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:

    I never got your North Beach restaurant recommendations.

  2. I’ve been to Debevic’s, but never Hot Doug’s. That being said, I have had fries made in duck fat and I’m convinced you could cook a old dirty house shoe in duck fat and it would be awesome.

  3. wishbone, You’re flat ass wrong about the “super rich” using Meigs. I venture a guess OS has used it and I don’t think he’s super rich. The folks I knew who used it were not super rich. Maybe anyone who makes more than you is evil and super rich? But above all that, the way the barely educable Richie Daley closed it, in the middle of the night unilaterally, was horseshit personified and cowardly.

  4. We have neglected the restaurants mentioned by Mr. Turley. Hot Dougs is a great hot dog place w/ dogs made of many different meats. They are superb. However, the fries are cooked in duck fat and they are to die for. There is always a line to get into thje place. Ed Debevic’s is an old style diner. They hire actors, singers, etc. to wait tables. They bust balls[my kind of place] and perform singing/dancing numbers. The food is good. My favorite is the meatloaf sandwich. I heartily approve of both dining choices. Kids LOVE Debevics.

  5. Otteray Scribe wrote: “I am still angry about the midnight destruction of Meigs Field by Mayor Daley.”

    Actually closing Meigs was one of the best things Daley ever did. A terrible air field frequently closed by bad weather, and only used by a handful of the super rich is now a wonderful park open to all the people of Chicago. It is a great place to ride a bike and view one of the most beautiful skylines in the world. Daniel Burnham would be proud.

  6. mespo is sadly stating the truth about Wrigley though. It does need some major work. Possibly even to be replaced. However, you can build a modern facility and still keep the flavor of the original. Ford did it with the Mustang. You can do it with a building too. Fenway proves that.

    1. Gene,

      Not to change the subject, but how did Ford do it with the mustang? Are you stating that the engine of the 1950s-60s Ford Mustang is the same or similar to the 2013? You are going to have to explain that one. I am playing the role of a student. Please Professor Gene explain this to us.

      Does anyone still drive a mustang?

  7. RWL,
    I do like US Cellular Field, but I do miss Comiskey. The new park handles crowds better and the food is great.

  8. Pete, whether a corporation pays property taxes is often based on how it is set up as a corporation. Daytona brings $2.9 billion dollars into the local economy. It might be good business to give them a tax break. On the other hand, none of the NASCAR owners asked for a handout from the government to build and maintain their tracks.

    Having a major NASCAR track is like having the Super Bowl come to your town twice a year. The impact of having the Bristol Motor Speedway is huge for the small cities that surround it in east Tennessee and southwest Virginia. It brings in about $140 million indirect economic impact and about $629 million direct economic impact. BMS pays a total of 4.7 million dollars a year in taxes, $1.3 million of that being property taxes.

  9. wishbone,

    If you want to post on JT’s site, the f-word is unacceptable.

  10. I went on a baseball tour in the early 90s and went to about seven stadiums on the East Coast. Been also to Dodger Stadium, Astro’s present place, Tiger Stadium (old), Frisco, and then there is Wrigley Field. Special. So is that Red Sox place. As a Saint Louisan I liked the Sportmen’s Park and the present new joint. I am a Cardinal Fan but number two in my soul are the Cubs. I have been in Wrigley approximately thirty times. For this schmuck to want to dirty it up is outrageous. Please find a way to get rid of him.

  11. OS

    don’t know about bristol but i do know here in daytona the track doesn’t pay property taxes.

  12. This rickets guy sounds like a real vampire. Perhaps some sunlight and vitamin D might help cure Chicago of this disease.

  13. Just to put into perspective what I am talking about. The image at the link is BMS. Those long slender objects parked at angles are full length 18-wheel trucks, about fifty of them. They are the haulers that contain a couple of race cars and enough parts and tools to built a couple more cars. The cluster of buildings on the near end of the infield is the Care Center, which is a well staffed emergency room. This was all built with private money. No handouts or special favors from the taxpayers from the earliest days in 1961 to the present.

    Apropos of nothing; the half mile track is steep banked at about 27 degrees. Lap times are about 15 seconds. One rookie driver was asked by a reporter what it was like to drive at Bristol. He said it was like trying to fly a jet fighter plane in your basement.

  14. Lottakatz,

    Wow! Didn’t see that one. Good info (actually, it’s sad; why even bother voting?).

  15. OS, Amen on Alaska. And, thanks for that Nascar info. I was not aware of that.

  16. Nick,
    Yes I have spent time in Alaska. Place is so beautiful it makes your head hurt.

  17. Those stadium owners are leeches. When Darren was here, we drove over to the Bristol Motor Speedway, one of the more popular tracks for NASCAR racing. Behind the speedway next to the parking lots is “Thunder Valley,” the popular world-class dragstrip at Bristol. The Speedway is a monumental structure that would hold two or more major league football or baseball stadiums. On top of that, it is one of the shortest tracks, only a half-mile long. No one asked the City of Bristol or Sullivan County for anything.

    The money quote from Wikipedia on using public money for stadiums:

    “NASCAR stands in opposition to the “common man” logic that stadiums need public money. NASCAR tracks are owned and operated by private businesses and are profitible enough that some owners built and own several tracks.”

    Notice that? Some owners are able to purchase multiple tracks without a dime of public money. Wonder why that is? Hmmmmmm……

  18. OS, I need darkness to sleep. Both of my visits to the 49th State were in July. I got ~3-4 hours sleep a night. Sounds like you spent some time in Alaska?

  19. Bah, humbug. Here in St. Louis an arbitration board has ruled in favor of the Cardinal’s (football team) plans for a major renovation to the stadium. Gonna’ cost 750m (I will be shocked if there are cost over-runs/s). It’s too closed in and that is a primary reason it’s not a ‘first-tier’ stadium. That the old stadium didn’t have a roof was a major stated reason for the new stadium as I recall. Now the roof needs to come off or retract. The state, city and the county will be paying off the cost (at 5-6mil @year) of the loan for the existing stadium for next 10 years and the team has rejected a couple of offers from the city to help pay for a retractable roof.

    Stadiums are a racket. I stopped being interested in local big-biz sports when the fight over the baseball team got ugly. I resent having to pay for the perpetual economic warfare, extortion and debts regarding our team(s). I’d rather our science center not be looking at cutting its services or have to lay off people due to a shortfall in funds that is causing problems, than have to pay for an on-again/off-again stadium roof. That owners make these demands for new and renovated stadiums of cash-strapped cities (on the city’s tab and as RWL stated above, contrary to taxpayer wishes) is really deplorable.

    1. Lottakatz,

      The arbritration ruling doesn’t mean that it is going to happen. This ruling isn’t even the beginning of what is about transpire. First, the city, county, & state have to agree to follow the arbitrators ruling. And if they agree, MO voters have to vote on the issue. So far, STL City Mayor Slay and County Executive Charles Dooley have stated that they refused to go any hiring than the proposed $125 million offer by the city & county.

      It is now been sent back to the Rams & the STL City and County to come to some agreement (remember any agreement must be approved by MO voters) or the Rams can leave.

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