It is only fitting that one of the worst teams in baseball would also have the worst owners. At 17-32, the Cubs are tied for the second-lowest winning percentage in the league. They recently ran off a 12-game losing streak, which included a sweep by the Pittsburgh Pirates, who are working on their all-time record twentieth consecutive losing season. According to ESPN, they have a 1 percent chance of making of the playoffs, which is just as well, because if they get there, they’d have a 100 percent chance of choking.
Omaha billionaire Joe Ricketts, who made his fortune by collecting fees from investors who traded with his brokerage, TD Ameritrade, bought the Cubs as an $845 million toy for his children. Old Man Ricketts, a crusty right-winger, first embarrassed his children when the New York Times reported he had considered spending $10 million on advertisements tying President Obama to his fiery ex-pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Ricketts disavowed that campaign, but as the Times reported recently:
Mr. Ricketts is continuing to play a provocative role in the effort to defeat Mr. Obama.
He is involved in another effort slated for this summer, a documentary film based on a widely criticized book, “The Roots of Obama’s Rage” by Dinesh D’Souza, which asserts that Mr. Obama is carrying out the “anticolonial” agenda of his Kenyan father.
Mr. Ricketts’s aides said he was one of roughly two dozen investors, providing only 5 percent of the film’s budget…he was primarily motivated by his concern for the budget deficit and government spending.
A number of editorialists have pointed out the hypocrisy of the Ricketts’ spending money to condemn government spending, then turning around and asking the already squeezed city of Chicago for $350 million to refurbish Wrigley Field. But what about the fact that Ricketts, who once gave a graduation speech condemning Obama for flirting “with dead-ends like socialism,” bought the least free market sports team on the market?
According to University of Chicago economist Tobias Moskowitz, “the Cubs have the lowest attendance sensitivity in all of Major League Baseball and perhaps in all professional sports. When the Cubs lose more games, attendance at Wrigley hardly budges…As a result of fans’ feast-or-famine interest in the Cubs, the team has little incentive to win.”
The reason, of course, is the appeal of Wrigley Field. The Cubs are not a baseball team with a ballpark, they’re a ballpark with a baseball team. Unlike factory owners who move their operations around in search of cheap labor and tax breaks, it would be impossible for the Rickettses to move the Cubs to, say, Charlotte, N.C., even if that city offered them a free stadium.
The Rickettses don’t have to invest in a winning team. They can’t shop their team around for a better deal. The Cubs don’t give them a chance to practice the capitalism to love. But on the other hand, not even they can screw up the product.