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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 2)

"None at all."

In the glare of those TV lights, Reinsdorf looked weary, embattled--eons removed from his celebratory antics during the Bulls' 1991 championship. Already having lost over $10 million due to the strike, and spending 80 percent of his time on baseball labor issues, he seemed barely interested in Jordan's return.

He took the opportunity not to reflect on Jordan, but to go on the offensive. After attacking the baseball players' union chief Don Fehr for "preventing a settlement by not addressing the problems of the industry," he turned warm and fuzzy, praising acting commissioner Selig (nicknamed Bud Light) as "our wonderful, devoted leader."

That's the media's cue. They've heard it before, and as a group, they seem to prefer the picture they've painted of Reinsdorf as the villain, a "cancer" in baseball motivated only by self-interest (according to one players' association official). Reinsdorf admits that he's not comfortable with the press, and is prone to such broadsides as calling The New York Times a "house organ" of the baseball players' union. And, he's candid enough to concede, "I've made mistakes with the press." (Most notably, airing his hard-line demands for a new Comiskey Park.) "I have a lot to learn about PR."

But those lessons, much like his threatening to lose weight and play golf, will come later. Much later. After the impromptu, Jordan-inspired press conference, Reinsdorf was asked by real-estate partner Bob Judelson to "chew out" one of their business associates. Reinsdorf retreated to his hotel room, steeled again to play the heavy.

Countless phone calls later, Reinsdorf reappeared, carrying a mobile phone and an unlit Cuban cigar, and looking refreshed. A Chicago writer intercepted him to ask if he'd spoken to Jordan's agent, David Falk, but Reinsdorf ignored the question and moved through the Venetian-style lobby.

Finally settling into a seat near a dining room, he muttered, "Jordan, Jordan, Jordan," then added, "It was quite a meeting today, everyone rallying around Selig. There was a lot of laughing. I couldn't exist in anything where there isn't a lot of screwing around."

A playground for hard-driving businessmen whose egos have led them into sports and its macho camaraderie, these meetings are also Reinsdorf's secret pipeline straight to Havana.

"I usually sit next to my partner in crime, Toronto Blue Jays' president Paul Beeston, who brings me Cubans," said Reinsdorf with a grin. "They're very enjoyable, and while they can also be very inconsistent, I feel it's my patriotic duty to smoke lots of Cubans. They're contraband, so as a good American I have to light, smoke and destroy them."

Not everyone is amused with Reinsdorf's smoking seven cigars a day. Certainly not his wife, Martyl (married for 38 years with four grown children), who bans him from smoking inside their Phoenix manse. "She tolerates my smoking inside the house if she's in a really good mood, and that happens every decade."

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