There's nothing to regret about one that got away

This is the true story of how I almost became part-owner of the Chicago Cubs and why I am so happy I didn't.

It was 14 years ago and I was sitting at a corner table in Billy Goat's Tavern with Charley Finley.


Finley was the former owner of the great Oakland A's team that won three World Series in the 1970s. We occasionally had a few beers and talked baseball.

That night we chatted about rumors that the Wrigley family might have to sell the team because P.K. Wrigley had died and left a whopping inheritance tax bill.


Finley said he thought the chronically mismanaged franchise TC could be had for about $21 million. If he was right, it would be a bargain, especially if the team fell into the hands of owners brilliant enough to develop a winner.

We agreed that we possessed the necessary brilliance. But we lacked $21 million.

Actually, Finley, a successful businessman, might have had the millions. But he didn't have enough to compete with wild spenders like George Steinbrenner or Gene Autry. That's why he had sold the A's.

And even if he wanted to buy the Cubs, he couldn't because the other owners hated him for being smarter than they were.

Ah, but I knew someone who had enough money to buy the team, fix up the ballpark, and sign good players.

He was my boss, Marshall Field, who owned the Sun-Times, where I worked.

With his distinguished Chicago name the owners couldn't possibly object.

Finley and I hatched our plan. I would persuade Field to buy the team because it made good business sense. And he would bring Finley in as a 5 percent owner and general manager. I would mortgage and borrow and buy a small sliver, which would permit me to be on the board of directors and cadge free beer.


So we flipped for the tab and set out to make baseball history.

By chance, I was going on a fishing trip with Field soon after that evening. So he and I and two of his executives would be in a North Woods cabin or a boat for three days. Unless he jammed his fingers in his ears, he'd have to listen to my pitch.

He did, but at first he wasn't enthusiastic.

"I don't like baseball," he said.

I told him that he didn't have to like baseball. Finley and I liked baseball enough for all of us. He liked money and he would make money.

The two executives snickered and said it would be a foolish deal. But I persisted.


First, I said, we would yank the Cubs off Channel 9, which was owned by the rival Tribune Company. We'd see if they had enough old Charlie Chan films to fill those empty afternoons.

And we'd put the Cubs on Channel 32, which Field owned.

Meanwhile, the shrewd Finley would build a winner. The sappy but loyal Cubs fans would flock to the ballpark.

Fans would be so grateful to Field for giving them a good team, they would buy more of our newspapers.

Finally, I said, we could rename the ballpark after the new owner. We would call it Field Field. Catchy and easy to remember.

By the time the fishing trip ended and we were back in Chicago, Field had agreed. Probably out of exhaustion.


He met with Finley and said he would buy 51 percent of the franchise if Finley would put together a group of investors to buy the rest.

That would be easy, Finley said, and he set about doing it.

Then the tarpon began running off the coast of Florida. What have tarpon to do with it? Field is an avid world-class fisherman, so when the tarpon run, he runs, that's what.

Finley kept phoning and asking when Field would return so we could make the offer.

Soon, I said. The tarpon would tire of running and Field had to get tired of running after them.

And we waited.


On June 16, 1981, a sports reporter loped over to my desk and said: "Hear 'bout the Cubs?"

What about them?

"They were just sold to the Trib."

I kicked the wall so hard that I limped for a month.

Every spring since I have thought about what might have been. I would be a part-owner at the training camp, saying: "Shawon, lay off the outside pitches this year. And Sammy, no law says you can't let the pitcher walk you, kid." Of course, Finley would tell me to shut up and go sell beer.

But now the regrets are gone. What might have been would be that today I would be a baseball owner. I'd have to growl about how stupid the players are, which they are, without admitting how stupid I am, which I would be by default.


Instead, I can yawn at baseball while watching Michael soar.

If I ever catch a tarpon, I'll give it a kiss.