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Change in air surrounding White Sox

Reinsdorf comments suggest long period of stability could be drawing to close

Phil Rogers

On Baseball

8:53 PM CDT, May 22, 2013

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Jerry Reinsdorf is 77, going on 40. He wasn't joking when he told a friend he is planning to serve as host when the 2033 All-Star Game comes to U.S. Cellular Field, commemorating the first one at Comiskey Park in 1933.

But I'm not sure about that. It feels to me like the White Sox are entering a period of change after a long run of stability, with the roster in flux under first-year general manager Rick Hahn and ownership in question for the first time since Reinsdorf and Eddie Einhorn led a group in buying the team in 1981.

Why did Reinsdorf reveal to the Sports Business Journal that in his estate plan he has recommended that his family sell its interest in the White Sox and hang onto the Bulls? He's not usually such an open book.

Could the club chairman have been floating a trial balloon? Was he letting interested parties know the team could be going on the market at some point in the near future? Only he knows — and the team denies anything has changed — but he had his reasons for the disclosure, you can be sure of that.

Reinsdorf, who on Wednesday night was given a lifetime achievement honor at the Sports Business Journal awards, loves baseball and the chance to run a team, especially one that frequently gives him a chance to say "told you so'' to those who take it lightly. All things being equal — or at least the way they have been the last 20 years — I think you would have to take him out of his U.S. Cellular office kicking and screaming.

But things are never equal. And as we speak payrolls are continuing to rise and Bud Selig gets a day closer to resigning as commissioner with every day that passes.

While the NBA has a salary cap, baseball relies only on a tax structure to hold down player costs. Thus the rival Tigers will pay $74 million to three players (Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Justin Verlander) in 2015. Competing against them isn't as much fun as it used to be. But Selig is the big issue.

Reinsdorf and Selig have been baseball's Butch and Sundance combination since the 1980s, when they emerged as the most active in ownership (Brewers and White Sox) with Peter Ueberroth, Bart Giamatti and Fay Vincent in the commissioner's seat. They fought Donald Fehr and big-revenue owners together in the battles that led to the strike that cost baseball the 1994 World Series, and Reinsdorf still ranks behind only Selig in terms of influencing ownership issues.

Will Reinsdorf want to work with a new regime if Selig follows through on his plans to retire at 80 after the 2014 season? He will feel the responsibility, for sure, but the dynamics will be drastically different without the rapport that has made it fun to work with Selig.

In a piece for the Sports Business Journal, Bill King wrote how Reinsdorf backed away from ownership issues in the NBA because Commissioner David Stern ignored his input during labor talks in 1988.

"He does it all by himself," Reinsdorf said. "I never really enjoy being part of the industry in basketball, because I had no influence. Nothing to say about anything. You go to NBA meetings and David Stern tells you what to do."

What if MLB's next commissioner has that style of leadership? Would Reinsdorf still want to be involved?

It's tough to imagine the White Sox without Reinsdorf, who recently passed Charles Comiskey as the longest-tenured owner in franchise history. The organization is loaded with Reinsdorf guys. They include manager Robin Ventura and assistant hitting coach Harold Baines, along with frequent lunch-time companion Minnie Minoso.

Change would come fast under a new ownership group. It always does.

When that day arrives, whether in 2033 or sooner, MLB will have a tough time finding another Reinsdorf.

progers@tribune.com

Twitter @ChiTribRogers