LISTEN TO REINSDORF SING HIS SWAN SONG

By Murray Chass

August 15, 2014

How is Jerry Reinsdorf a loser? Let me count the ways.

On second thought, I have neither the time nor the space to do a complete count. I’ll just hit a few highlights:

  • In his career-long obsession with deflating players’ salaries, the chairman of the Chicago White Sox and Bulls was a central figure in the baseball owners’ illegal collusive activities against free agents in the mid-1980s. “Collusion was a $280 million mistake,” former commissioner Fay Vincent said in a television interview this week. “And Jerry was right in the middle of that. That mistake is the sort of thing that baseball cannot really tolerate ever again.”Jerry Reinsdorf 225
  • In his ugly, mean-spirited way, Reinsdorf joined fellow owner and confidant Bud Selig in 1992 in orchestrating Vincent’s ouster from the office of commissioner. Reinsdorf and Selig wanted Vincent out because they were plotting to go to war with the players union in the 1994 labor negotiations and didn’t want Vincent getting in their way. The results of the 234-day strike they forced were disastrous.
  • In the 33rd year of their relationship, the 78-year-old Reinsdorf suddenly found 80-year-old Selig too secretive and complained that he lacked transparency, then used those same accusations against Rob Manfred, Selig’s chief aide and choice to succeed him, in leading a small group of misguided owners in trying to block Manfred’s path to succeed Selig as commissioner. Reinsdorf ignored his close, long-term relationship with Selig and induced the Red Sox triumvirate of John Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino to ignore that they owed their presence in baseball and their 13-year ownership in Boston to Selig. His legacy be damned, they would not let Selig go peacefully into retirement.
  • After Manfred, as the owners’ chief labor negotiator, achieved an unprecedented three consecutive labor contracts without a work stoppage (five strikes and three lockouts had preceded them), Reinsdorf accused Manfred of being too soft on the union and made it clear that he wanted to renew the battle for a payroll cap that the owners failed to get in 1994. He ignored the fact that the two decades of labor peace had created an unprecedented growth in industry revenue to $9 billion and sent values of the owners’ franchises, including his own, skyrocketing.
  • He failed miserably on Thursday in his brazen attempt to prevent Manfred from taking Selig’s seat in the commissioner’s office.

“Jerry was so over the top on this one,” a high-ranking official said after the owners’ meeting. “He had no chance. There was never a race here.”

This is Reinsdorf’s swan song, I suggested, his last hurrah. “Yes, it is,” the official replied.

No controlling owner has been around as long as Reinsdorf. If he ever had any usefulness, he has outlived it. If he succeeded at anything with his Werner initiative, it was in conning The New York Times into thinking that Werner actually had a chance to win.

“Tom Werner emerges to create race for commissioner,” said a headline on the Times’ web site Aug. 6, touting Werner’s candidacy. At that time, Werner had five votes, three fewer than he needed to block Manfred, who had 20 votes, three fewer than he needed for election.

If those vote totals represented a race, it was a race between the tortoise and the hare. However, a person who attended the owners meeting in Baltimore Thursday said, “There was never a race here.”

According to information obtained from people who attended the meeting, Tim Brosnan, MLB’s top business executive and one of the three candidates, withdrew from the race before the owners began voting.

Rob Manfred Commissioner 225The first vote was Manfred 20 Werner 10.

The second ballot was 21-9, and under the voting rules, that eliminated Werner because a candidate needed 10 votes to stay on the ballot. The owners, however, had to keep voting on an up or down basis on Manfred because he had not received the 23 votes required for election.

The third ballot produced a 22-8 vote.

Although the balloting was conducted secretly, with ballots placed in envelopes, Mark Attanasio of Milwaukee and Stuart Sternberg of Tampa Bay were believed to have switched their votes. Sternberg and Attanasio were the only owners besides Werner whom the succession committee, chaired by Bill DeWitt Jr. of St. Louis, had interviewed. They appeared before the committee at their own request.

Now, however, they were voters and had different reasons for voting the way they did. A few years ago, Attanasio publicly called for a cap on payrolls and was believed to have been told by Selig, whose franchise he had bought, to knock off that kind of talk. Selig was enjoying baseball’s labor peace and didn’t want to disturb it.

Sternberg’s team plays in a hellhole and has one of the game’s lowest payrolls, but he and his staff have done a remarkable job running the Rays and they seem to be willing to carry on the way they have.

Although both Attanasio and Sternberg presumably supported Werner on the first ballot, as the voting went on, they might have figured that a Selig-mentored Manfred would be better than a failed owner who made a mess of his low-revenue franchise 20 years ago.

But a curious vote developed on the fourth ballot. Manfred lost two votes, the results reverting to 20-10. What was going on? Had Sternberg and Attanasio switched back to voting no on Manfred? If anyone knew, he wasn’t saying.

Just as inexplicably, ballot No. 5 restored the count to 22-8

Now Manfred was again a single vote from election. Nothing was in his way but a single switched vote. It was delivered by the team that plays in the political capital of the country, the Washington Nationals.

One more vote remained to be taken, the traditional one that makes a winning vote unanimous.

In the end, Reinsdorf was joined on the losing side by the Red Sox, the Angels, Oakland, Arizona, Cincinnati and Toronto. Two of the losing owners suffered a second loss.

The losing group of dissenters proposed that the executive council members have their terms extended. John Henry of Boston and Reinsdorf, who has been on the executive council seemingly forever, are currently members of the council. It didn’t take the owners six ballots to reject the proposal.

Reinsdorf, who despite his mean-spirited manner, doesn’t like to be portrayed as such, explained in a post-meeting statement the reason for his position during the meeting.

Declaring it was the owners’ duty to scrutinize candidates, Reinsdorf, who aggressively questioned Manfred in a pre-election meeting, said in what could be viewed as an attempt at a conciliatory gesture:

“While Rob may not have been my initial choice for commissioner, the conclusion of a very good process was to name Rob as the person best positioned to help baseball endure and grow even stronger for the next generation of fans.”

Given my three and a half decades of familiarity with Reinsdorf, I don’t buy his explanations or excuses for anything he says or does. I have long given him credit for his hiring of minorities; no one does it better.Selig Reinsdorf

But when it comes to his public positions on baseball and other issues, I have to suggest that if Manfred’s victory over Reinsdorf’s puppet candidate will plunge the owner into an abyss of absence from baseball matters, the owners couldn’t have given Selig a better going away present.

Now that his candidate has won, Selig may even forgive Reinsdorf for his behavior. A man who knows Selig well told me that the commissioner was furious with Reinsdorf.

Not everyone is apparently. Just as the Times created a race Reinsdorf wanted where none existed, the New York Daily News credited the owner with succeeding despite Werner’s easily predictable loss.

“Jerry Reinsdorf got what he wanted Thursday,” a Daily News analysis said. “And that was a good old-fashioned owners fight and a not-so-friendly debate, culminating in a hard-fought vote for the new commissioner, rather than a rubber-stamp coronation.”

That’s a different take, all right, but that’s going far out of the way to excuse the man’s behavior of ill-repute.

Comments? Please send email to comments@murraychass.com.