By Adam Hoge–
(CBS) It’s time to take Jerry Reinsdorf and the rest of the White Sox ownership group to task.
While a lot of effort has been spent criticizing the Ricketts family on the Northside, Reinsdorf has sat quietly on the Southside and largely gotten away with what has quite frankly been a reckless business plan over the last 10 months.
White Sox general manager Kenny Williams and manager Ozzie Guillen have taken the brunt of criticism for a roster that hasn’t come close to living up to expectations, and, while they certainly haven’t had a great year, there’s a much bigger underlying problem that has developed and could haunt the franchise for years.
A financial problem.
It started when Reinsdorf — realizing time is running out at the age of 75 — desperately opened his checkbook last winter and the White Sox carelessly declared they were “All In.”
Reinsdorf gambled. And it appears he lost.
Fans love it when teams expand payroll in an effort to win now. Well, unfortunately, the 2011 White Sox are the perfect example of why most owners don’t do that. Rampant spending is usually bad business and, as a result of their rampant spending, the 2011 White Sox are the antithesis of good baseball business.
The problem started in 2009 when the White Sox took on the contracts of Jake Peavy ($52 million owed from 2010-12) and Alex Rios ($63.2 million owed from 2010-14) in the matter of 10 days. Those moves were made by Williams and can certainly be questioned, but trust me, Williams doesn’t have the freedom to add $115.2 million to the payroll without permission from Reinsdorf. Then, in July of 2010, Edwin Jackson’s $8.5 million salary for 2011 was added to the books.
Now, fast forward to last December, when the team signed Adam Dunn to a 4-year, $56 million contract and re-signed Paul Konerko to a 3-year, $37.5 million contract five days later.
The result was a club-record $127,789,000 payroll for 2011, over $24 million more than the team’s 2010 payroll.
It didn’t take long for people to start asking where the money was coming from and when Reinsdorf declared during spring training that the team had to draw at least 2.6 million fans to the ballpark this season to meet payroll, my jaw hit the ground.
The White Sox have only hit the 2.6 attendance mark four times in franchise history. They did it in 1991 and 1992 (in the first two seasons of the new ballpark) and in 2006 and 2007 (in the two seasons following a World Series title). In the 111-year history of the Chicago White Sox, there is absolutely zero evidence suggesting an off-season spending spree will immediately lead to an increase in attendance.
Surely, the White Sox knew this. Why else would they launch their “All In” marketing campaign? But Reinsdorf — and anyone else behind the business operations of the White Sox — should have realized 2.6 million fans was nearly impossible, even if the team played like a first place club all season long.
The historical attendance trends show White Sox fans show up to the ballpark as a result of something big (a new stadium, a World Series title), not in the hopes of something big. When the White Sox won the World Series in 2005, they only drew 2,342,834 fans to U.S. Cellular Field. The following year, 2,957,414 title-drunk fans showed up at the ballpark to watch a team that didn’t even make the playoffs.
Sure, the contracts have been bad, the execution on the field has been bad and even recently, the managing has been bad, but nothing is worse than the assumption that fans would just show up to the ballpark in masses just because the payroll was over $127 million and the team was “All In”.
What has unfolded has been nothing short of a worst-case scenario. But, even the best case scenario (a World Series title), wouldn’t have resulted in 2.6 million fans until next year.
And, what were the chances of a World Series title? Oh, about 1-in-93 (seriously, one title in 93 years).
That’s a hell of gamble by Reinsdorf. A reckless one at that.
Adam is the Sports Content Producer for CBSChicago.com and specializes in coverage of the White Sox, Blackhawks and college sports. He was born and raised in Lincoln Park and attended St. Ignatius College Prep before going off to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he earned a Journalism degree. Follow him on Twitter @AdamHogeCBS and read more of his columns here.