If I’m going to root for one player above all others during the World Series, it won’t be one of the Cubs. And I mean no disrespect to the Cubs.
To explain, I have to start with the story of the 2007 trial of newspaper magnate Conrad Black. The CEO of Hollinger International, which owned the Sun-Times and London Telegraph among other papers, a member of Britain’s House of Lords, and a hobnobber with international elites, Black is the reason the trial made headlines, although he wasn’t the only defendant. Grandiose and imperious and incapable of taking seriously the obligations of corporations to shareholders, Black was one of four Hollinger executives who stood accused of defrauding their investors. The feds argued—and the jury agreed—that Black, his business partner David Radler (publisher of the Sun-Times), and two others pulled a fast one when Hollinger sold off most of its newspapers; they signed noncompete contracts with the new owners as a way of funneling some of the proceeds directly to themselves, when that money should have gone to the company.
There was one other defendant. Mark Kipnis, the corporate counsel, didn’t make a dime from the sales, but he’d drawn up the noncompete contracts, and the feds threw him into the pot. There’s nothing improper per se about a noncompete contract, and even Radler—who pleaded guilty and testified for the prosecution—told the jury that Kipnis had simply been doing the legal work he’d been asked to do. But the state did its best to make his role seem sinister.
“If there is a document to be signed to complete this scheme, you’ll see that Mark Kipnis has a pen,” said a prosecutor in his opening statement. Like the others, Kipnis was convicted of fraud.
When he was sentenced, the courtroom was packed with well-wishers. Judge Amy St. Eve had already read hundreds of letters championing Kipnis; she’d looked over a petition asking for mercy that had been signed by a hundred people at the Sun-Times (where Black and Radler were despised). Now she listened to the ardent testimony that friends and family offered on his behalf. “I failed him,” his attorney, Ron Safer, told St. Eve. “I should have been able to convince this jury they should treat differently someone who received no money. But the final word has not been spoken. You will speak it.”
And she did. She gave Mark Kipnis probation and community service and fined him $200. She sent him home. And I wrote, “There were gasps of joy, and hugs, and tears, and Kipnis stood quivering as euphoria overwhelmed him.”
Nevertheless, he was in a bad spot—convicted, disbarred, unable to practice his trade.
And the story went on. The feds had accused Black, Kipnis, and the others of fraudulently denying shareholders their “honest services,” and in 2010 the Supreme Court eviscerated the law that covered that crime. That October the Seventh Circuit reversed Kipnis’s conviction. Not that this restored his practice or livelihood, but it made him guiltless.
Black had been convicted on four counts and sentenced to 78 months in prison. The Seventh Circuit let two of those counts stand, and it was up to St. Eve to resentence him. She sent Black back to prison for another year and a half.
I’ve reached out to Mark Kipnis a couple of times since then, but he hasn’t wanted to look back on all that and talk about what he went through. One of those times was July of 2011. Kipnis had been cleared; Black had been resentenced. I wondered if Kipnis would reflect on these turns of fate.
He wouldn’t. It turned out he had other things on his mind. I wouldn’t know this until much later, when I read about it in a Cleveland newspaper, but in 2009 the Cleveland Indians had drafted Jason Kipnis out of Arizona State, giving him a $575,000 signing bonus he insisted his parents take to help cover the mortgage, outstanding legal costs, and his siblings’ education. In late July the Indians called up Jason just in time for a three-game series against the White Sox. Mark Kipnis was out at U.S. Cellular cheering on his son.
I remember sitting at the desk where I sit now and thinking this over. Conrad Black goes back to prison as Mark Kipnis watches his kid break into the big leagues. Well, there’s an ending for you!
Jason Kipnis, who grew up a devout Cubs fan in Northbrook (living on the same street as Steve Bartman), became the Indians’ starting second baseman and an all-star. Even before the series opened, both Chicago dailies ran profiles of him. He told the Sun-Times he “choked up” when the Cubs finally won a pennant, and he told the New York Times, which ran its own story on Kipnis, that as a kid he dreamed of playing in a World Series at Wrigley and coming up to bat in the bottom of the ninth with two out and the bases loaded. The dream survives, he said, only now, “it’s the top of the ninth.”
The Tribune called Jason Kipnis the Indians’ “heart and soul.” These words remind me of the affection and loyalty everyone in Judge St. Eve’s courtroom offered his father back in 2007. This story doesn’t end with the World Series, but this feels to me like a pretty good time to tell it.