Full disclosure - I work for the Tribune Co. that Zell runs and is actually newly owned by an employee stock option program that's too complicated to be explained here. And more full disclosure - I freely admit that the circumstances regarding the new ownership and all its implications have a fair amount to do with how I feel about this, so if you have any complaints about how my opinion is influenced by self-interest, you can save the keystrokes. It's already admitted.
Zell, who made a fortune in real estate and is a Chicago guy himself, makes the point that the gum people have been getting a free ride on the ballpark's name since then-Cubs owner William Wrigley named it after his family in 1927 and perhaps it's time that they pony up the cash like every other corporation that has its name on a sports building. In the case of Wrigley Field and the minty-gum guys, that actually goes double (pun intended) because this particular sports building carries such an enormous amount of intrinsic goodwill considering it comes ivy-wrapped in so much nostalgia.
But back to Zell: Right from the get-go when he put together the deal to buy the then-publicly held Tribune Co., it was a business in distress, and he made it clear that to help pay back all the loans taken out to make the deal happen, the Cubs and the ballpark had to go. That was a good idea for a ton of reasons, not the least of which is that the Chicago Tribune can stop being viewed with suspicion for having a conflict of interest regarding its coverage of the Cubs - but I digress.
More to my point, which is that Zell's main responsibility is to Tribune Co. as a whole, including its employees and customers, in making a tough business deal work. Like newspapers all over the country, Tribune properties have been downsizing - and not just reporters and editors, but also advertising, circulation and business-side people. White-collar jobs, blue-collar jobs, in big cities, medium-sized cities and small towns, are on the line.
The responsibility is not Zell's and especially not that of Tribune employees across the country to preserve Chicago baseball tradition. As already noted, the Wrigley Co., which is based in Chicago, has been getting that free ride for a long time. When I checked yesterday morning, the gum company's stock seemed to be up about 40 percent over the past five years, and it has a market cap of more than $16.6 billion.
And if the gum guys don't feel having their name on the building is worth it to them from a business standpoint, then perhaps a public-interest consortium in the Windy City can be the civic hero (there are certainly enough celebrities who are happy to put on their blue caps and profess to be true believers). And finally, if the legions in Cubs Cult feel so strongly about the ballpark's name, they can pass the hat and buy the naming rights themselves.