HOUSTON – At moments like these, Jerry Reinsdorf (search) is still the kid from Brooklyn.
Much of the time, he seems to revel in the role of the cigar-smoking heavy, blowing puffs on the balconies of pricey hotels at owners' meetings, telling stories with the boys.
His Chicago Bulls (search) have won six NBA titles since he bought that franchise in 1985. He once said he'd trade all six for one World Series ring, and on Wednesday night his Chicago White Sox (search) swept Houston for their first World Series title since 1917, sol was a religion, and everything else was secondary," he said, wearing his new White Sox leather jacket with the World Series logo on the sleeve.
"When I was a kid back in the in the '40s, there wasn't very much to do. And in Brooklyn, it was the unifying force. It was the one thing that held everybody together. I couldn't afford to go to a World Series game. But I certainly listened on the radio, and later, when television came along, watched every one of those games," he said.
Now 69, he's come far from those days in Flatbush and he gets his choice of any seat in the house. His group bought the White Sox in 1981, and the Second City's second team is approaching a championship Chicago's beloved Cubs haven't brought home since 1908.
"I wish this whole thing of, 'If you're a Cub fan, you've got to hate the White Sox, if you're a White Sox fan, you've got to hate the Cubs,' would go away," he said. "Why can't we root for both of them except when they play? To me, that would be a whole lot more civilized."
He's a complicated sort, sometimes filled with bluster, sometimes filled with laughter. But Stan Kasten (search), the former Atlanta Braves and Hawks president, said Reinsdorf is not the power behind the throne of baseball commissioner Bud Selig's throne, as some on the player and union side have charged.
"The two public perceptions are: something of a puppet master, something of a difficult personality to deal with," Kasten said. "He has opinions — he has strong opinions in both sports I worked with him, and he's usually on the far right of issues. And most issues are not decided on the far right of things. The notion of him pulling the strings on people is just not true. If things went Jerry's way, sports would look quite a bit different."
Reinsdorf's image took a hit when he threatened in 1988 to move the White Sox to Florida, a tactic to gain government funding for a new ballpark. He was portrayed as the catalyst for baseball's 1994-95 strike, a charge he rejects.
"If they had listened to me, we would have won the strike," he said last week. "They didn't listen to me."
He's angered many during negotiations — agent Tom Reich calls him "an absolute hawk on player salaries" and "one of the toughest businessmen you'll ever find."
But, Reinsdorf once gave one of Dennis Gilbert's players an extra $5,000 when Gilbert asked him to "show a little `rachmonis,"' invoking the Yiddish word for compassion. Five years ago, Reinsdorf hired Gilbert as a special assistant.
And Reinsdorf named the Bulls' practice facility after former assistant Sheri Berto, who died tragically in 1991. Friends and foes describe him as tremendously loyal.
And even when others don't agree with him, they listen to what he has to say.
"Not withstanding his protestations from time to time, Jerry is and has been one of the elite power sources in baseball for decades," Reich said. "And that is even truer now."
Two years after Reinsdorf and partner Eddie Einhorn bought control of the team from Bill Veeck, the White Sox won their division in 1983 only to lose to Baltimore in the AL championship series.
"We thought we were pretty smart. But you know what, everybody that gets into baseball thinks he's smarter than everybody that's been there," he said. "I remember the day after we clinched, we had a celebration on the field, we introduced all the players, and Eddie and I went out, and I stood next to Jerry Koosman and he said to me, `Enjoy the moment, they're few and far between.' Little did I realize it would be 10 years before we'd even get back to the playoffs, let alone 25 years to get to the World Series."
It wasn't until 1993 that the White Sox got back to the playoffs, and that year they were eliminated by Toronto. In 2000, they lost to Seattle.
This year, the White Sox finished with the best record in the American League, swept Boston, then beat the Los Angeles Angels (search). All with a payroll of $74 million, 13th among the 30 major league teams.
"I'm thrilled for Jerry if he wins the World Series," former union lawyer Lauren Rich said. "Maybe now he'll give his players a raise."
A tax accountant who moved to Chicago when he went to Northwestern Law School, Reinsdorf made his fortune in real estate. But that wasn't as much fun as owning the White Sox.
"I don't ever recall buying or selling a property and jumping up and down and hugging anybody," he said.
But he does have perspective. He recounted an exchange he had with 8-year-old Joey Reinsdorf, one of his seven grandchildren.
"I tried to explain to him that the only thing in the world that matters is your health, that everything else is secondary, and baseball is entertainment and it's nice to win, but if we don't win, it doesn't involve your health," he remembered.
"And then I said, `I want to see if you understood what I said.' I said, `Joey, would you rather be healthy and lose, or sick and win?' And he said, `How sick?"'