MORRISSEY: Cubs’ owners prey on your hopes by promising titles with Wrigley repairs
BY RICK MORRISSEY email@example.com April 17, 2013 10:54PM
Chicago Cubs club chairman Tom Ricketts speaks at a baseball news conference inside Wrigley Field on Monday, April 15, 2013, in Chicago. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)
If I have this right, the Cubs are going to win a World Series soon because their long-sought-after renovation of Wrigley Field is on the horizon.
At least that’s what chairman Tom Ricketts declared the other day.
‘‘We need this project in order to bring our fans a winner,’’ he said.
Implicit in those words is that the futility Cubs fans witnessed the last 104 years was a function of weak ballpark-revenue streams and, therefore, a lack of quality, highly paid players. That probably will come as a surprise to the 2003 World Series champion Marlins, who, with a $48 million payroll, took down the New York Yankees and their $154 million payroll.
The team the Marlins shocked in the National League Championship Series that year, your Chicago Cubs, had a payroll of $79 million, a tad above the league average. Sorry to bring up painful memories, Cubs fans, but the idea that World Series success is about to be bestowed upon you because Wrigley will undergo surgery is inaccurate, not to mention patronizing.
Ricketts is probing the most vulnerable section of your heart — did somebody say ‘‘World Series’’? — and hoping your brain shuts down at the mere mention of a championship.
‘‘Staying competitive’’ is the threat that sports owners have forever used in their pursuit of new or rehabbed stadiums. Getting more luxury boxes, more expensive seats, more concessions and more of anything will allow their teams to stay among the haves. You don’t want your team to be among the have-nots, do you? Of course not!
The Bears took that approach while trying to get taxpayer money for Soldier Field renovations. We won’t be able to acquire the best free agents without a stadium deal, they cried. The ‘‘new’’ Soldier Field was ready for the 2003 season. Since then, how many Super Bowl rings have you seen around town that have anything other than ‘‘1985’’ written on them?
The lesson is the same in all sports: It’s not how much money is spent that decides who wins championships; it’s how the money is spent. When the White Sox won the World Series in 2005, their payroll ranked 13th out of 30 teams.
‘‘The correlation between payroll and winning [a championship] — does payroll help? Yes, but just a tiny amount,’’ Allen Sanderson, a University of Chicago sports economist, said Wednesday. ‘‘It’s just not very strong.’’
When team president Theo Epstein came to town, all we heard was that the farm system was a mess. The Cubs hadn’t been competitive because the pipeline of young talent was almost nonexistent, they said. So Epstein began rebuilding it, a project that continues to this day, even as Ricketts uses profits to address the team’s debt obligations rather than the team’s baseball product.
Somewhere along the way, the message shifted — the Cubs told us they were falling behind other teams in regards to ballpark revenues. But one of the reasons the cash flow lagged was because a decent percentage of fans had become fed up with the losing and stayed away from Wrigley. When you put a product on the field that loses 101 games, that’s going to happen.
Some teams are getting huge TV deals. The Texas Rangers got one. The Seattle Mariners just reached a deal to start a regional sports network. It’s hard to believe that the Cubs, one of the premier franchises in baseball, won’t get a lucrative deal, but let’s see president of business operations Crane Kenney take a swing at it. Somebody teach him how to hold a bat.
There’s nothing new about the ‘‘new economics’’ of baseball. Just as a new stadium doesn’t necessarily equal championships, so a big TV deal doesn’t necessarily translate into a competitive edge on the field.
It comes down to scouting, one of the most inexact sciences there is. Baseball is full of players who were drafted in late rounds. Stats-freak-guided drones might be filling the skies, but it still comes down to the basic intelligence that scouts provide. And even then, nobody knows for sure.
Any success the Cubs have is not going to be tied to a video screen at Wrigley. It’s going to come down to what Epstein does, and more likely than not, it won’t matter how much money he’s holding in his hand as a lure.
‘‘Is this [Wrigley] deal going to guarantee them a championship?’’ Sanderson said. ‘‘Is it going to really alter the odds in their favor of getting to the World Series and winning the World Series? Probably not.’’