Chicago Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts talks about proposed $500 million investment in Wrigley Field and Wrigleyville at City Club of Chicago, Wednesday, May 1, 2013 | John H. White~Sun-Times
Updated: June 3, 2013 3:45PM
On Wednesday morning, Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts took off one of his chain-metal gauntlets and dropped it with a clank to the floor.
“The fact is that if we don’t have the ability to generate revenue in our own outfield, we’ll have to take a look at moving,’’ Ricketts told the audience at the City Club of Chicago. “No question.”
When you say, “No question,’’ that means, well, no question. Like, you’ll do it.
That is, you’ll leave antique Wrigley Field to the preservationists, let the rooftop owners view weeds inside a crumbling brick mess and head for the suburbs. Or wherever.
Ricketts had this gauntlet securely strapped to his forearm throughout the seemingly endless bickering about rebuilding Wrigley Field and putting up signage that can generate lots of revenue for the Cubs. Why he dropped it right now isn’t clear. But it hit with a defiant noise. I halfway expected Peter Dinklage from “Game of Thrones’’ to run in and snatch the glove, while tossing down a little one of his own. If we can use one more image from medieval days, you could say that the Cubs owners’ sharpened sword is halfway out of its scabbard. And it’s catching the suns’ rays.
The Rickettses’ architects recently unveiled a rendering of an improved Wrigley Field with a 6,000-square-foot Jumbotron behind the left-field bleachers and a smaller sign in right field, and drawings of their proposed plaza. Somewhere there’s a design for the 91-foot-tall, eight-story hotel the family wants to build across from the main entrance to Wrigley, with a walkway over Clark Street.
All these plans are great, but you don’t get them without a fight. Not with so many vested outsiders involved.
The Cubs, as we all now know, can’t just reform crumbling Wrigley to whatever design they want. Neighbors, Alderman Tom Tunney, the city council, drunks sleeping under Harry Caray’s bronze microphone all have a say. (Kidding about the drunks, but not by much.)
Oh, and did we mention the mighty rooftop owners and their legal contract to steal Cubs’ produce for the next 11 years?
There’s the nightmare, the one that Cubs president Crane Kenney, who signed off on the deal in 2004, should have on a recurring, subliminal reel. But if the Cubs can’t do the things they say they must do to make the cash they claim they need to win — because rooftop owners don’t want their views obstructed — then only three things can happen: stalemate, compromise or war.
And the rumble of warfare is what Ricketts created.
“All we really need is to be able to run our business like a business and not a museum,” he said.
Fair enough, but what did he think he was getting when his family trust bought the Cubs in 2009 — a cornfield?
Dropping the glove now allows Ricketts to ratchet up the suspense, gamesmanship and consequences of the negotiations. It’s a dangerous ploy because the PR game could easily turn against the Cubs, just as now it’s drifting against the recalcitrant rooftop owners.
You don’t bring out the nuclear bomb unless you’re willing to use it. Or the other side thinks you are. Or just the sight of it scares everyone into bomb shelters.
The Cubs in Rosemont is a disaster, a ludicrous concept. Indeed, the Cubs without Wrigley Field are nothing but the Padres, the Rockies, the Royals. They become Ball-Mall Part 29 in the 30-team MLB. Only Fenway Park in Boston will be truly different then, truly historic.
I’m thinking there’s legal wiggle room for the Cubs against the rooftop owners. I’m thinking the Cubs might know this. I’m thinking the Cubs should buy those buildings outright or buy the sightlines or ceilings or whatever. In truth, despite the acrimony between the apartment owners and the Cubs, the rooftops are part of the Wrigley ambience. In-stadium fans and TV viewers alike love to see that unique part of urban neighborhood baseball, a peephole facade that harkens back to the roots of the game.
Maybe compromise is afoot. Maybe Ricketts and his stated “Ricketts family legacy’’ — a projection of vanity and future Chicago standing — will win out, and we can see if his new revenue stream changes anything. He swears it will. He swears a Jumbotron, a hotel and remodeling equal a World Series title.
I doubt it.
But he still has one terrifying gauntlet to drop: a herd of moving vans, taking the Cubs to Omaha.