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. There need to be a little less reverence for Wrigley. But more importantly, a lot more reverence for talent on the field.

  2. Jeff-

    You must not be watching too many games lately, attendance has fallen off quite a bit, albeit because the team stinks. Attendance figures show that attendance is greater, even for the Cubs, for night games, and I would point out that there’s lots of day games around the league on the weekends.

    The team has been able to attract free agents in the past when the owners has been willing to spend. Moises Alou came over via free agency when he was one of the best hitters in the game and Alphonso Soriano was the top free agent the year he signed with the Cubs, and for that matter Greg Maddux returned to the Cubs, even though he could have commanded more money elsewhere. (In fairness to the Tribune Co., they did go out and get top line talent via free agency and they spent big dough to keep stars like Sosa and Kerry Wood.) Players love Wrigley, the real problem as far as the facilities go, is the lack of batting cages for players to use during the game. And the amenities may be spartan but the visitors locker room is positively miniscule, something like 10′ by 35′, and that hasn’t prevented visiting teams from coming in and eliminating the Cubs from the playoffs for past hundred years (I don’t count ’45, when all the talent went to war).

    Attendance drives profits in professional sports, winning boosts attendance. The problem with day baseball is both the physical toll it takes on athletes over the course of the season and the disruption to their circadian rhythm when their used to playing in the evening, bearing in mind that they show up hours before a game to prepare.

    Just because everyone knows that there’s a ballpark in the neighborhood doesn’t mean there are no unimposed costs for the residents; don’t renters enjoy some right to quiet enjoyment? Is everyone who lives nearby required to be a ball fan?

    The Ricketts’ didn’t just buy a dilapidated ballpark, they bought a tradition which reveres Wrigley Field, and they knew it. Their problem is they paid dearly for the privilege associating their name with that tradition – they win, they make history – and they entered into a bad deal, taking on a lot debt to do it. Now they’re threatening to destroy one of the things that makes Cubs tradition great, the Wrigley experience. The rooftops aren’t stealing money from the team, the Cubs receive a royalties. The view isn’t that good but when the team was winning and Wrigley sold out, it was a for more fans to experience the game. The scene was all good for baseball. Similar situations haven’t hurt the Cleveland or Baltimore franchises, and it won’t hurt the Cubs.

  3. Wishbone,
    So you are a bike rider. Riding your bike on the Meigs Field site trumps destroying one of the best small airports in the country within walking distance of a McCormick Center, Adler Planetarium, downtown Chicago, and countless businesses. And BTW, Meigs was named as an emergency diversion airport, a distinction not lost on pilots who could not be squeezed into a slot at one of the bigger airports. In fact, after the airport closed, a private pilot was forced to land there alongside the ripped up runway when he had mechanical problems. Daley was enraged and wanted the pilot prosecuted for “embarrassing” him.

    Here is a recent article from Flying magazine. Daley should have been prosecuted for violation of a number of Federal laws, including misusing FAA grant money. If any one of us had done that, we would be in a cell next to the former Governor. It was one of the busiest small airports in the country.

    I am not the only one who thinks Daley had a hidden agenda. I want to know what the real motive was behind his sudden midnight closure of one of the country’s favorite general aviation airports. Did anyone know that Daley had a firetruck shine a spotlight on the Internet camera at Adler Planetarium so no one could see what they were doing? His hands are dirty no matter his protestations. And Rahm Emmanuel is keeping the lie alive. Bike paths my a$$.,0,5999171.story

  4. mespo, No trips planned to SF but seafood pasta is one of my favs so Sotto Mare is first stop. Tripe is only served by Mexican restaurants in menudo. I like menudo but some is so hot I get agita. I have found a place in San Diego where I can handle it fairly well so I’ll get it once in awhile. I grew up in Ct. and there were some great Italian restaurants in a hellhole of a city called Waterbury. That’s Jimmy Piersall’s hometown. Only my old man and I would eat tripe and the rest of the fam would order other entrees and avert their eyes from us. A wise old doc in Boston told my brother that since our culture stopped eating organ meat, we have become vitamin D deficient. Organ meat is loaded w/ vitamin D. My old man loved head cheese, I couldn’t get past the gelatinous texture.

  5. mespo, Only my old man and me[6 member fam] would eat tripe. I NEVER see it in Italian restaurants anymore. There was an Italian restaurant near where I grew up[Bristol] in Waterbury, Ct.[hometowm of Jimmy Piersall] that served it, but it closed in the mid 70’s. You’re probably familiar w/ menudo. I’ll order it sometimes in Mexican restaurants. However, I need to be careful because while I love spicy food, my aging stomach can’t handle it anymore. On a related subject. You may be aware of our vitamin D crisis[everythings a “crisis” now according to network news]. An old doc in Boston told my brother it is directly related to Baby Boomers saying “nyet” to eating organ meat. Parents made us eat liver, kidneys, tripe, etc. While you and I like it, we’re in a distinct minority. So, hardly anyone eats organ meat. Well, organ meat is LOADED w/ vitamin D.

  6. RTC
    Of course the Ricketts knew what shape the park was in when they bought it, as I understand it Tom Ricketts was told by Daley he would back any renovation plan which didnt include any City or Taxpayer monies prior to the sale becoming final. Also since Wrigley is usually sold out whether its a day or night game what the Cubs are trying to do by adding more night games is add more talent to the team via free agency , many good free agents have not wanted to come to Wrigley because let’s face it athletes are spoiled, they want huge locker rooms and lots of night games (cubs have neither) I agree the Jumbotron won’t bring more fans, so do the Cubs- rather it will bring a much needed revenue source- advertisers.Again an owner is willing to spend HIS own money to rehab the park what a novel concept and people are blasting him? The Rooftop owners make millions annually off a product they don’t even own! Wrigley according to the 2010 census bureau reports (if trends continue to date) was made up of 68% renters didn’t THEY see Wrigly before moving in?

  7. Life long Cubs fan until recently, lived around the corner for years on Clifton in the 80’s. The neighborhood besieged every time there’s a game, day or night; traffic is snarled, parking is impossible, drunken rowdy fans urinating in alley ways and gangways, and on our lawns, the noise, the litter and air pollution; yet the point everyone makes is that people knew the ballpark was there when they moved in. The point I like to make is that the Ricketts’ knew what kind of park they were getting in the deal: a dilapidated, iconic gem; it’s part of the team’s tradition.

    Ricketts wants more night games. Night games are an imposition on the neighborhood. A jumbotron is a blight on a national treasure and it won’t bring more fans to the park. But night games will. Solution: more night games, 55 – 60 per season, rights to land around the park, and no jumbotron. End of discussion. Play ball!

  8. Nick:

    Just noticed my question to you didn’t get posted. Oops. Anyway Soto Mare may be the best seafood/pasta place I’ve visited. Small but fun the place is family run and it’s sounds it. Service was first rate and fast without feeling rushed. Wine was excellent and reasonably priced. Cioppino was sent down from heaven. Your buddy is right.

    I like rabbit, too. Guess Albona is on the return visit. I’m looking for a place that serves tripe. Can’t find one anywhere.

  9. “Were you one of the developers who coveted the land?”

    Yeah, right. I wish. No, I am just a bike rider who loves riding the lakefront, and find the new Northerly Island park and trail a great addition to a wonderful system. BTW, we still have plenty of GA fields in the Chicago area, so the sturm and drang about Meigs closing is a bit mystifying.

  10. nick,
    I will drive twelve hours to avoid a two or three hour commercial flight. I had been thinking about a trip to Colorado to see some friends, but I would rather drive 22 hours than deal with TSA, the sardine can flying and airport hassles. My daughter has not forgiven me for selling our plane.

  11. Jeff, You Cub fans love being losers just like Red Sox fans did. Actually, you love it even more now because you’re solo in your misery since the Red Sox have won twice recently. And, wishbone has a bone to pick w/ you super rich season tix holders. Jeff, this is just good natured ball busting. However, there is truth in the loveable loser dynamic.

  12. RWL,

    To be honest, I’d have to research the mpg question, but I’d guess on the average it has improved (especially in the V6 engines). As for the manual/automatic debate? To me, it’s like a toolbox. It depends on what kind of driving you’re going to do. Personally on a pony car, I prefer a stick.

  13. wishbone, Come on now…your class envy is showing. These weren’t Wall St. lawyers. These insurance defense guys are the blue collar of litigation. They probably make 150k or so. The med malpractice guys I worked for made 250k or so. If you think that’s super rich you are are again, flat ass wrong. However, I do understand everything is relative. Maybe for you 150k is “super rich,” but statistics don’t support that. Actually, w/ commercial flying being so much of a hassle, these clients now drive down from Wi.

  14. First, Wrigley is a ball park NOT a stadium, Second as a season ticket holder who spent 11- years on the wait list, I’m supportive if the Ricketts plan. The cubs are a business, the Ricketts family owns the Cubs and should be able to create a profitable business; Third they are not seeking $.1 penny of taxpayers money rather they are footing the whole $600 million themselves, finally, having just watched a game fir the first time 2-nights ago at Fenway, where the Red Sox have not one but 2- large video displays, I still fond the park quaint and enjoyable. I’d rather see a winning team than pass on another 102 years of losing to my grandchildren. Go Cubs.

  15. mespo, I missed you asking. However, when I read you ate @ Soto Mare I meant to ask you how you liked it. A guy I know who lives just north of the Bay area raves about it. I’ve only eaten in 3 North Beach restaurants. My favorite was Albona. The food was superb as was the service. I had a rabbit dish w/ polenta that was, and this is streotypical but true, just like my grandmother and father would make. It’s rare you see rabbit on the menu. Germans also like rabbit and when I lived in Chicago would often order it in German places. My wife had gnocchi which was also superb.

    The 2nd best place was Franchino. The service was friendly but a bit uneven. However, the seafood linguini was spot on. I don’t remember what my wife had but she’s sleeping!

    Sodini’s was a spur of the moment stop. The menu was pretty pedestrian so we had pizza, which was very good.

  16. Yeah Nick, its really tough that your poverty stricken “attorney clients” can’t get their $5 cab fares to the loop anymore. They can take the CTA in from Midway for less than that, but they might have to rub shoulders with some real Chicagoans. Daniel Burham wanted a lakefront open to all not a convenience for the few.

  17. wishbone,
    Meigs Field has been a general aviation airport since I can remember. Little single and twin engine airplanes. If it was such a great idea, how come Daley ripped up the runway in the middle of the night? As far as “closed half the time” do you have figures on that?” There is not an airport in the country that is closed half the time, and that includes places like Alaska and our own foggy Appalachian mountains. Besides, Meigs had instrument landing capability.

    Somebody has sold you a bill of goods. Were you one of the developers who coveted the land? There are a lot of parks in Chicago, including Grant Park, with all its amenities. But now, parents can’t take their kids to planewatch or even take a ride or flying lesson there.

    Friends of Meigs are not going away. And there are thousands of pilots and aircraft owners who will not spend a dime in Chicago as long as there is no Meigs Field.

  18. RWL,

    I was talking styling, not mechanics. Smarty pants.

    There have been a variety of engines in the Mustang, some fantastic like the 289 (which I think still holds the distinction of being the highest horsepower to weight ration of any production engine ever put in the car, the 302, and the big daddy 427 and some not so great like the mid-80’s four bangers and the mediocre 302 based SVT platforms of the time (not to be confused with their hot cousin, the ’93 and ’95 Cobra-R). The new GT is a pretty hot ride at 420 hp out of a 5.0L, but I haven’t had the chance to drive a 5.8L Shelby GT500 at 631 hp (yet).

    They did, however, do the retro styling on the new Mustangs far better than Chevy was able to with the Camaro (which is just butt ugly from the back and hard to see out of). Dodge did a pretty good job with the Challenger too. Both cars really succeed in harkening back to the mid to late 60’s styling.

    1. Gene,

      Professor Gene (I am raising my hand), Has the mpg improved, stayed the same, or became worse since the 1960s? Also, some of the new mustangs are now automatic; Does this take away from the original brand of the stick shift (manual drive)? I think it does. Or better yet, when did Ford move from stick shift to automatic come into play?

  19. OS,

    Interesting Info! Too bad we can’t say the same about NFL, NBA, MLB, & NHL stadiums (Read the Link):

    “Public Cost of Big-Time Sports

    The expenditure of public money on sport facilities and events is an international phenomenon that occurs at every level of government. The government of Portugal spent $732 million to host Euro 2004, the European soccer championship
    tournament (Smale, 2004, June 2). Public money paid for the construction of seven new stadiums in a country about the size of the state of Indiana. Portugal’s spending paled in comparison with the cost associated with the 2002 World Cup, cohosted by South Korea and Japan. To prepare for the event, various Japanese localities built 7 new stadiums and renovated 3 others at a cost of $4.5 billion. South Korea spent $2 billion on 10 new facilities (Struck, 2002).

    Olympic spending dwarfs even these figures. The Greek government spent $12.8 billion to hold the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, and the Chinese government invested over $43 billion for the Beijing Games in 2008 (Gross, 2008). This type of spending is often speculative in nature; cities take on construction projects long before they are awarded host status. Public spending on the 2002 Salt Lake City Games began in 1990 when a portion of state and local sales tax revenue was diverted to fund construction of bobsled, luge, speed skating, and ski jump facilities. Salt Lake City was not awarded the 2002 Games until 1995 (Burbank et al., 2001). The Los Angeles Coliseum (built in 1923), Chicago’s Soldier Field (1924), and Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium (1931) were all built with public money in failed bids to host the Olympic Games. (Los Angeles did successfully attract the 1932 Games.) These facilities all eventually played host to professional baseball or football teams.

