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View point: Wrigley Field rooftop owners were there first

Chicago Cubs Vs Detroit Tigers. Chicago Baseball fans enjoy evening game Wrigley Field.  Wednesday  June 13 2012

Chicago Cubs Vs Detroit Tigers. Chicago Baseball fans enjoy a evening game at Wrigley Field. Wednesday June 13, 2012 I Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

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Updated: April 8, 2013 4:54PM

Wrigley Field was built in seven weeks.

It’s true. The Chicago entry in the renegade Federal League had a manager and players before a ballpark. Ground wasn’t broken at Clark, Addison, Sheffield and Waveland streets until March 4, 1914. The Chicago ‘‘Federals’’ played their home opener on April 23.

The only hitches were a teamsters strike and a lawsuit filed by property owners of three-flats on Sheffield, Waveland and Addison streets who sought to hold up construction of the park because, they claimed, team owners violated a city ordinance by failing to get their consent to build a baseball park in their neighborhood.

The strike was short-lived. And the lawsuit never got anywhere. On opening day, an overflow crowd filled the new ballpark beyond it’s 18,000-seat capacity, with the rooftops of buildings surrounding the park filled with onlookers.

The point is, the rooftops were there first — a significant point in the current public debate over whether the Chicago Cubs or the Wrigleyville rooftop owners are the bad guys in the contentious negotiation to renovate Wrigley Field.

The rooftop owners don’t seem to be getting the benefit of being the ‘‘little guy’’ in this dispute. They might be heavy-handed in their attempt to maximize an investment — just as the Cubs are doing. Their rooftop ‘‘grandstands’’ are over-the-top for my tastes and detract from the neighborhood feel that makes Wrigley Field the baseball shrine it is — though if I owned one of those buildings there would still be a Baby Ruth sign on the rooftop and nothing else.

But let the record show they are not ‘‘poaching.’’ They’re not stealing the Cubs’ product. I’m typing this slowly so even the sports-talk show callers can get it: The Ricketts family bought a baseball team that plays in a ballpark that was built in an existing neighborhood. You can’t build a ballpark across the street from three-flats and then tell people, ‘Don’t look’ any more than I can complain about all the people parking in front of the house we bought four doors down from a public park. It was there first.

The rooftop owners might be guilty of overplaying their hand, but the contract they signed with the Cubs to share rooftop revenues — as it has been presented publicly, at least — implicitly allows them access to the views of Wrigley Field from their buildings. Regardless of the jurisprudence of the matter, the Cubs would be breaking the spirit of the agreement if they were to obscure the view of the rooftops surrounding Wrigley Field.

Normally, that would matter most in the court of public opinion. But not in this case. It’s interesting to hear people argue that the agreement between the Cubs and the rooftop owners should be null-and-void just because they want it to be, or because the Cubs need it to be. If the Cubs or Cub fans or the mayor could just nullify contracts to suit their interests, they should have started with Alfonso Soriano (eight years, $126 million) and Carlos Zambrano (five years, $91 million) — that’s nearly half of the Wrigley Field renovation right there.

The Ricketts family has earned public support for their renovation plan by recognizing that Wrigley Field is the cash cow they purchased in 2009. Their commitment to Wrigley Field is as laudable as it is prudent. But a deal is a deal, whether they agreed to it or assumed it.

On the other hand, the rooftop owners have to realize their own cash cow is terminal. It’s up to both parties to give a little in order to preserve what’s best for both of them — the entire Wrigley Field neighborhood.

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