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CHICAGO IS THE SADDEST, SICKEST TOWN IN SPORTS — IF NOT AMERICA ITSELF
The teams should serve as sustenance when murders, corruption and mayoral follies plague the city, but failure will continue as long as media enable the likes of Jerry Reinsdorf and his 7-21 White Sox
Don’t say Jerry Reinsdorf can’t win a ballgame anymore. Last week, he stole a Chicago legal case by using his considerable tentacles to pressure an Illinois Circuit Court judge, which is how the two-team sports owner operates in a city he has controlled and corrupted for decades.
That is my conclusion after reaching out to John Winters, attorney for former White Sox athletic trainer Brian Ball, who said he was fired in 2020 because he is gay and sued Reinsdorf’s baseball team and general manager Rick Hahn for wrongful termination. The judge dismissed Ball’s remaining claims against the team — but, Winters tells me, not because the trainer didn’t provide sufficient evidence. No, as reasonable people hold their noses, the case was decided on a “procedural technicality.”
Chicago, Chicago, that toddling town …
“The case was not decided on the merits … so clearly, justice was not served,” Winters wrote in an email. “I am of the position that technicality was wrongly applied. The court kept telling me his hands were tied and he believes everyone is entitled to have their case tried on the merits, but he just couldn’t do it in this case, repeated his hands were tied.
“He did say after ruling the case dismissed with prejudice that he does not condone the alleged conduct but he had to follow his interpretation of the law … the judge said we could bring a motion to reconsider before him and/or that we could probably find 3 judges (referencing the appellate court) that are smarter than him and may disagree with his ruling. I was obviously pissed with not only the ruling, but the handling of the entire hearing.”
Don’t you love how a judge admits his “hands were tied” and suggests three other judges would be smarter? Why not take it a step further, your honor, and explain who exactly is tying your hands? And which section your new season tickets will be located? Makes you wonder what else is happening in that dirty-ass town, always dragged down by political hanky-panky, to the point 8.9 million people in the metropolitan area just accept it as Chicago being Chicago.
A new mayor, Brandon Johnson, replaces grossly inept Lori Lightfoot, who allowed Chicago to extend an 11-year streak as America’s murder capital. HBO host Bill Maher wasn’t wrong last week when he asked his panel, “Why isn’t anyone ever talking to, like Chicago, like most of the shootings are young black men killing other young black men. Is that not correct? … Why doesn’t anybody talk about that? Why aren’t there, you know, a hundred giant black celebrities who would have the respect of those people say ‘What are you doing to yourself, why are you killing each other?’ It’s never addressed.” I’m afraid the city is too far gone for Barack Obama or Michael Jordan to help. Last I was there, the police presence on Michigan Avenue and adjoining shopping streets was stifling, which can’t please high-end retailers who’ve always lured tourists and fueled the economy.
Sports should be Chicago’s sustenance. But the owners have been in power for so long, they get away with their own type of murder — consumer fraud, I called it during my 17 years as a Sun-Times columnist. They take advantage of gullibly abused fans who cling to teams like their own children. The City of Big Shoulders is the City of Endless Rebuilds. The Bears, controlled by the clumsy McCaskeys since Papa Bear Halas died in 1983, have won one Super Bowl and pray Bryce Young isn’t Patrick Mahomes after trading the No. 1 overall draft pick and placing trust in Justin Fields, who’d better not be Mitchell Trubisky in a recurring equation. Tom Ricketts markets a refreshed Wrigley Field and new sportsbook, thinking he’ll never have to win a World Series again, with .500 tolerated and Dansby Swanson overhyped as a god. The hockey team, the Blackhawks, won three Stanley Cups and told fans to accept losing for a long time, incapable of giving proper sendoffs to Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.
Somehow, there is an even uglier ownership offender. As I’ve written often, without Jordan — who was inherited, not acquired — Reinsdorf has managed one measly championship in more than four decades of two-franchise control. His reign never has been more abysmal than at present, as he counts the months to his 88th birthday. The Bulls celebrated the 25th anniversary of their final Jordan Era title by losing in the NBA’s play-in tournament, meaning they’ve advanced as far as the Eastern Conference finals only once since a vindictive Reinsdorf sent away Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman and Phil Jackson. They’ve had more brutal seasons than decent ones, which never should happen in a market of its size. It was inevitable the White Sox would free-fall, too.
That is an understatement. Reinsdorf’s favored club — he once infamously said his lone World Series trophy means more to him than his all-time dynastic basketball six-pack — is crashing and burning. Is it possible he has become a worse owner than Charles Comiskey, whose team threw the 1919 World Series and became known as the Black Sox? As it was, he and his baseball people have asked fans to be patient since the late-aughts, as various rebuilds were trotted out. When it finally was time to win with maturing prospects, Reinsdorf intruded and hired his old managerial friend, Tony La Russa, downplaying his double DUIs and a birth certificate pushing 80. The Sox fizzled in 2022 after nearly killing La Russa in the process. As usual, Reinsdorf refused to invest in the offseason beyond journeyman Andrew Benintendi while Hahn hired a poor sucker named Pedro Grifol to manage.
