Family affair: Reinsdorf father figure for White Sox
Chairman champion of humanity, loyalty, diversity in close-knit organization
CHICAGO -- Jerry Reinsdorf serves as White Sox chairman, but he runs the Major League Baseball franchise on the South Side of Chicago more like a family.
"Everyone who comes to the White Sox realizes that he does really feel that this is a family," said Steve Stone, who has known Reinsdorf for many years and has worked as the White Sox television analyst for the last five years. "That's something they talk about at other places, but they don't see a lot. You can see it here."
Earlier in the 2012 season, Reinsdorf paid the cost for a new Olympic gold medal for Chicago shortstop Alexei Ramirez. The original medal for Ramirez, won while playing for Cuba during the 2004 Summer Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, disappeared as he traveled to Chicago before the 2008 season to begin his Major League career. Ramirez became instantly emotional when Reinsdorf and Jose Contreras -- his Cuban countryman, friend and former White Sox teammate -- presented the medal to him prior to a White Sox game on June 8.
Prior to Wednesday's three-game sweep of the Twins, Reinsdorf handed a ring to Philip Humber for his perfect game thrown on April 21 in Seattle, the same sort of ring the White Sox had commissioned for Mark Buehrle for his 2009 perfect game. A.J. Pierzynski was given a bronzed catcher's mask, the same mask that he wore while catching Humber's perfecto, placed on a pedestal.
Reinsdorf concluded the impromptu ceremony by giving Paul Konerko a ring to commemorate his 400th home run, hit on April 25 in Oakland. This sort of generosity and connection with his players is not new for Reinsdorf.
"He is one of the most loyal men in a business that doesn't engender loyalty," Stone said. "He cares about the White Sox. He cares about winning. He cares about the players that are here."
The winning part seems fairly obvious, as Reinsdorf has talked in the past about running the White Sox basically to break even. The money that comes in usually goes back out to help improve the team, especially if that means adding an impact player, such as starting pitcher Zack Greinke, who could turn the White Sox from a playoff-caliber team to a championship-caliber team.
Reinsdorf sets the tone for the organization off the field as well. The White Sox chairman is one of the leaders in commitment to diversity in hiring and business practices, for example.
When Major League Baseball's first Diversity Business Summit was being put together, it was Reinsdorf who stepped up and said he wanted to host it in Chicago. The event was a huge success, taking place on Tuesday, with more than 1,000 people in attendance for a summit that began with an owners' roundtable discussion.
"What has made Jerry special is the consistency of his message and also the implementation of his strategy and in measurable ways," said Wendy Lewis, MLB's senior vice president of diversity and strategic alliances. "It's exemplified throughout his organization. I work a lot with all the MLB clubs, and I know the White Sox in particular, their folks are very well versed and embrace diversity. That only comes when the leader is sincere."
Tuesday's Summit was a testament to MLB's desire to get the word out that it wants to do business with minorities. It was a concept Reinsdorf dealt with when the Diversity Committee was originated by Commissioner Bud Selig in 1992, known then as the Equal Opportunity Committee.
One of the first things done by the Committee was to take a survey to see what percentage of baseball's employees were minorities, and Reinsdorf was surprised by the results.
"All of baseball was really low, including the White Sox," Reinsdorf said. "So, I said, 'I know we don't turn people down because they are minorities.' What I found is they weren't applying for the jobs.
"We get resumes in every single day, jillions of resumes. We were hiring from the resumes that we got. The same thing, I checked with our purchasing people. We get people who come and they want to bid on our stuff, and we take the best of them.
"So I realized that minorities must think that there's no point, they can't get in the game," Reinsdorf said. "We have to get the word out that you can get in the game. You are not going to get preferential treatment. But come on and get in the game, so that's what we started doing."
All it took, Reinsdorf joked, was telling people to do it. It worked.
"I really believe just giving everybody equal opportunity is going to work out," Reinsdorf said. "I just wanted to give people a chance to earn the business. If you are buying pencils or paper, why wouldn't you want to get bids from everybody? You are bound to get better prices that way."
This sort of even-handed leadership and loyalty has benefited the game as well as the White Sox during Reinsdorf's more than 31 years in the game.
"There are a lot of other owners in this game who are pretty good. I'm not sure there are any owners that are better than Jerry Reinsdorf," Stone said. "But what he's done away from either the basketball court or the baseball field, people he has helped that he doesn't talk about, and charities that he's gone to and supported that we might never know that he has done.
"Things we know exist, but we don't know the specifics. That epitomizes Jerry Reinsdorf."