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REINSDORF’S CREEPY EMPIRE IS DUE FOR A SWEEPING INVESTIGATION
The White Sox are being sued by an ex-head trainer who says he was fired because he’s gay, this after a lawsuit by an autistic batboy subjected to lewd sexual harassment — time to scrub the culture
Would the Chicago White Sox fire a head athletic trainer, after 20 years of service, because management learned he is gay? For those unfamiliar with this organization, it might sound like a money grab, the desperate legal stab of a disgruntled ex-employee fishing for a settlement. But that would ignore the team’s sordid history of sexual harassment and homophobia, a pattern that erupted as recently as 2019 and extends back to the mid-2000s.
It would overlook the uncomfortable reality that Jerry Reinsdorf, the 86-year-old chairman, sits atop one of the creepiest shops in sports.
At a time when allegations of toxic work environments have prompted investigations throughout the industry — the Washington Commanders, Las Vegas Raiders and Phoenix Suns are under siege — the White Sox should be subjected to the same levels of league and media scrutiny. Ever the cigar-smoking dictator, Reinsdorf and his minions want to defuse Brian Ball’s lawsuit by “categorically denying (his) baseless allegations” and blaming his removal on “performance.” Then they want to intimidate Ball by attacking him personally, a standard strongarm practice when Reinsdorf’s empire is threatened by intruders, in the tradition of wounded mob bosses sending messages from hermetically sealed bunkers.
“It is extremely disappointing that a former colleague, who was supported, developed and promoted over two decades, chose to attack the club in this way," the team said in a statement approved, if not written, by Reinsdorf. “It is also surprising to many who know Brian, and supported him throughout his career, to read the allegations included in his lawsuit.”
Surprising? Nothing is remotely startling about Ball’s legal grievance against the franchise and general manager Rick Hahn — he says he was ousted in October 2020 after Hahn, executive vice president Ken Williams and White Sox players became aware of his sexual orientation — when the grotesque details of another disturbing lawsuit are still swirling in a vortex. Last August, the White Sox were sued by an autistic batboy who worked for their Double-A affiliate in Alabama, the Birmingham Barons. In his civil suit, the 23-year-old man accused the team’s field manager, former major-league star Omar Vizquel, of “sexually aggressive behavior” on multiple occasions during the 2019 season. By then, it was known in baseball circles that Vizquel had personal issues, which would explode in scandal when his estranged wife accused him of domestic abuse. Yet the White Sox had been impressed enough to place him in a role that might have led to consideration for a Chicago position.
At least five times — as alleged in a sexual harassment suit that targeted Vizquel and accused the White Sox and Barons of violating the Americans With Disabilities Act — Vizquel “deliberately exposed his erect or partially erect penis” to the man in the clubhouse. On Aug. 22 of that year, as alleged in the suit, Vizquel had an erection when he ordered the man to wash his back with soap “for the purpose of obtaining sexual gratification.” Why did the batboy comply? Because he feared for his job, stating he was “humiliated, intimidated and frightened of what would happen if he disobeyed.” He eventually resigned and took the case to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which investigated and ruled that the batboy had been “subjected to sexual harassment and disability discrimination” and “constructively discharged” due to a hostile workplace environment.
Is this not the sickest story, lewd and crude to the core?
Anyone who doubts Ball’s credibility should know how the White Sox responded to the batboy’s allegations. They tried to cover up the story, investigating privately with the Barons that summer but mentioning nothing publicly about the magnitude of the accusations. Three months passed before an “amicable” parting with Vizquel was announced via a published story written by a team-friendly MLB.com writer, in which a White Sox personnel executive wished Vizquel “well” and called him “a positive influence” during his Barons tenure. In a Nov. 20, 2019 piece headlined, “Vizquel, White Sox amicably part ways,” the team allowed director of player development Chris Getz to be its public voice in an interview with reporter Scott Merkin. Not Hahn. Not Williams. Not Reinsdorf. No, Chris Getz.
“Listen, Omar, ultra-talented player, very good instructor, created a good environment for our players,’’ Getz said. “We just felt with where things are at, our player development system, that it was time to go separate ways. But not only for himself, but for the organization as well and we wish Omar well. He was a positive influence while he was here.’’
Whether Getz fibbed to take one for the team or didn’t know the vile aspects of the case, for him to describe Vizquel as “a positive influence” who “created a good environment for our players” is a direct commentary on why this franchise cannot be trusted. If The Athletic hadn’t included the batboy’s accusations in a wider expose of Vizquel, the White Sox might never have come clean about the probe and firing. They haven’t uttered a word about the case since last August, when, two years after Vizquel’s removal, the team said, “Because this is active litigation, at this time the White Sox will not comment further regarding the allegations.”
Thus, don’t be foolish and believe the company line that Ball is lying. He started with the White Sox in 2000, working as an assistant trainer for 18 full seasons before his promotion to head trainer, so it seems telling he’d fall out of favor not long after he said management learned he was gay in 2018. The timeline speaks volumes: In February 2020, Ball says he was told by assistant GM Jeremy Haber and a senior medical adviser that he no longer would work the daily grind in the clubhouse and dugout, instead serving in an administrative capacity. Ball says he was told “he should not be giving any treatments to the players but directing the other trainers to do so,” which suggests some in the clubhouse and organization no longer were comfortable with Ball. Five months later, in the type of story that defines the general dysfunction of Reinsdorf’s two pro sports teams, Ball was the victim of a carjacking in which he was beaten by two men. After he was examined by a team doctor, Ball said Hahn responded without much compassion. The GM ordered him to see a psychologist, who would have to clear Ball to return to work.