The result: a 7-21 start barely better than that of the Oakland Athletics. At least the A’s have the excuse of being gutted by a carpetbagging owner who purchased land for a Las Vegas move and let a ballpark rot into a sewage-and-possums-infested pit. The scene at Guaranteed Rate Field, where the arrow is pointing way down if not permanently stuck, isn’t much better. A 10th straight loss was greeted by a familiar chant on the South Side.
“Sell the team! Sell the team!”
Better, they should try boycotting games and directing their wrath toward Reinsdorf by name, as he sits in his suite watching the carnage. Why not? The same fans once chanted “Mariotti Sucks” in the ballpark, not realizing I always knew more than they did about the owner’s incompetence. How do you like me now, peeps? Naturally, he isn’t showing his face, allowing Hahn to accept blame and acknowledge he could be fired.
“Put it on me. That’s the job. That’s the absolute gig. Put it on me. I’ll tell you this — and let’s make it real clear — it sure as heck isn’t on Pedro and his staff,” Hahn said when the losing streak reached seven. “I think that makes it clear that my job is potentially on the line. But I want to make something abundantly clear: I’m not a king. I don’t sit in this chair by divine birthright. It’s an absolute privilege to be general manager of the White Sox, one that I need to continue to earn. It’s pro sports. These things eventually come to an end. At the end of the day, the people who put the players on the roster, put them on the field, bear the responsibility if that group doesn't achieve. That's me.”
Never mind that Reinsdorf is the one who has entrusted the team to Hahn and executive vice president Ken Williams for almost two decades. Never, ever is it the owner’s fault, though his cheapskate reputation — already glaring as Steve Cohen’s payroll pushes $500 million in New York and Peter Seidler spends lavishly in San Diego — was further exposed last week when the small-market Pittsburgh Pirates finally changed their philosophical course and retained a rising star. Shockingly, owner Bob Nutting relented and gave an eight-year, $106.75 million extension to outfielder Bryan Reynolds. By no coincidence, the Pirates continue to win and lead the National League Central at 20-8, five games ahead of the Cubs. This leaves only three teams in Major League Baseball that never have signed a player to a $100 million deal.
The A’s, who have given up.
The Kansas City Royals, who play in the American League’s smallest market.
And Jerry Reinsdorf’s Chicago White Sox.
As Hahn was taking the bullets, Manny Machado was across town at Wrigley Field. If it seemed a joke in 2018 when he was considering the White Sox in free agency, he now confirms it was. “Money-wise, they were a little way off (what he anticipated). It was one of the biggest reasons,” said Machado, wearing the uniform of the payroll-bulging Padres, who recently signed him to an 11-year, $350 million extension. “The market has changed. I saw the other day, they have a $180 million payroll and never paid a guy $100 million-plus. So, just different ways of thinking.”
Yep, some owners want to be champs.
Chairman Jerry is a chump.
But at least he won his court case, as the Sox detailed in a press release. Would he now like to explain publicly why his team continues to reek? You’d have a better chance of snagging an interview with Comiskey.
Winters invoked the name of Howard Pizer, Reinsdorf’s longtime henchman. Of course, he did. Pizer is a buffoonish but effective Ray Donovan, without the guns and blood. Pizer does the dirty work — making calls to newspapers and threatening jobs, for instance, when Chairman Jerry is upset. You might wonder why the local media, in America’s third-largest market, allow such intimidation. Oh, because the outlets that aren’t owned by Reinsdorf literally — he has a 50 percent majority interest in NBC Sports Chicago, a house organ for his White Sox and Bulls — are weakened by his cronyism and political influences. His impact should have waned in older age, but Chicago never changes, with new layers of media and political lapdogs covering their tails. They wouldn’t want to be John Winters, would they? I applaud him for swinging and hustling, unlike Luis Robert, the would-be Sox superstar who was benched Saturday for jogging to first base and not telling anyone his hamstring hurt — supposedly.
The column I am writing today on Substack never would appear in the Sun-Times, a non-profit controlled by donors including family members of Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Reinsdorf ally. Nor would it appear in the Tribune, which is operated by a New York hedge fund that is too busy grub-grabbing profits to get its hands dirty with necessary journalism. What’s left of sports radio — forget it, the stations sold out on high long ago, only occasionally allowing obedient fanboy hosts to be squeaky wheels. The Athletic? I took down its Chicago editor/columnist last month for refusing to fire questions at the reclusive Reinsdorf when he stopped for a rare media chit-chat, which should deeply bother the sports website’s owner, the New York Times.
One of the few true sports journalists in that market, Jim O’Donnell of the Daily Herald, describes Chicago as “a captive city.” It’s starting to look like Hell on Earth. The outlook won’t improve until the sports owners are run off, but that can’t happen when the local media are bought off. I wrote and said it year after year after year, fighting corrupt editors and compromised program directors and weaselly team operatives along the way.
But what do I know? Mariotti sucks.
Jay Mariotti, called “without question the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes general sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts and shows in production today. He is an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and talk/podcast host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects.