The [Thursday] Papers
If Fran Spielman's analysis is to be believed - and that's a big "If," given her tendency to channel City Hall sources used to using her to message their own agenda - Tom Ricketts has nobody to blame but himself for the morass the Wrigley Field negotiations have become.
Ricketts, it should be remembered, has racked up a horrible track record as a deal-maker since day one with the Cubs. Whatever skills he might have had as a stock broker tutored by his rich daddy ("Ricketts spent one summer early in life working at TD Ameritrade, giving customers stock quotes over the phone. This was his only work experience with the company before being invited to join as a director later in life," his footnoted Wikipedia entry says) clearly have not transferred to the tricky management challenge of running one of the most storied (and unique) franchises in sports history - in one of the trickiest political environments in the country.
(Tom isn't the only bumbler in the family - who can forget brother Todd's classic performance on Undercover Boss, in which he actually dumped a bunch of hot dogs that he couldn't sell into the trash - while on camera - and then lied about it to his manager for the day, whom he ultimately employs.)
"Every constituency group is gonna have to give a little bit. The city is gonna have to give. The neighborhood's gonna have to compromise. The rooftops are gonna have to compromise," Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) said Wednesday. "But the specifics keep changing and the asks keep changing. So, how do you pin down what are we agreeing to when those [requests] change all the time?"
To be clear, the "asks" are those coming from the Cubs. How do you negotiate with moving targets?
Pressed to identify the changing demands, Tunney said he thought he had an agreement with the Cubs to lift the 30-games-per-season ceiling on the number of night games, only to be told that Major League Baseball could override the new limit.
This is quite astonishing; lifting the night-game cap is a really, really, really big deal. Night games only started at Wrigley in 1988 and God was pissed.
Day baseball is one of those things that always made the Cubs special - one of the elements (like the rooftops) that created a phenomenon so cool it made a crappy franchise of losers worth a billion dollars. Now Ricketts is slowly eliminating everything about the team that gave it its value.
There's also the issue of a giant video scoreboard in left field that would partially obstruct the view from at least two rooftops and another sign in right field that, rooftop club owners fear, might be three times bigger than the see-through Toyota sign in left field.
Again, part of Wrigley's charm was its timeless nature. Lack of a Jumbotron was a point of pride, not a deficiency.
And let's not forget that in a letter to Cubs fans in 2010, Ricketts whined that "Most other MLB teams also receive substantial public subsidies; we do not. In our case, we have asked for one sign in the outfield."
Sources said Tunney was trying to broker a deal to compensate rooftop club owners for any loss of revenue tied to stadium signage. There was even talk of eliminating the right-field sign altogether in exchange for an increase in the revenue-sharing agreement that calls for the clubs to share 17 percent of their annual take with the team.
The rooftop owners have come under a lot of fire from our local sports media, but they have a contract. Why should they negotiate at all? Then again, they say they haven't been asked.
Ryan McLaughlin, a spokesman for rooftop club owners who have not had a seat at the bargaining table, would say only, "The rooftop owners have never been presented any details whatsoever formally or informally by the Chicago Cubs , their legal partners. Any insinuation otherwise is false."
By "insinuation," let's say "leaks to friendly media." (See Kaplan, David.)
There's also the issue of a new 300-space parking garage the Cubs were planning to build at Clark and Grace to satisfy Tunney 's demand for more parking to replace the 400 spaces that were supposed to be part of a "triangle building" adjacent to the ballpark.
Ah, yes, the famed triangle building. Whatever happened to that? Nothing. Never built and now not part of the plans, after years of negotiation. You can see why the Cubs have as much credibility as their woebegone lineup.
In recent days, scores of residents have signed an online petition against the new parking garage. They fear it would make traffic even more "unbearable" than it already is and turn their neighborhood into a "parking lot."
By all means, let's turn Wrigley into U.S. Cellular! Attendance will be similar.
Ricketts has offered to bankroll a $300 million Wrigley renovation without a public subsidy - and build a $200 million hotel development on McDonald's property he purchased across the street from the stadium - if the city agrees to lift restrictions on outfield signs and night games and opens Sheffield Avenue for street fairs on game days.
Ricketts has offered to bankroll a Wrigley renovation without public subsidy? Out of the goodness of his heart? Just for us? I'm confused: Should we "just let him run his business" or are we supposed to help one of America's richest families pay for the honor of getting even richer? (And don't forget where those profits are going.)
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel desperately wants to deliver a deal that could generate 2,000 jobs and $20 million in annual tax revenue for the city and state.
History - and the experience Spielman is supposed to have gained by this late point in her career - tells us we'll be lucky to get half that.
But he has not been willing to roll over Tunney or agree to details that mean millions, but must go through a planned development process that involves the politically active Wrigleyville community.
Maybe just one thing at a time, Tom. Baby steps.
Ricketts didn't exactly help his own cause when he issued a joint statement on Opening Day pledging to continue negotiating exclusively with Chicago.
So Spielman is advising that Ricketts should have duped the public into believing he was serious about moving the team - a deception Spielman no doubt would have participated in by hyping the threat.
And she's praising the past deceptions by the White Sox and Bears that royally screwed taxpayers. Bravo! she bellows. Do that!
Also, threatening all parties involved with fake deadlines - unquestioned by reporters -doesn't build credibility. Neither does starting with a demand for public money that Ricketts now acknowledges isn't needed (but would have been granted if the wishes of friendly media types were heeded).
Instead, Ricketts acted like the loyal Cub fan that he is - he met his wife watching a game in the bleachers at Wrigley.
We've heard that origin story so often I've started doubting it's true. He's also proven more loyal to the money the team generates than the wins they don't. Don't forget his pitch to daddy to buy the team for him: "I'll tell ya dad, they sell every ticket, every game, win or lose."
Asked why Emanuel hasn't sealed the deal, City Hall sources would only say that the "proverbial goal posts keep moving" because of the Cubs ' ever-changing requests.
Which is where we started: With Tom Ricketts. There is no one else to blame.
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Posted on April 11, 2013
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