Eddie Einhorn, college TV pioneer and White Sox owner, dies

CHICAGO (AP) Eddie Einhorn, a minority owner of the Chicago White Sox who helped put college basketball on television 50 years ago and set the stage for the wall-to-wall coverage that is common today, has died following complications from a stroke. He was 80.

Scott Reifert, senior vice president of communications for the White Sox, announced the death Thursday after speaking with Einhorn's widow, Ann. Einhorn died late Tuesday in New Jersey.

Einhorn was the founder and chairman of TVS Television Network, which broadcast the so-called ''Game of the Century'' between the Houston Cougars and the UCLA Bruins from the Astrodome in 1968. The game is widely credited for the growth in popularity of college basketball on television, and Einhorn was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2011 for his work.

Einhorn spent the past 25 years as vice chairman of the White Sox and was the team's president and chief operating officer from 1981-90. He also was a member of the Chicago Bulls' board of directors, just part of the relationship he had with Jerry Reinsdorf, the Bulls and White Sox executive who was a law school buddy at Northwestern.

''Eddie was a creative whirlwind whose ideas, many of them far ahead of their time, changed the landscape of sports, and sports on television, forever,'' Reinsdorf said in a statement issued by the White Sox. ''He was a man of many interests, projects, ideas and opinions, and we all will miss him dearly.''

Einhorn was born on Jan. 3, 1936, in Paterson, New Jersey. He worked as a vendor at the old Comiskey Park, where the White Sox played on Chicago's South Side, in 1959-60 and joined a group with Reinsdorf to buy the White Sox in 1981.

''We're going to miss him, just being around his energy,'' White Sox senior vice president Ken Williams said. ''He's one of the top 10 characters that I've ever met in my life. And I say that in a good way.''

Williams said Einhorn was among his staunchest supporters in his early days as the team's general manager, with the genial Einhorn telling him to never let the criticism from fans and media stop him from ''swinging away'' in his deal-making.

Einhorn took the same approach in his own dealings, going back to his college days when he recognized the potential for sports on television, long before the NCAA Tournament became a billion-dollar venture and the office pools turned the event into what his now known as March Madness. Einhorn founded a radio network at Northwestern and produced a broadcast of the 1958 national title game between Kentucky and Seattle that was syndicated across the country. With TVS, he secured the television rights to several conferences, starting with the SEC in 1965.

But his big breakthrough came in 1968 with his marketing of the game between Lew Alcindor's Bruins and the Cougars led by Elvin Hayes, a showdown of undefeated teams and household names. The interest attracted opened eyes to the potential for college basketball on television, and advertisers and networks started lining up to get a piece of the action.

Einhorn sold TVS in 1973 for $5 million, but he remained in the sports television business long after. He served as the television consultant for United States Olympic Committee in 1989, held a similar role for the U.S. Figure Skating Association, was executive producer of the ''CBS Sports Spectacular'' and helped negotiate Major League Baseball's first billion-dollar television contract. He also developed the National Youth Baseball Championship, which is broadcast on MLB Network.

''All of us at Major League Baseball are deeply saddened by the loss of White Sox Vice Chairman Eddie Einhorn, a leader in the world of sports and broadcasting,'' MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said. ''He was a sports television pioneer and a huge champion of youth baseball.''

In their early days of owning the White Sox, Einhorn and Reinsdorf got into a memorable and public feud with Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, only to become friends for more than 25 years. Einhorn was in Houston when the White Sox won the team's first World Series title in 88 years.

''It is exceedingly rare in this day and age to have enjoyed a friendship and a working partnership that lasted our lifetimes,'' Reinsdorf said. ''We celebrated many great moments together.''

Einhorn is survived by his wife of 53 years, Ann, daughter Jennifer, who once served as manager of special events for MLB, and son, Jeff. Funeral services will be held on Sunday in Fair Lawn, New Jersey.

The White Sox will honor Einhorn with a patch on their sleeves this season.

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Freelance writer Jack Thompson in Phoenix contributed to this report.

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