Jerry Reinsdorf

Jerry Reinsdorf: 'It would be a joke' if Jim Thome's not a first-ballot Hall of Famer

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AP

Jerry Reinsdorf: 'It would be a joke' if Jim Thome's not a first-ballot Hall of Famer

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Former White Sox slugger Jim Thome is on the Hall of Fame ballot for the very first time. Ask him about his chances of getting into Cooperstown when the announcement is made next month, and the man who crushed 612 career home runs, eighth most all-time, won’t go near it.

He, like many players before him, believe there is a baseball God hovering over him and his candidacy. Simply uttering sentences like “I think I’ve got a chance” or “I hope I get in” could spell doom to his potential induction.

So mum is the word from Thome.

But ask Jerry Reinsdorf about Thome getting enshrined, and the White Sox chairman is much more forthcoming.

His reaction if Thome doesn’t get in on the first attempt?

“It would be a joke. It would be a total miscarriage of justice,” Reinsdorf said to NBCSportsChicago.com at the Winter Meetings at the Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort. “How many non-steroid users have hit 600 home runs? Not many with steroids have hit 600 home runs.”

Baseball’s top-10 home run list has been hit by an earthquake in the last 20 years, with a steroid fault line buried underneath it. Barry Bonds is at the top. Alex Rodriguez is in the middle. Sammy Sosa is near the caboose, one place behind Thome. While Thome was never linked to performance-enhancing drugs during his playing days, Bonds, Rodriguez and Sosa symbolize the Steroid Era, making Thome’s case for first-time induction even greater.

“(Thome) was a great player,” Reinsdorf said. “I always hated to see him come up in the eighth and ninth innings against us. And he’s a great human being. He epitomizes everything about the game that’s good.”

Beyond Thome’s power and his reputation for being one of the best teammates and nicest human beings alive, he had an exceptional batting eye. He posted 12 seasons with at least 90 walks, and he's seventh on the all-time walk list. And, like Reinsdorf mentioned, he was clutch in the late-innings. His 13 career walk-off home runs are the most in major league history. White Sox fans fondly remember one of them: his 500th career homer to beat the Los Angeles Angels in the bottom of the ninth in September 2007.

Joining Thome on the ballot is his former Cleveland Indians teammate Omar Vizquel, who also played for the White Sox (in 2010 and 2011), and was recently named manager of the Winston-Salem Dash, the White Sox Class-A affiliate. Vizquel won 11 Gold Gloves, played more games at shortstop (2,709) than anyone in history and has the highest ever fielding percentage (.985) at the position.

But his road to Cooperstown could see some bumps along the way. He’s got competition not only from Thome, but from fellow first-timers Chipper Jones and Johan Santana.

“I think he should be a first-ballot guy, too, but that’s going to be closer,” Reinsdorf said about Vizquel. “Omar might be the best shortstop I’ve ever seen. He certainly had the best hands I’ve ever seen. It would be great if they both got in. Thome for sure. He’s got to get in. I can’t even conceive that he doesn’t get in on the first ballot.”

No surprise as Bulls, Zach LaVine decide to wait on contract extension

No surprise as Bulls, Zach LaVine decide to wait on contract extension

Only a couple names went off the board of 2014 draftees who reached agreements on extensions with their teams, with Zach LaVine sitting on the sidelines as the midnight deadline came and went.

His debut in a Bulls uniform and contract will have to wait.

Although LaVine’s representatives and the Bulls front office remained in communication, there was never any serious talk of a deal being reached and he’ll hit restricted free agency this summer.

The Bulls will have a better picture of what type of player LaVine is post-surgery on his left knee, and LaVine will have a chance to reconstruct his market value the way he’s done to his knee—as evidenced by his casual stroll down the lane, two dribbles and two-handed dunk while running a dummy offense with the assistant coaches over the weekend at the Advocate Center.

His return isn’t imminent, as he’s still weeks away from being cleared to practice, following the track of his rehab from surgery.