    Recent spending on stadiums for top-level professional teams has generated a great deal of attention. Between 2000 and 2009, 31 major-league stadiums and arenas opened across urban America at a public cost of approximately $8 billion. A few were built to attract new teams, but most replaced existing facilities for incumbent teams. Cincinnati’s Cynergy Field (formerly called Riverfront Stadium), former home of the NFL Bengals and MLB Reds, was replaced by two new stadiums built with over $600 million in subsidies from Hamilton County. Multiple facilities were also built to replace Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh and Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia. The average cost of a football or baseball stadium built since 2000 is $528 million. The average cost of a basketball or hockey arena built during this period is $276 million. Public money has typically covered about two-thirds of these costs. (Chapter 5 provides a detailed assessment of recent stadium construction trends.)

    Economic Magnitude of Sport in Perspective
    The significant investment by local governments suggests that the economic returns of sport must be quite large. Indeed economic benefits are often proffered as the justification for sport subsidies. Teams, stadiums, and events are commonly promoted as economic catalysts. For example, in 1997 a group campaigning for a new publicly funded football stadium for the San Francisco 49ers used the slogan “Build the Stadium—Create the Jobs!” (Epstein, 1997). The Oregon Stadium Campaign, a group working to bring major-league baseball to Portland, ran an ad in the local newspaper that read, “$150 million company seeks move to Oregon. Will bring jobs, development, snappy new uniforms.”

    If you have read the previous chapters of this book, we hope that you are now convinced that talking about sport as big business is legitimate. Sport leagues cater to ever-expanding global markets. Wealthy individuals and powerful conglomerates buy and sell teams for hundreds of millions of dollars. Unions struggle with owners for their share of revenue, and salaries climb increasingly higher, in part because of escalating television contracts. Big business indeed, but how big is big? By many indicators, sport teams as individual firms play only minor roles within complex urban economies.

    Many professional sport teams have annual revenues that exceed $100 million. Average annual revenues are approximately $155 million in the NFL, $130 million in MLB, $95 million in the NBA, and $70 million in the NHL (Zimbalist, 2003). These numbers may seem large, but some comparisons can provide perspective. If you are enrolled in a state university, chances are that your school takes in more revenue and spends more than the closest professional sport team. For example, Portland State University has a budget of nearly $200 million, more than twice that of the Portland Trailblazers. For another comparison, consider this: In 2003 the average Costco wholesale store had annual sales of $113 million, exceeding the revenues of most sport teams (Heylar, 2003). Few would expect a big-box warehouse store to be a major player in an urban economy, yet they are typically bigger businesses than sport teams. Of course, the local warehouse store does not have devoted fans who wear Costco hats, paint their faces in Costco blue and red, and follow the successes and failures of the store on the nightly news. We will discuss those benefits (consumption benefits) in the next chapter, but for now let us focus on the role of sport teams in the local economy.

    Another way to put the economic magnitude of sport teams in perspective is by examining the share of total payroll and employment that they represent within their local economies. We can use Portland as a case study to explore the current significance of the Trailblazers and the potential significance of adding a professional baseball team.

    Table 4.1 shows total private-sector employment and payroll for Multnomah County and Portland’s six-county primary metropolitan statistical area in 2001. The table also shows employment and payroll figures for the spectator sport industry, as defined by the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS). This industry category (NAICS 71121) includes all professional and semiprofessional sport teams; athletes involved in individual professional sports; and businesses associated with automobile, horse, and dog racing. For the Portland metropolitan area, the Trailblazers make up the bulk of this category, but it also includes payroll and employment related to a minor-league baseball team, Portland International Raceway, Portland Meadows horse-racing track, Multnomah Greyhound Park, and other small spectator sport ventures. Still, the industry accounts for less than 1 percent of Multnomah County’s private sector payroll and only 0.2 percent of the county’s jobs. At the metropolitan area level, the contributions of spectator sports are even more diminutive.”

    1. RWL,

      Thanks for the quote and link on the minor contributions sports teams make to local economies. I alluded to it in my original comment but was too lazy to do the research. The myth of sports teams economic contributions has been debuked many times, but they still sell politicians and gullible public on it. A further example of wealth taking advantage.

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