A Tale of Three Jerrys

I have to hand it to Jerry Reinsdorf’s public relations team.  They could sell death metal to Peter, viagra canada drugstore Paul, cialis canada and Mary fans.\n\nAs Major League Baseball owners seek to take the proverbial meat-ax to non-player employee pensions, someone leaked to ESPN that it has been Reinsdorf who has tried in vain to save them.  Reinsdorf, \”a champion of the less visible members of the MLB family,\” reportedly \”chastised his brethren for being petty with the lives of ordinary people given the riches produced by the sport.\”\n\nIn this case, “champion” means a person aiming to provide workers with job security and benefits once thought of as basic rights but now considered privileges in the present zeitgeist.  And it’s curious that Reinsdorf would speak of vast baseball riches with his cronies behind closed doors when just last year he offered publicly that “a baseball team is really a horrible economic investment.”\n\nAt any rate, score one for the Chairman, whose scolding of heartless companions was picked up by the local media.\n\nThere was a time when the mainstream media portrayed the Bulls and White Sox owner with some regularity (but without much thought or subtlety) as a greedy, cheap, St. Pete loving, baseball strike inciting, white-flag trading, ’90s Bulls breaker-upper.  At that time, “bearable person” status in the public consciousness seemed an impossible ascension for Jerry Reinsdorf.  So I’m amazed at how his image has been buoyed in recent years.\n\nIt’s as if Reinsdorf’s people knew how shallow the criticisms of the man were, derived from tabloid journalists posing as sports reporters who created a comic book villain to tap the ire of the always frustrated Chicago sports fan.  In response, the Reinsdorf team constructed a three dimensional persona to expose “Evil Jerry” as the flimsy cardboard cutout prop that he was.  The second incarnation of Jerry Reinsdorf moved more fluidly, looked incredibly lifelike, and had a shorter load time.  He was Jerry 2.0.\n\nThe new Jerry was jovial.  Jerry was kind.  He was nostalgic for Ebbets Field and the Brooklyn Dodgers.  He was loyal and caring toward his employees, and a champion of “minority hiring.”  Jerry was as selfless (a nationally recognized philanthropist) as he was modest (“aw shucks, I wish you wouldn’t print anything about me being a nationally recognized philanthropist”).  He only wanted to go about his business of helping people and bringing sports championships to Chicago.  The Jerry they created was misunderstood.  He wasn’t evil at all.   He was your grandfather, only better.\n\nOnce a symbol of post-industrial corporate machismo (à la Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho), time and a public-relations initiated gelding (perpetuated in no small part, by the network that Reinsdorf owns) have rendered Jerry Reinsdorf into Grandpa Munster: harmless; benign; you know, boring.\n\nAnd that’s just how behind-the-scenes Reinsdorf, or “Moneybags Jerry,” wants it.  Because this Jerry has learned that there’s less to be gained as a public jerk; the real money is in maintaining a low profile and a decent public image while building political alliances.\n\nWith Evil Jerry dead as the hi-top fade, and “Grandpa Jerry” pulling quarters out from behind our ears, we’re all too often distracted from the exploits of Moneybags Jerry.\n\n\n\nHere’s a case in point.  On Sunday I attended a talk by Dave Zirin here in Chicago.  Zirin is the author of many books on sports and politics, he’s a contributor to The Nation magazine, and writes about sports and national political/cultural issues on his blog Edge of Sports.\n\nI was joined by a few friends, including White Sox blogger and CSS contributor James Fegan.\n\nBefore Zirin began talking about the new book he was there to promote, he warmed up the room with a little home cookin’.  Something like:\n\n“The city of Chicago is about to close fifty-four schools.  Well, a small fraction of what the government has doled out to Chicago sports team owners in subsidies would pay for those schools to stay open.”\n\nWe clapped earnestly.  Someone was saying this!  In public!\n\n“And I’m happy to be in Chicago so I can tell you all that it is home to the man I believe is the worst owner in sports!  And those of you who know me, you know that’s saying a lot!”\n\nMy cohort was giddy with anticipation.  I saw smirks and wide eyes, even a fist pump from my friend beside me.  Zirin was going to speak the words!  And he had a microphone!\n\n“Joe Ricketts,” said Zirin.\n\n“Oooo, upset!” uttered James over the murmur of the crowded room.\n\nOf course, my friends and I were expecting Zirin to call out Jerry Reinsdorf.\n\nZirin knows his stuff, but his assessment in this case was wrongheaded.  First off, Joe Ricketts doesn’t really own the Cubs, his children do.  While Joe Ricketts may have some stake in the team and influence on decision making, there is nothing to indicate the man has a hand in its day to day operations.