Don’t Mess With Wrigley, Mr. Ricketts

300px-Wrigley_field_720220px-20120802_Thomas_S._Ricketts_croppedBelow is today’s column in USA Today. Aidan and I had a ball in Chicago from going to Hot Doug’s for hot dogs to Ed Debevik’s for hamburgers (and seeing our favorite waiter “Biscuit.). I even went into my old school Joseph Brennemann Elementary on Clarendon. But the highlight was taking Aidan to his first game at Wrigley, a major rite of passage for any Chicago native or Chicago progeny.

Last Friday, I sat with my 11-year-old son, Aidan, for more than three hours in a steady downpour of cold rain while being whipped by gusts of wind. We were shivering and soaked — and absolutely satisfied. We were in Wrigley field, the cultural and spiritual touchstone of the Chicago North Side. Yet, all was not well at Wrigley. The fans were not grumbling about the weather or the developing loss to the Cincinnati Reds. Rather they are glaring upward at the dry, remote skybox of Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts and his entourage. Last week, Ricketts threatened to move the Cubs out of Wrigley unless he gets his way in changing the look of Wrigley Field.

Ricketts grew up in Omaha and lives in the tiny Chicago suburb of Wilmette. He did not apparently know that the one thing you should never do is threaten fans who have lived under a curse for 68 years and never … ever … mess with Wrigley.

Video-board battle

Ricketts is demanding a 6,000-square foot video board atop the left-field wall and four new signs ringing the outfield. He warned that if the Cubs “cannot get approval for this plan and our signage plans are blocked, we will then consider moving.”

For the record, the Chicago Cubs is ranked as the most profitable baseball team in America, and yet Ricketts felt it was necessary to threaten the city with killing this cherished landmark.

There is a name for what Ricketts did before the City Club: blasphemy. There are only two sins on the North Side. You cannot blaspheme the Cubs, and you cannot commit apostasy (by rooting for the White Sox). I admit that I would regret seeing the classic lines of Wrigley ruined by huge signs and boards. I grew up in this stadium and like many have a huge attachment to it. (Our family home is near Wrigley, and I used to hang outside as a kid with a transmitter radio to catch balls flying out of the park by hitters such as Ernie Banks and Billy Williams.)

Team ThighMaster

Most people assumed Ricketts was bluffing. Wrigley is a major reason that this is the most profitable club; it sure isn’t the Cubs’ record. Without Wrigley, Ricketts would be left with one of the worst performing teams and some modern monstrosity stadium named after Old Spice or ThighMaster.

So don’t threaten us, Mr. Ricketts. We are fans of the oldest professional team in North American sports — any sport. We were there in 1932 when Ruth called the shot over the center field bleachers. We were there when the billy goat was thrown out of the stadium in the 1945 World Series and left us cursed for eternity. When you were working on your first Ameritrade, we were there in the rain-soaked, wind-whipped bleachers eating semicooked hot dogs and drinking warm Old Style beers.

You want a giant scoreboard, let’s talk about it. But don’t try to stare down fans who have been looking into a cursed goat’s eyes for seven decades. If Tommy wants his sign, Tommy needs to play nice.

Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, is a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors.

May 9, 2013

107 thoughts on “Don’t Mess With Wrigley, Mr. Ricketts”

  1. nick,
    Regarding summer in Alaska. The Summer Solstice golf tournament in Anchorage starts with the first ball off the tee at 5:30 PM.

    Fairbanks has the Midnight Sun Baseball Game. First pitch is at 10:30 PM.

    Not an electric light in sight. Lighting by Mother Nature herself.

  2. Raff,

    It was ok. However, you probably like US Cellular more than Comiskey Park? I haven’t been to US Cellular, but my brother has, and he says that it is much better, modernized, than the old?

    Nick S,

    The voter approval of public funds for stadiums/ball parks is a Missouri Law/Amendment. It originated in STL due to voter disapproval of public funds going toward ball parks, while a few public schools in STL are unaccredited and losing funding. Its a shame that we are using funds to build/improve stadiums while our public schools are laying off teachers (southern IL & MO schools will be in dire straits next year, after the new budget cuts in education).

  3. Blouise, I grew up in a AA minor league town, Bristol, Ct. I saw Fred Lynn, Jim Rice, Bob Stanley, etc. play there. It was in the same old stadium, Muzzy Field, where I played Legion ball and high school football. Negro barnstorming teams played there as did Babe Ruth, Chrity Matthewson and many Hall of Famers, back when major leaguers played exhibition games for extra bucks. You and SWM were brought up right, being immersed in baseball. Both my kids[daughter/son] are adults and still love the game. It was a gift I received from my old man that I have passed on to my kids.

    I love this thread.

  4. Mike S,

    No. No. No. I don’t like old stadiums. In my lifetime, I have visited only 3.5 baseball stadiums: Comiskey Park (I still don’t know how Harold Baines made contact with the ball), Wrigley Field, and the old/new Busch Stadium. I remember asking my older brother about Wrigley Field: Are all ballparks like this? He would respond: Pretty much.

    Today, I enjoy the new Busch Stadium so much that I don’t want to go to an old ballpark, again!

    Also, what Mespo said……………

  5. SwM,

    My brothers were avid Soapbox Derby builders which was why everybody was spending so much time in the garage listening to the Indians.

  6. nick,

    Down the big hill probably took you into the Flats or maybe even over to Sokolowski’s in Tremont.