Perhaps in a bit of curious timing, Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg was talking about LaVine, saying his future shooting guard wasn’t going through much in the way of 5-on-0 drills.

“The big focus right now is on his rehab,” Hoiberg said.

But considering how few options Hoiberg has on a team that isn’t expected to win more than 20 games, the thought of how he’ll use LaVine on the floor in this offense isn’t unrealistic.

“He's doing a lot of unpredictable movements, but a lot of that is 1-on-0 workouts. Yeah, absolutely there's things we look at and see actions that other teams might be running for their skilled players or shooters.”

Justin Holiday will be keeping the seat warm for LaVine until LaVine is completely healed from his surgery, and while the Bulls are adhering to the nine-month recovery prognosis after his February surgery, his return will be highly anticipated.

“Some of the things we're running for Justin right now I think will be very good for Zach as well,” Hoiberg said. “Then we're going to get both of those guys on the floor, it's going to give you two really good options as far as shooting and spacing and two athletic wing players.”

With the Bulls in the infancy stages of a rebuild, LaVine’s success is one they’ll be invested in above any other player on the roster considering the financial stakes.

LaVine can command a deal well over $100 million this summer and will join the likes of draftmates Jabari Parker, Julius Randle and Aaron Gordon into the always-tricky world of restricted free agency.

The Bulls have done this dance before, most recently with Jimmy Butler before Butler blossomed into an All-Star. There was a small gulf between Butler’s contract wishes and the Bulls offer before the 2014-15 season began, one that resulted in Butler receiving a max contract when Butler took the biggest single-season leap in his career.

Preserving precious salary cap space has been paramount for the Bulls, who originally signed Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo to short-term deals with an eye on the summer of 2018, believing many teams will have overspent with the salary cap boom.

In that instance, they’re correct and are in position to have among the most cap space in the NBA next summer when Wade’s contract buyout runs off the books being close to $40 million under the cap. As of now, only Robin Lopez is guaranteed over $10 million for next season and Nikola Mirotic’s deal is a team option.

For LaVine, he began to blossom playing as a third wheel behind Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins in Minnesota before tearing his ACL. If he’s a reasonable facsimile physically, he will produce at a higher clip than scoring 18.9 points as a No. 1 option in Chicago.

As the centerpiece in the Butler trade, the Bulls have no intentions on letting him walk and LaVine is even more incentivized to perform for a potential max contract.

“I'm very excited about Zach. You can tell how much he wants to be out there with our guys. Every day he comes in and says, 'Coach, I'm ready to go out there',” Hoiberg said. “It's a process. We have to make sure he 100 percent healthy, even though he feels no symptoms right now at all. He's got no soreness in that leg. But he can't wait, his teammates can't wait and the staff obviously is very excited to get him back out there.”

The ring's the thing: Jerry Reinsdorf gives Jose Abreu some bling after sixth all-time White Sox cycle

The ring's the thing: Jerry Reinsdorf gives Jose Abreu some bling after sixth all-time White Sox cycle

Jose Abreu hopes he will be a part of the next White Sox team to win a world championship.

But while he waits for that day, he’s already starting his jewelry collection.

White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf presented Abreu with a special ring Thursday, honoring the slugger for becoming the sixth player in team history to hit for the cycle.

Abreu’s cycle was one of the highlights of what’s been a remarkable second half for the fourth-year Cuban import. Coming in Sept. 9’s game against the San Francisco Giants, Abreu became the first White Sox player to hit for the cycle since Jose Valentin did it in 2000.

A ring with the same design as the one Abreu got Thursday was also given to Valentin in 2000 and Chris Singleton in 1999.

Abreu was honored on the field before Thursday night’s game for that accomplishment, as well as for becoming the third player ever to begin his major league career with four straight 25-homer, 100-RBI seasons, joining Joe DiMaggio and Albert Pujols. Pujols, in town with the visiting Los Angeles Angels, joined Abreu during his on-field recognition.