In the Wake of the News
7:45 PM EDT, April 6, 2013
Unless Carlos Marmol gets involved, the Cubs still hope to close a deal with the city to renovate Wrigley Field by Monday's home opener.
Assuming the agreement can overcome a late-inning scare, planned improvements at the venerable 99-year-old ballpark include a large video scoreboard in left field, a hotel and office building across the street and a parking garage at Clark and Grace. That also represents a good spot for a sign befitting the $500 million investment in the neighborhood, one that says: Welcome to Rickettsville.
Long after Mayor Rahm Emanuel returns to crises more likely to define his tenure and Ald. Tom Tunney, 44th, backpedals his way back to angry rooftop owners, Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts could emerge as the one who put progress ahead of profit in the best interests of Chicago. If Tunney had taken that same civic-minded spirit into the final phase of negotiations like a leader representing the many instead of the few, everybody would be shaking hands.
If they eventually do, one day history will smile on the baseball executive who prides himself on being a man of the people taking the people's needs as seriously as his own. Estimates say the project will create 2,000 jobs and generate $19 million in tax revenue alone, not to mention how new revenue streams and increased night games should improve the product on the field — which benefits everybody.
Obviously, winning a World Series would create the legacy Ricketts cares about most. But being known as the guy who saved Wrigleyville from itself can only enhance his reputation.
Consider that Ricketts easily could have responded to the constant special-interest meddling by returning the flirtation of Rosemont Mayor Brad Stephens. Even before that realistic option surfaced, Ricketts secretly could have lined up suitors from DuPage County or Arlington Heights or any other municipality that would have loved to entice the Cubs into suburbia with tax breaks and free land. Even at this late stage, as 16 rooftop owners dangerously threaten completion of a deal that would benefit millions of Chicagoans, Ricketts has avoided self-serving stunts that often mar negotiations.
Over two years, Ricketts essentially has stepped up to the plate with a whiffle-ball bat. He chose to negotiate without ever trying to gain leverage by threatening to leave Chicago's North Side even if studies showed the Cubs stood to make even more money away from Wrigley and the grip of local government. Those studies still make relocating a legitimate option for Ricketts until the ink is dry, by the way.
Emanuel or predecessor Richard M. Daley might have laughed at such threats and called Ricketts' bluff. We never will know because Ricketts chose not to engage in discussions to move his team the way the McCaskeys and the Bears did or White Sox Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf before them. From a business perspective, there was something naive about Ricketts' approach. From a personal standpoint, there is something admirable. He refused to put a price on abandoning Wrigley Field.
For better or worse, that allegiance put Ricketts at a negotiating disadvantage. So why did a successful, trained businessman make that choice? Overly romantic or not, Ricketts still feels strongly about his role as a steward of Wrigley Field. He met his wife, Cecilia, in the bleachers. He knows ushers by name and that Eamus Catuli is a slogan, not a menu item. He simply remains an unabashed, true-blue Cubs fan, and fans let their hearts lead their heads, which is what Ricketts did throughout a process he made longer than necessary. At times Ricketts made decisions like Tom from Wilmette instead of the chairman of an $845 million corporation.
Not surprisingly, Ricketts' initial clumsiness prolonged negotiations. In December 2010, Ricketts whiffed worse than Dave Kingman on a high fastball when, in the midst of a bad economy, his first proposal asked for $200 million in public funding from the Illinois Sports Facility Authority that helps every other team in town. Gov. Pat Quinn and Daley, whose support Ricketts needed, scoffed at the political newbie.
Just when Ricketts had regained some momentum toward a reconfigured deal that was close last May, his father, Joe, alienated Emanuel when reports linked the elder Ricketts to a proposed $10 million smear campaign of President Barack Obama. It didn't matter if it was unfair to hold a son responsible for the alleged actions of his father. Emanuel did, and this clearly was his show.
Those were among the lessons in the school of hard knocks Ricketts referred to at an event last week in Florida when he addressed what surprised him taking over the Cubs.
"There are lots of little learning curves,'' Ricketts said. "Chicago politics is one.''
The price of his education cost Ricketts more than he expected but clearly staying would make it worthwhile to him. Litigious rooftop owners who disagree will make Ricketts feel like the worst guy who ever invested a half-billion dollars of his family's money in their neighborhood. Eventually, their views might change, figuratively and literally, once they see designs and remember how many fans go to rooftops for the party more than the baseball.
Indeed, this saga is all about perspective. From where I sit, rooftop owners and all Cubs fans should be thanking Ricketts today instead of planning to sue him.
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