Here’s the deal Mayor Daley and Governor Quinn should offer Cubs owner Tom Ricketts: we’ll lend you $200 million to fix up Wrigley Field. If you win the World Series in the next 35 years, you won’t have to pay it back.
There’s no risk to the public treasury there.
Twenty years ago, another multi-millionaire, White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, attempted to squeeze $200 million out of the state so he could build a new Comiskey Park next door to replace the stadium that had been built on a dump in 1909, and had, over the years, come to resemble one itself.
Unlike Ricketts, Reinsdorf got his money. He didn’t get it because the state was in better financial shape back then. He got it because his White Sox held a card the Cubs can never play: they threatened to move to Florida. The city of St. Petersburg was so eager for a baseball team that it built a stadium, Tropicana Field, and waited for one of Major League Baseball’s 26 franchises to move in.
Reinsdorf told Gov. Jim Thompson he’d move the White Sox there unless they got $200 million to build a new stadium. The state not only gave it to him, but House Speaker Michael Madigan stopped the clock in the House chambers just before midnight on June 30, 1988, so he wouldn’t need a super-majority to pass the financing bill.
The Cubs can’t threaten to move to Florida. They can’t even threaten to move across the street, as the White Sox did. The 98-year-old Wrigley Field is as integral to the Cubs’ brand as choking in the playoffs. They’re not a baseball team with a stadium. They’re a stadium with a baseball team.
Daley and Quinn will never give into Ricketts’ demands because they know the Cubs will never abandon Wrigley Field. The Ricketts family will just have to dig into their bank account and pay for the renovations themselves. They can use the money Cub owners have traditionally saved on player salaries, because they know they’ll never have to win a pennant to draw fans to beautiful Wrigley Field.