His bosses were building a case against him. By September, according to the lawsuit, Hahn was suggesting to other training staff members that Ball had a gambling, drug or alcohol addiction related to the carjacking. If he had a gambling problem, it takes no stretch of imagination to consider the havoc he could wreak. None of the claims, Ball says, “were or are true.” On Oct. 26, 2020, Ball was told by Hahn that he was out of a job. Two days later, in yet another Reinsdorfian debacle, 76-year-old Tony La Russa was charged with drunken-driving — for a second time — as the White Sox were about to name Reinsdorf’s longtime crony as manager. In December, says Ball, a “knowledgeable White Sox senior management representative” told him that he was terminated because of his sexual orientation.
If you’re still having difficulty believing Ball’s story, while absorbing the entirety of White Sox chaos, let’s rewind 16 years to my days as a Chicago columnist. Allow me to run back a story that shaded my media career for months, until the world grasped the troubled psyche of Ozzie Guillen. While I was preoccupied on a long road trip covering U.S. Open golf in New York and the NBA Finals in Dallas, Guillen called me “a f—ing fag’’ for not being in his clubhouse, which he oversaw as manager. The story went viral, requiring me to accept invitations to appear on national news shows — including Tucker Carlson’s — to discuss Guillen’s antics through the years. How did Reinsdorf and the White Sox respond? Generally, they laughed it off while issuing half-assed statements. The Blizzard of Oz, after all, had just led the Sox to their first World Series title since 1917. He could do no wrong in management’s eyes, even when he was firing gay slurs. Never mind that I had to explain this crackpot’s words to my two daughters.
Soon enough, The Blizzard was feuding with Williams, wearing out his welcome and fleeing to the Miami Marlins. After saying he admired Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, which lit a firestorm in Little Havana and throughout South Florida, he confessed to a longtime drinking problem. “I go to the hotel bar, get drunk, sleep, I don't do anything else. I get drunk because I'm happy we win or I get drunk because I'm very sad and disturbed because we lose,’’ Guillen told CBSSports.com. “Same routine, it never changes. It's been the same routine for 25, 28 years. It doesn't change. … I've got to be here early, and I go to sleep so drunk that I have to recover in time to go to the park.’’
His confession didn’t excuse Reinsdorf for a lapse that has haunted him in the Ball and Vizquel cases. He never substantially reprimanded Guillen for a homophobic slur that would prompt a firing these days and, to this day, the owner still employs Guillen as a TV studio host on game broadcasts — at present, he’s embroiled in a verbal dustup with team leader Tim Anderson. No matter what Reinsdorf says about being a champion of diversity, his in-house dramas suggest hypocrisy at its ugliest.
‘‘The Chicago White Sox are unified against discrimination in any form and support anti-discrimination laws that provide protection to those wronged by an employer,” the team said of Ball’s lawsuit. “Those laws are essential to protecting anyone who has been victimized by discrimination and to creating a culture of empowerment and opportunity for all individuals. Brian’s dismissal from the organization was based on his performance and did not run afoul of any of the protections afforded to employees under the law.
“Although we do not intend to provide further comment until this matter is resolved, we are committed to vigorously defending the club’s reputation against Brian’s meritless allegations, including the pursuit of all remedies under the law.’’
Unlike the NFL and NBA teams under investigation, the White Sox have suffered for decades from a nondescript national profile. Only of late have they made noise on the field, though attendance remains lukewarm in a baseball town that always will be dominated by the Cubs. None of which should stop the local media from probing and editorializing on the shame within Reinsdorf’s empire.
As I point out often, Chicago’s two death-row newspapers are held captive by his influence, while two dismal sports talk stations have all but let him program their ratings-challenged daily fare. If a newcomer such as Tribune executive editor Mitch Pugh wanted to shake things up and launch an investigation, he’d receive a call from one of Reinsdorf’s henchmen — for years, the dirty-work goon was Howard Pizer — and the Tribune soon would be naming Pugh’s replacement. The few irrelevant columnists who remain there have been emasculated, brainwashed into submission by the Reinsdorf culture, and anyone who acts up on radio would be rubbed out by station managers Mitch Rosen and Craig Karmazin.
I was harassed by Reinsdorf and his people for the better part of 17 years — I was the Road Runner; he was Wile E. Coyote, trying to blow me up. He ran me off a successful radio show. He constantly tried to get me in trouble at the Sun-Times, where too many decision-makers were friendly with him. I’m told he even phoned Disney Company chief Bob Iger about me during my successful eight-year run on ESPN’s “Around The Horn.’’ He called me silly names, such as “pissant” and “turd.” His hillbilly homer of a TV broadcaster, Hawk Harrelson, called me “hineybird,’’ which prompted me to call him Foghorn Leghorn and frequently point out his .239 career batting average. His public defender, Williams, once spotted me hanging out with friends on a hotel rooftop and entered my facial space. Frank Thomas threatened to put his bat up my ass “sideways.” Carl Everett almost came after me in a ballpark hallway. Guillen ordered me to “get the f— off our field” as I was interviewed live by Dan Patrick on an ESPN set. Tony Phillips repeatedly called me “a mother f—er” before I returned the same words. Much of the rancor was related to my bartender source, at a Hubbard Street pub, and the inside information leaked by her one-time love interest, who was on the team for years and familiar with day-to-day intrigue.
Yet, through it all, not once have I received an apology for being called a “f—ing fag.” Nor do I figure “sorry” ever was voiced to the autistic batboy in Alabama, though I suspect he’s richer today.
So do I believe Brian Ball?
I believe and commend anyone who exposes Reinsdorf’s operation for what it is. And I encourage any Chicago news operation that takes itself seriously to investigate. A Pulitzer Prize awaits.
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.