$845 million. For a losing baseball team. In the middle of a recession. Who does that?
"It was my idea" said new Cubs Owner Tom Ricketts, as he smiled and looked out over one of the Wrigley Field skyboxes, noting the work that needs to be done.
The bathrooms ... the concourses ... but really the bathrooms.
The tab was expected to be $500 million, but Ricketts says it'll be lower because he won't gut the stadium.
"We are going to preserve the stadium and improve it. Reinvest and keep the money in," he says, still smiling.
Smiling? Who is this dude?
Tom Ricketts is the second eldest son of billionaire Joe Ricketts, founder of the online brokerage house "TD Ameritrade", and an investment banker himself.
Chosen by his three siblings to head the up the bid, Ricketts' official Sinatra-like title is Chairman of the Board. He says his siblings were looking to get back into a family-owned biz.
"I think family owned teams have a good place in sports. I think it’s the right way to own a sports team...and I think in our family it will fit really well."
All in, they sold about $403 million in TD Ameritrade stock to buy the Cubbies.
And the Ricketts love the idea of joining the McCaskeys and Wirtzes as owners in Chicago.
"We all have the same agenda," Ricketts says. "To win."
To do so, Ricketts plans to reinvest profits and take a long-term approach not based on quarterly or annual results.
"We can think over what’s best for the team over a long period of time."
Ricketts didn't suck the silver spoon.
When they were 18, Joe Ricketts told Tom and siblings to go away for college. Don't come back, and don't work for the family company, until you're 30, he said.
"That’s a great lesson for us, its made us all independent," Ricketts says.
To wit: younger sister Laura is a lawyer and Gay Rights activist for Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund. She lives in Lakeview. The youngest brother, Todd, founded Ecotravel, a travel company, with Laura. Peter, the oldest, ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate on the Republican ticket in 2006 and lives in Nebraska.
All four are on the board of directors, and all have a strong connection to the Cubs.
Tom even met his future wife, Dr. Cecelia Ricketts, a dermatologist, in the Wrigley bleachers. They have five kids now, and live in Chicago. And they're all Cubs fans.
Ricketts acknowledges it might be hard to separate the fan passion and the business side of owning his favorite team.
"I’m sure there will be days when the fan side will take over and Dr.Jekyll will come out 'why don’t we do this, why don’t we do that?' but, I think you have to separate those things, and I think we will and in the long run, we will be successful at that."
So. Who stays, who goes?
Alfonso Soriano? Carlos Zambrano? Milton Bradley?
That's too easy to second guess. But Ricketts says future deals must make "good common sense." With the third highest payroll in the MLB ($130 million), Ricketts says he expects better than the 16th best record.
But that's a job for General Manager Jim Hendry.
Yes, Ricketts says, Hendry is staying at least another year.
"We like Jim. He’s taken us to the playoffs three years out of seven, and before it was three years out of the last 57. He’s going to have the opportunity to put the team on the field for 2010, and hopefully we’ll get over the hump then."
Team President Crane Kenney stays. Manager Lou Piniella has an option on staying next year, too.
"We’re hoping he comes back we think he is one of the best managers in baseball, and from what I understand we think he probably will be in the dugout next year -- he’s the right man."
But while Ricketts says he won't be making any calls to the dugout during a game wondering why Carlos Marmol isn't warming up, he expects the job to get done.
"To the fans we say, 'we’re here for you, we work for you'... but I think if you said one common goal, it’s we want to win, we want to bring the world series to Chicago."
And with that the new Cubs owner walked out of the suite, pointed to a picture on the wall, and like any new responsible homeowner said, "we have to change that!"