His creative deal making had its greatest flowering in 1997, when he pitched slugger Albert Belle to Reinsdorf. He came to the White Sox owner's office with a 50-page statistical projection of Chicago run production it Belle batted behind Frank Thomas. "The study compared them with every great power duo from Ruth and Gehrig on," says Reinsdorf. "I thought, What awesome stats! It was very persuasive." So persuasive that Belle came away with a five-year, $55 million contract, then the largest in baseball history. Tellem even got in an unprecedented risk-free escape clause: If, after two seasons, Belle's yearly salary was no longer among the top three in the game, he would have 30 days to find a higher bidder. If Belle got no bites, he could return to the Sox and play out the remaining three years of the contract.
"Arn sold me on the clause by explaining it would be good for me too," Reinsdorf says. "It gave me an escape plan if Albert didn't work out." Indeed, Belle didn't. "Two years later, he was very unpopular with our fans," says Reinsdorf. And underpaid. Belle tested the waters and got a better offer—five years for $65 million—from the Baltimore Orioles. When he retired two years later with a bad hip, the O's still owed him $39 million.
"The irony is that I felt terrible at the time for taking Albert to the Orioles," says Tellem, "but given Albert's health, I did a great mitzvah for Reinsdorf."
The Tellems' Kitchen
Harry Litwack, the legendary Temple basketball coach, is answering callers' questions on Philly radio. Twelve-year-old Arn Tellem finds inspiration in Litwack, this short Jewish fellow who looks like Arn's grandfather. Maybe Arn, too, can achieve something in sports.
While he's on hold, Arn thinks up about a million basketball questions for Litwack, but when it's his turn to talk, all he can blurt out is, "What's your favorite food?"
"Milk," says Litwack. "I have an ulcer."
Nearly four decades later, Eric Tellem has none of his father's childhood inhibitions. " Shaq," he asks, "can I have your shoes?"
Eric, at age eight already one of the world's most persistent collectors of sports memorabilia, is sitting courtside at the Staples Center. Shaquille O'Neal, shooting around before a Lakers exhibition game, turns to him and says, "Later, Little Tellem."
Shaq knows Eric well. Little Tellem is the squirty sidekick of Shaq's teammate Kobe. At the half, Eric tries again: " Shaq, can I have your shoes?" The 7'1" center puts a finger to his lips and says, "Later." With only a few minutes left in the game and O'Neal lumbering toward the bench, Eric takes a last, desperate shot: " Shaq, can I have your shoes?" Wearily, O'Neal takes off his size-24 sneakers, hands them to Eric and walks off the floor in his socks.