Q&A with White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf
ORLANDO, Fla. -- No man knows Bud Selig and David Stern better than Jerry Reinsdorf, owner of two teams in Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association -- the White Sox and Bulls -- under the two legendary commissioners.
Stern and Selig have announced they will retire less than a year from one another: Stern on Feb. 1, followed by Selig on Jan. 25, 2015.
Reinsdorf, 77 and a native of Brooklyn, has been owner and chairman of the White Sox since 1981 and has held the same position with the Bulls since 1985. Under his watch, the two teams have combined to win seven league championships -- six with Michael Jordan, Phil Jackson and the Bulls, and the 2005 World Series with the White Sox.
Could he have asked for a better or more productive life?
"A better life? Oh, I've had a great life," Reinsdorf said last week during a break in the Owners Meetings. "When I think about how I grew up sleeping on a cot in the hallway in a one-bedroom apartment in Flatbush, it's been a great life. I can't complain."
In a long conversation, Reinsdorf discussed the tenures of Selig and Stern and the differences between ownership in MLB and the NBA, among other subjects.
MLB.com: I understand you have some strong feelings about Ken "Hawk" Harrelson and the Ford C. Frick Award.
Reinsdorf: I really think that Hawk deserves to win the Frick Award. He's been broadcasting since the 1970s in Boston. I don't know who's more qualified or more deserving than Hawk. They love him in Chicago. He's been with us almost consistently since 1982, with a year off to be the general manager. Then he had to leave for a couple of years so people could get over that disaster. He came back in . He's incredibly popular. He's one of the characters of the game. He's not just a bland announcer. And I just hope he makes it, that's all.
MLB.com: What do you think he brings to your broadcasts and the team in general?
Reinsdorf: He brings color. First of all, he bleeds White Sox. He loves the White Sox. Our market demands homers. In our market you can't do it straight. It's not like New York. When I grew up in New York with Mel Allen and Red Barber, they did it straight. When we hired Hawk and (Don) Drysdale in 1982, I asked them to do a straight network broadcast and it went over like a lead balloon. Our market demands homers, so I told Hawk to go ahead, be a homer. People tune in even when we stink because they like listening to Hawk and to Steve Stone. And he knows the game, he teaches the game. The two of them explain the game. They really love baseball. He's colorful. "You can put it on the board." "He gone!" He gave Frank Thomas his name, "The Big Hurt." He's a real character, but he's a baseball guy through and through.
MLB.com: Do you think there's a dearth of this in announcing these days?
Reinsdorf: Yes. I don't want to be critical of any specific announcers, but there are very few or any announcers who are as colorful as Hawk is and that adds to the interest in the game. We want people to be interested and watch the games even if the team is not doing well. And Hawk is one of the few announcers who's able to do that. Harry Caray was another one, who could get people to tune in even if the team wasn't doing well. I'm just hoping that he'll get recognized.
MLB.com: As far as you're concerned, your career as an owner spans the tenures of two of the greatest commissioners in sports history. Let's start with Selig.
Reinsdorf: Bud without doubt is the best commissioner we in baseball have ever had. His ability to build consensus is amazing. If he weren't commissioner, he could have been a majority leader in the Senate. He's on the phone every day with everybody. We hardly ever have a vote that's not 30-0. And they don't start out that way. I've said to him sometimes, "What's wrong with 28-2?" He says, "No, I'm not bringing it up until it's 30-0." And look what's happened to the industry while he's been around: labor peace, revenues have grown by about six times since he started. He's just done an incredible job.
MLB.com: How do you replace him?
Reinsdorf: Well, it's not going to be easy. Obviously, somebody will succeed him. But I don't think we're ever going to have a guy who did it the way he did it. Part of why he's so good is that he ran a team, so he understood the difficulties of running a team. And we're going to have to find somebody who knows and loves the game the way he does. I mean, he loves the game. The guy is a baseball junkie. He watches all the games he can watch every night. I don't know. I haven't got the slightest idea who's going to succeed him, but he's going to be a tough act to follow. You don't want to be the guy who followed John Wooden. It's tough to succeed a legend. We're going to have to find somebody who'll be his own man with his own style. It'll be a totally different style than Buddy has. I've never known anybody who can build consensus like he does.
MLB.com: If you go back to 1992 when Selig was named interim commissioner, could you have ever imagined him having so much influence on so many facets of the game?
Reinsdorf: No, because that really was supposed to be interim just to get us through the labor negotiations. I don't think he thought he was going to stay on. I didn't think he was going to stay on. I know his wife didn't think he was staying on. I didn't think he would ever give up his team. He loved his team. He lived and died with the Brewers. And I never would have thought he'd be as good as he's been. He ran a small-market team, but boy, he's really grown on the job.
MLB.com: Are there any areas in which he's particularly excelled?
Reinsdorf: He surrounded himself with good people, with Tim Brosnan, Tony Petitti, Rob Manfred and Bob Bowman, and he let them do their jobs. But I think the biggest thing that he's done since he's been commissioner is MLBAM (Major League Baseball Advanced Media). He grasped it right away, and if it wasn't for him we never could have sold it to the teams. It never would have happened without him understanding and having the vision of what it could become. The pending replay system, three-division play, the Wild Card, now the double Wild Card, those are all things he really pushed for. Baseball is a leader in diversity, in large part because of his leadership.
MLB.com: So when does the process start to replace him?
Reinsdorf: It doesn't start until he appoints a search committee. I assume he's going to have to do it sometime next year.
MLB.com: You get to the January meetings in Phoenix and his retirement is going to be a year out.
Reinsdorf: I haven't asked him, but I suspect it will happen around that time and he'll appoint a search committee.
MLB.com: How do you compare him with David?
Reinsdorf: They're both great. They both did fabulous jobs. When David Stern became NBA commissioner, the Finals were on tape delay. Now they're huge. But their styles are completely different. David is more autocratic than Buddy. He gets teams to go along with him because they know he's so smart. He gets his votes in the meetings. He doesn't build consensus ahead of time. He's more of a corporate CEO, I guess. A corporate CEO doesn't have to deal directly with the shareholders. David doesn't really deal with his shareholders the way Buddy does, but the results are the same. I don't think Buddy could do it his way and David couldn't do it Buddy's way. It's not David's nature to be romancing people and cajoling people. But they've both been terrific.
MLB.com: What do you think Stern's major impact has been?
Reinsdorf: David's greatest achievement has been international. Our games are now televised in over 200 countries. He's grown revenues. David does more things himself than Buddy does. David negotiates the TV contracts. David negotiates the labor agreements. He does it himself. Buddy tends to empower people to do things. David takes more things on himself individually than Buddy does. His style has worked for him. His clubs recognize how good he is and they trust his judgment.
MLB.com: So where do you see the NBA going under (incoming commissioner) Adam Silver?
Reinsdorf: I think Adam is going to be more of a Selig type. He's going to involve ownership more in the decision-making process and be a consensus builder more like Selig than like Stern. And that's not a knock on Stern. That's just Adam's personality.
MLB.com: You've known Adam for a long time and he was groomed for the job.
Reinsdorf: In the NBA, we didn't even have a search committee. Everybody knew that when David left it was going to be Adam. So he's lived the job. He's going to have a much easier transition than Buddy's successor is going to have.
MLB.com: What do you like better, being a basketball owner or a baseball owner?
Reinsdorf: I've enjoyed being a baseball owner more because I've enjoyed owners being allowed to participate. While I recognize how good David is and I respect him, it's not as much fun. That's all, but the result, you can't knock the results in the NBA.
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.