, intimate stadiums that transformed American downtowns. An architect with the design firm told me that blueprints similar to Baltimore’s Camden Yards were offered to the White Sox. They had no use for them.

In that period, Reinsdorf had what appeared to be a young White Sox powerhouse, as he has now. How did that turn out? In 1994, he prioritized his anti-union views over his first-place team’s title hopes, vowing to be “a hawk” after running the independent baseball commissioner, Fay Vincent, out of power. His hawkness led to a work stoppage and a canceled World Series, and the Sox underachieved and faded away, though Frank Thomas did go on to make the Hall of Fame and star in Nugenix commercials. 

I could go on. I think you’re getting my drift, especially if you saw the end of “The Last Dance.” At least Reinsdorf, whose wide cast of cronies like to vouch for his integrity, didn’t hire A.J. Hinch or Alex Cora, two lead villains of the Astros’ electronic sign-stealing scandal. In retrospect, could either have been worse than La Russa — who, remember, also enabled the steroids-fueled exploits of Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco?

Through the dynasty he created and sustained, Michael Jordan guarded Reinsdorf from criticism far longer than he deserved. But almost 23 years have passed since a stubborn owner said goodbye, deciding he didn’t need the greatest athlete and resource known to basketball and sport, that he could build his own dynasty.

Jerry Reinsdorf says Michael Jordan was wrong, Bulls wouldn't reunite -  Insider

In that Jordan wore the number 23, I think what’s happening now must be karma.

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Jason Barrett

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Each year I’m asked if there are ways to save money on tickets to the 2023 BSM Summit. I always answer yes but not everyone takes advantage of it. For those interested in doing so, here’s your shot.

For TODAY ONLY, individual tickets to the 2023 BSM Summit are reduced by $50.00. Two ticket and four ticket packages are also lowered at $50 per ticket. To secure your seat at a discounted price, just log on to BSMSummit.com. This sale ends tonight at 11:59pm ET.

If you’re flying to Los Angeles for the event, be sure to reserve your hotel room. Our hotel partner this year is the USC Hotel. It’s walking distance of our venue. Full details on hotel rooms can also be found via the conference website.

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