Like Michael Jordan, he has a burning desire to win. Like Frank Thomas, he comes to the game fully prepared. Like Dennis Rodman, he will block out anyone who tries to keep him from an offensive rebound. That is why all of the above play for Jerry Reinsdorf, a 60-year-old C.P.A. and attorney who owns the Chicago Bulls and Chicago White Sox. And that is why Reinsdorf signed offensive-rebound Albert Belle last week to a five-year, $52.5 million contract that made the troubled slugger the highest-paid baseball player in history--and the owner the top vote getter in Hypocrite of the Year balloting.
Reinsdorf, understand, is the hardest of the hard-line owners warring with the players' union. He has the ear of acting commissioner Bud Selig, who recently presided over the defeat of the labor deal that would have brought peace and imposed a luxury tax to level the playing field between large- and small-market teams. Reinsdorf rails against the spiraling cost of players' salaries and then puts his money where his mouth was not. "Any owner who breaks the market like this with the industry in trouble, it makes you scratch your head," said Cleveland Indians general manager John Hart, who stopped bidding for his former star at $8 million a year. "That is going to be for Jerry to live with."
Reinsdorf was well aware of the criticism he would receive. "My first obligation is to the White Sox fans," he says. "In the current climate, you have to pay to win. Look at the World Series: the No. 1 [Yankees] payroll vs. the No. 2. It was also clear to me that if I didn't give Albert $10 million a year, somebody else would." Asked if he weren't stockpiling nuclear weapons while talking disarmament, Reinsdorf replied, "Absolutely. I'm just playing by the rules, and playing to win. That said, we can't go on like this. Small-market clubs will never win."
The impact of the Belle signing has already been felt in the White Sox ticket office, where the phones have been ringing off the hook. Last year only 21,220 fans a game came to the new Comiskey Park to watch the Pale Hose futilely chase the Indians. Reinsdorf had the Big Hurt, Thomas, at first base, and a bigger hurt in the empty upper deck. The best team in the history of basketball was not enough for him. "My first love is baseball," he says. "I will not rest easy until I win the World Series." And that would be the Chisox's first since 1917.