Cubs owner Tom Ricketts.
Rahm Emanuel may be a Cubs fan, but there’s one thing he loves far more than the Cubs: punishing his enemies. Two months ago, the Ricketts family, which owns the team, landed on the mayor’s hit list after The New York Times revealed that family patriarch Joe Ricketts had considered funding a race-baiting attack ad against President Obama.
Caught out, Ricketts disavowed the campaign, but the mayor has not forgiven the family, the Associated Press reports. When the AP asked when the mayor might sit down with the Cubs to talk about Wrigley Field renovation, it got this response: “The Ricketts have tried to contact the Mayor but he’s said that he does not want to talk with them today, tomorrow or anytime soon.”
A spokesman for Emanuel described the mayor “livid.”
The political drama has meant limbo for a baseball team suffering through one of its worst seasons in its bleak history. Any hope the team had of starting construction as soon as the season ends likely has vanished.
The Cubs had asked the City Council for permission to put $150 million in city amusement taxes into the renovation, while asking state lawmakers to also issue $150 million in bonds. The team also asked the city to relax Wrigley’s landmark status, which could bring in $150 million more from advertising, sponsorship and perhaps a Jumbotron.
It was a long shot that the Legislature would approve public funds with the state embroiled in one of the nation’s worst budget crises. But with Emanuel’s support it was at least possible. If talks resume now, the team must wait until the fall session — after the November election — to even broach the subject. And the Ricketts’ negotiating stance is severely weakened.
The team says that means at least another year of spending $10 million to $15 million to keep up with repairs on the creaky 98-year-old ballpark.
“The rising maintenance costs associated with keeping a 100-year-old ballpark functioning diverts millions of dollars in resources that could be invested in player personnel,” said Ricketts’ spokesman Dennis Culloton.
Normally, when a baseball team is failing, the owners fire the general manager, the manager and the players. But as this article makes clear, the Cubs’ problems originate at the top. Someone needs to fire the Ricketts family. The Tribune Company was merely indifferent to the Cubs during its 28-year ownership of the team. The Rickettses are outright dangerous to the team. They’ve not only tainted the Cub brand by associating it with right-wing politics, they’ve bungled their relationship with the mayor so badly they can’t swing the business deals necessary to keep the team competitive. Being from Nebraska, the family may not have understood that in Chicago, business and politics are inseparable.
Cub fans can only hope that Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig steps in and forces these incompetent naifs to sell the team to someone who understands baseball, business and politics. Why not just sell them to the city and the state, and run the team as a public trust, like the Green Bay Packers. It makes sense, because, as a business proposition, the Cubs may not be worth owning. Wrigley Field is crumbling and obsolete, but it can’t be torn down and replaced with a stadium stuffed with money-making luxury skyboxes, because the old ballpark is the heart of the team’s appeal. It’s a Chicago landmark, like the Buckingham Fountain or the Bean. And like those landmarks, it might as well be owned and maintained by the public.
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