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Playing Hardball

Jerry Reinsdorf got Michael Jordan back playing basketball, but the federal courts stymied his assault on baseball's economics.
Edward Kiersh
From the Print Edition:
Jack Nicholson, Summer 95

(continued from page 1)

The owners, Reinsdorf insists, also emerged from the long fight as unified as they have ever been, and are perhaps closer than ever as a group to the position espoused by Reinsdorf and other hardline owners. "I don't see any anger rising in the wake of the judge's decision," says Reinsdorf. "The owners are terribly united. The moderates have moved into the camp of those who want substantial change. There will be no shift in our leadership. I don't see an internal battle." He still predicts that revenue sharing will become a reality.

At this point, Reinsdorf isn't ready to back down or seriously compromise with the players either. "The philosophical and financial differences that divided us are still on the table. But patience, patience. Changes still have to be made, and we're just in a pause. A temporary pause.

"I'll fight for what I believe in. I'll always fight for what I believe. I hope we get an agreement, but the owners have the resolve to do whatever is necessary to achieve a just result--that's a restructuring of baseball's economics."

There's no hint of any contrition or regret over what's come down already, and his strident comments even inadvertently lend credence to the media's elevation of Reinsdorf into the role of puppeteer, engineering every move and countermove made by the owners and interim commissioner Bud Selig. The gritty, anything-but-charismatic Reinsdorf likes to downplay his clout, chuckling "I'm not driven or powerful. I'm happiest at home with my cigars and poodles" (Pandora, Diva, and Little Guy). But even the owners' decision not to lock out the players, the only viable option left to them after Sotomayor's ruling, was apparently made based on a Reinsdorf analysis. "There was a significant risk of damages. We felt the risk was too great," says Reinsdorf, brushing aside a suggestion that such a move would have created a public relations nightmare. "Let's leave it at that. There were just too many risks that weren't worth taking." But he remains convinced that a solution acceptable to the owners will be reached. "We'll get there. The battle still goes on. We're not licking our wounds. We're just sorting things out. We might just come up with a new strategy. If we just stay the course, have patience, we will correct the economics. We'll eventually even have revenue sharing."

But a new, reflective Reinsdorf, still tinged with his standard don't-abandon-the-barricades mentality, only surfaced in the wake of the legal setback. Throughout the fall and winter, he was still driven by the dream: to create a World Series winner in a business climate that made sense to him. Throughout those long months, there were other components of the Reinsdorf empire to tend--like the sudden and unexpected return of Michael Jordan to the Bulls. But for Reinsdorf, they appeared to be distractions from the task at hand. In the midst of a mid-March owners' strategy meeting at the usually sedate Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, rumors of Jordan's return to the NBA shifted attention away from baseball. Michael had been seen at a Bulls' practice, and once Reinsdorf appeared before reporters, the feeding frenzy began.

"Jerry, have you heard that Michael was at the Bulls' practice today?"

"I haven't talked with anybody about it," shoots back Reinsdorf.

"Would you like him back?"

"I just want for Michael what Michael wants."

"Do you have any indication of his future plans?"

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