\n\nBut there was Zirin, chiding Joe Ricketts for using the emotions of sports fans as leverage by threatening to move the team to the suburbs if the city doesn’t pitch in for a Wrigley Field renovation.  It’s a negotiation tactic that Jerry Reinsdorf probably invented when he threatened to move the White Sox to Florida in the late ’80s.\n\nIn this case, the team-to-the-suburbs story is a non-story.  The Cubs killed it before it gained any traction.  Regardless, the premise is ridiculous.  Cubs ownership is not going to leave Wrigley Field, one of the bigger draws in baseball.  Not unless they’re Kentucky fried idiots.\n\nBut as I listened to Zirin’s rationale, mostly I wondered: how could he open with an indictment of school closings and subsidies and then call the “owner” of the Cubs, a team that has received no subsidies from our city, the “worst owner in sports”?  And fail to mention the owner who has been the largest beneficiary of public funding in Chicago—a man who enjoys one of the, if not the sweetest lease and tax deals with the state and city of any sports team owner in the country?\n\nThe answers have to do with popular politics.  Joe Ricketts has made himself a very public enemy of the liberal left.  While Jerry Reinsdorf has bags of money, Joe Ricketts has money-pallets.  He used chunks of this cash to smear President Obama as a socialist black radical.  The evil emanating from Joe Ricketts is uncomplicated and uncompromising.  It invites the ire of lefty journalists, and the response to him is understandably visceral.\n\nReinsdorf, on the other hand, is publicly non-partisan.  He makes campaign contributions to both major parties because his agenda is not exclusive to either.  Both Republicans and Democrats have coddled Moneybags Jerry, giving him continuous access to millions in public dollars and tax breaks in the name of “creating jobs” and building facilities that serve as “anchors” for economic development.\n\nThe only problem with these pricey public investments has been their woefully inadequate returns.\n\nBut what Moneybags Jerry lacks in hard data he makes up for in clout.  Having already accepted hundreds of millions in stadium financing and property tax breaks from local government over the past two decades, Reinsdorf continues to enjoy (to name a few perks that come to mind): a reduced amusement tax rate; $10 million from the city and state annually to cover U.S. Cellular Field maintenance costs and interest on construction debt; and additional state funds to cover any shortfalls in hotel tax revenues earmarked for the White Sox.  All of this and more subsidies to fully fund Reinsdorf’s new restaurant, financed under the guise of “improvements” to U.S. Cellular Field on the ISFA balance sheet.\n\nThe brilliance of Grandpa Jerry is that he provides a smokescreen for the operations of Moneybags Jerry.  And Moneybags rides this billowy cloud beyond the boardrooms of the White Sox and Bulls.\n\nBeing a notable businessman and a heckuva nice guy makes Jerry Reinsdorf a palatable candidate for board membership for publicly-subsidized, private nonprofit (though indirectly profitable) entities like Choose Chicago and the Chicago Sports Commission.\n\nI’m not saying that Grandpa Jerry is a total deception.  I’m sure much of the characterization comes from something genuine.  Reinsdorf probably is a benevolent and charitable person who feels responsible for the well-being of those who depend on him.  He’s a paternalistic figure in that way.\n\nAnd I’d be fine with that, except that paternalism is how they justified company towns, and slavery!\n\nI’m wary of Grandpa Jerry because he’s real and he’s everywhere, giving the impression that Jerry Reinsdorf is a force for civic good.  But in fact, if we were to weigh the contributions that Grandpa Jerry makes to the city against the resources that Moneybags Jerry deprives of it, the balance would tip significantly in favor of the latter.\n\nThe worst of it is, diverting public funds for private gain puts a strain on city budgets for social services, affecting most adversely middle- and lower-income Chicagoans, disproportionately people of color, or the very groups Reinsdorf’s boosters profess he seeks to protect and assist.\n\nFor all of his charity and goodwill toward employees, Grandpa Jerry stops well short of questioning or seeking an alternative to the system of corporate welfare that privileges Moneybags Jerry.\n\nThat is the daunting task taken up by social activists, the real heroes and champions of working people.  It’s because of this that I miss Evil Jerry—that empty suit—because at least he cleared some space for criticism of Jerry Reinsdorf.  Now, all critical discourse has been pushed to the fringes.\n\nHow do we change this?  Well, how the hell do I know?\n\nWhat we need is a good PR team.

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