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Wrigley Field improvements great but what about the team?

Updated: April 15, 2013 12:26PM


I’m exhausted just from reading the early details of the Cubs-Wrigleyville agreement.

Not only did this thing take about four years to come together, but its glacial formation helped provide an excellent smokescreen for a team that is about as bad as they come in the major leagues.

See, that’s part of the exhaustion. All of this haggling over things like signs and scoreboards and rooftops and walkways and parking lots and hotels and ‘‘LED ribbon boards’’ and cement ready to fall on people’s heads has nothing to do with baseball.

It has to do with the promise of a better team, yes — one that might break the 104-year World Series drought — but it comes with no guarantee. The Cubs might get the 5,000-square-foot Jumbotron they and Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) have essentially agreed upon. They might get the 800-square-foot ‘‘see-through sign’’ above the right-field bleachers, the slick boutique hotel across Clark Street, the plaza, ‘‘kids zone’’ and office building on the triangle lot and the extra night games the group has agreed to.

The Cubs actually might enter the 21st century building-wise. But a recent Forbes report already named them the most profitable team in the majors, and what did it buy last season? One hundred one losses.

So this ‘‘framework’’ for a deal that still needs lots of city government and regulatory-commission approval is nice. Why, the shutting down of Waveland and Sheffield for street fairs during certain series will be as much fun as drinking green beer from a leprechaun’s bucket on St. Patrick’s Day.

But does it guarantee a good team?

No. All this renovation and building will cost about a half-billion dollars, and most of that expenditure will come back to the family in the form of increased ad revenue, equity and rent.

(You think that little hotel won’t be a cash cow? Let’s do some quick math. There are to be 175 rooms, per the agreement. Let’s say they rent for a modest $150 a night. That’s a potential $26,250 income per night. Multiplied by 365 days, that’s $9.58 million. Say it’s only two-thirds that. That’s still more than $6 million per year. And that doesn’t include the food and bar revenue that could be off the charts. Or income from meeting rooms, weddings, on and on. This is sacred Wrigleyville, remember.)

But the Cubs never will outspend the Yankees, or maybe even the profligate Dodgers. Nor do dollars guarantee winning, in any case. What they do guarantee is the need for more dollars.

I do have to say, Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts has the outward patience of Job. Why he never flew into a screaming, profanity-laced rage over the demands of the neighborhood — Wrigley Field has been there longer than any resident — I do not know. Emanuel certainly would have gone ballistic. Maybe he did?

Even as the most constrained stadium owner in baseball, he never threatened to move the club to the smarmily beckoning suburb of Rosemont or to Florida or anywhere else. White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf would have pulled that stunt in a St. Petersburg second.

For this Ricketts deserves a big pat on the back and maybe even his own bobblehead day. It’s possible Tunney deserves one, too, though he had us all jumping through hoops of anxiety for years.

Nor is it certain this deal won’t get sued back to the Bricks and Ivy Age by that renegade band known as the Rooftop Owners, the nearby building owners who have 11 more years on a contract with the Cubs that guarantees them an unobstructed view of their already obstructed view of the field. This deal is so insane that I can’t even begin. But it’s legal. And it might be explosive.

But for now we’ll believe the happy news and breathe a sigh of relief.

A redone stadium. A big replay screen. Two-thousand jobs. Millions in tax revenue.

Big smiles and handshakes all around.

We won’t even mention the 4-8 team on the road to nowhere.

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