    My favorite ballparks are the one’s being built now for the independent leagues and minor league teams. We have The Jake, and an independent team and a minor league team all within less than a hour’s drive.

    Baseball is big here.

  7. SWM, My dad was quite a golfer too but in his later years. Both my dad and my grandmother had the games on the radio all the time. I loved the beer. 😉

  8. SwM,

    My dad was a professional grade golfer though he made his money in business and football. But Saturday and Sunday summer days were spent outside working in the yard and garage with the radio tuned to an Indian’s game. The smell of freshly mowed grass, taste of POC beer, the whiff of cigarette smoke, and the words “high, fly ball into right field” take me back to a great childhood.

  9. Having visited Wrigley many times, I will say I do enjoy the nostalgia and the ivy and the 7th inning stretch, but let’s be brutally honest, ok? The place is a dump. Concrete fell from the upper decks a day after I visited there. Poles are in the way. The bathrooms were terrible. The place was dark and dirty and the food was so-so. It didn’t compare to PNC Park or AT&T Park, Camden Yards, or even Fenway post-renovation. Ricketts is doing the right thing the wrong way but it’s still the right thing. That team needs a shakeup and, with all due respect to Cubs’ fans, they are the enablers of a team with no World Series rings since Teddy Roosevelt was in office. Think Yankee fans would put up with that stadium or that team? Babe Ruth may have called the shot there, but he never wanted to play there and that goes for stars of today, too. The Cubs need to come into the 21st Century and bring their stadium with them

  10. Blouise, I spent a lot of time in ballparks when I was a kid. My grandfather played for the Birmingham Barons and for a brief time the New York Giants. His cousin played for the White Sox and my father played in the minor leagues before World War II. My grandmother was a huge Cubs fan and played baseball herself as a young woman.

  11. Gene, Amen. But it turns out he could have just as well flushed those millions he gave to KC Schools down the toilet. The last I knew, KC Schools were no longer accredited.

  12. Corbin Bernsen’s mother, the soap legend, Jeanne Cooper, just died yesterday.

  13. Blouise, I forgot about The Jake. I went there ~5 years ago and liked it. There was a Polish Fest in an area right near the ballpark[down a steep hill]. I went there prior to the game and filled up on some pierogi. I love Polish food.

    Here’s an amusing anecdote from my one game @ The Jake. I had biz in The Cleve and bought a ticket online prior to getting to town. It was a pretty good seat down the 3rd baseline. After eating @ the Polish Fest I go to my seat right as the National Anthem was playing. Sitting in the adjacent seats were 3 sisters that w/o hyperbole totalled 850-900 lbs. Now, I live in Wi. so I’m well aware of large people, I weigh 220. The practical problem was there was no way I could get into my seat. The largest one[a solid 300] took the seat next to me and was cascading into my area. I didn’t want to embarass them. I went to the usher who was a nice, older guy. I pointed to my seat[from behind the sisters]. He raised his eyebrows and said, “wait a minute.” He got me a seat about 10 rows closer to the field.

    Back when they were filming the original Major League, which was filmed @ Milwaukee County Stadium, they would invite fans to stay after the Brewer’s game to be part of the crowd scenes for that good flick. I was @ one of those games but didn’t stay. I’m a morning person and the filming wouldn’t start until ~midnight. I didn’t know that’s how rthey filmed ML2. I never got to Municipal Stadium before it closed. I remember watching games on the tube from there w/ that iconoclast in the centerfield bleachers banging on the drum. Rocky Colavito was one of my favs as a youngster.

  14. nick,

    I invite you to The Jake … “ranked as Major League Baseball’s best ballpark in a 2008 Sports Illustrated fan opinion poll.”

    During filming of Major League 2, the real Cleveland Indians were moving out of Cleveland Municipal Stadium into Jacobs Field on the other side of Cleveland. However, Jacobs Field was not yet finished being constructed, so the movie was shot at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore.

    However I give you Wild Thing from the first Major League

  15. Kauffman wasn’t just a good owner. He was a good citizen. Very civic minded and he gave a lot more back to the city than most men of his wealth would have. An overall admirable man.

  16. Bruce, It’s not unusual for it to get into the 80’s/90’s in Fairbanks and -50 in the winter. And, they could play many night games w/o lights. My son spent 2 summers working in Skagway, Alaska. He played in softball leagues that would play games up until midnight w/ adequate light sans artificial means. There is a summer college league in Alaska where many NCAA players, mostly from the west coast, play summer ball. Many major leaguers have played there.

  17. Gene, The Royals renovation is akin to what the Cards did in the 90’s. Hopefully the Jackson County folks aren’t shaken down by the taxpayers in a few years like StL citizens were. Many folks don’t realize this but the original plan for Royals and Arrowhead Stadiums was to have a moveable roof on train tracks. The roof would have primarily covered just the fields. However, building single sport stadiums back in the 70’s was revolutionary in the wake of those multi use pieces of shit built in the 60’s. So, the plans for the moveable roof were nixed because of cost. Not all owners are greedy. Ewing Kauffman, who you know built the Royals franchise, was IMO, one of the few good owners. When they were one of the best teams in baseball in the mid 70’s he did something unheard of then and most certainly, now. Kauffman put a cap on season tix sales so regular fans could still come and get good seats for an individual game. One year it was estimated he could have sold 10,000 more season tix, but didn’t.

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