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One bit of news from this year’s MLB winter meetings that flew under the radar amid all the Shohei Ohtani and Juan Soto rumors only sort of involved the winter meetings. White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf reportedly met with the mayor of Nashville — the host city for the meetings — about… something. The what is undisclosed, but it also doesn’t matter, because the only thing happening here is that Reinsdorf is trying to drum up concern back in Chicago that something that does matter could have been discussed.
Let’s rewind to September for a moment, when Bob Nightengale wrote a story about Oakland being rumored as an attractive expansion destination once the A’s vacated. Nightengale cited “high-ranking executives” as his source, which I met with some cynicism:
High-ranking executives from where, of what? Doesn’t matter, really: if they’re within MLB, then it’s to their benefit that Oakland remains seen this way even after the A’s bailing on the city. So of course you’d want to plant stories saying Oakland is an attractive destination, because it will inevitably make Nashville have to step up their game that much more if the time comes for expansion, or, as said above, the more likely candidate of relocation. And even if the A’s are the only actual team to be relocating both now and for decades to come, the threat of relocation can be effective — ask Jerry Reinsdorf about that one. Hell, that could even be the anonymous high-ranking executive Nightengale spoke to for this story: someone like Reinsdorf would love nothing more than to have another city to pit Nashville against in his bid to get yet another new White Sox stadium paid for in Chicago. See what I’m getting at here?
Then again, it’s only cynicism if it’s untrue, yeah? And here’s Reinsdorf meeting with the mayor of Nashville at the first convenient opportunity, months after planting a story to warn Chicago that the White Sox could relocate if they don’t get a new stadium. Gasp, just like the A’s did! How topical. As has been discussed again and again over the years, Reinsdorf has already done this exact song and dance in the past, meaning, he’s already planted stories about relocating as a threat to Chicago, and even met with the mayor of the city he was supposedly going to move the team to. He even admitted this was all a ruse, in writing, to get what he wanted out of it. And he’s doing it again! Don’t let him, is what I’m getting at.
As I wrote for Baseball Prospectus back in August, Reinsdorf doesn’t want to move, so much as he wants to create leverage that grants him a whole bunch of land to build another ballpark on, one that gets to create additional revenue for him a la the Braves’ Battery Park.
Reinsdorf’s deal at Guaranteed Rate Field gives him all of the revenue from parking, tickets, concessions, and merch, and for annual rent so low even an infamous cheapskate like Jerry isn’t bothered about having to pay it: He’s not going anywhere. As said, though, he’s playing the hits. He already created leverage by pretending he’d move to St. Petersburg decades ago, which is how Guaranteed Rate Field was built and that deal was secured in the first place. Why not try again, while everyone else is trying to get their bag, too?
That’s the thing, though. Why are so many teams going for this specific bag, at the same time? Reinsdorf probably can’t get a better deal on a stadium alone given the one he already has, but if he’s able to get a whole bunch of land around a new stadium that he owns and can build on and profit from, well that’s a different story. And since that’s something Nashville—which the White Sox story mentions as a possible destination—would presumably offer in order to actually pull a team from their current home, that’s something Reinsdorf would tell Chicago needs to be part of a counter package.
That’s the start and end of this. If Reinsdorf absolutely has to go to Nashville to get this upgrade on his already enviable situation, then sure, maybe he’d leave — that’s why these threats can work, after all. But it’s much more likely that he knows he can get Chicago to cave, since none of these cities, counties, states, whichever, seems to have the spine or the brains to say no to these massive nine-figure taxpayer-financed stadium deals. So why not meet for lunch and make some local politicians nervous in the process? Just because Reinsdorf is on the record as saying this kind of thing is a scam to create leverage and trick people into handing him whatever he demands doesn’t mean that paper trail will actually stop him. Which is a depressing thing to consider, yes, but it’s not like Nevada or Milwaukee or anyone else who has agreed to spend half-a-billion in public funds for stadiums and stadium upgrades of late has missed the decades of writing explaining that this is all a scam. They do not care, and even actively work against themselves and their constituents to make these deals happen, which is why the Reinsdorfs of the world get to keep thriving.
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