Theo Epstein proud of Rickettses for sticking with long-term plan
BY GORDON WITTENMYER Staff Reporter January 18, 2014 10:00PM
Updated: February 20, 2014 6:50AM
Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts denied Saturday that ownership has underfunded the baseball operation and downplayed the role of the team’s mammoth debt in spending decisions during a day full of annual Cubs Convention interrogation by fans.
Team president Theo Epstein followed in a separate session with fans by defending his boss in the wake of the back-page story in the Sunday edition of the Sun-Times critical of the fifth-year ownership’s stewardship.
Asked whether he still has the same faith in Ricketts ownership more than two years after being hired, Epstein said, “I absolutely do.
“Here’s in my opinion the best thing about the Rickettses and their commitment to the Cubs: They know they’re going to own this club for generations and generations, so they are willing to take the hit now and take some of the heat now and be on the back page of the Sun-Times with criticism because they know they’re doing the right thing to lay the foundation, to get this right, to turn this into a franchise that they can be proud of for generations and generations.
“I am more proud of them for their willingness to take that heat and stick to their plan than if they panicked the first time their name was dragged through the mud publicly and said we can’t do this and we need to put lipstick on this and need to find some quick fixes just to keep the fans and media at bay.”
Meanwhile, in a later session with fans, business president Crane Kenney touted the Cubs’ fifth-highest revenue stream in the majors without effectively explaining why there’s apparently not enough to fund a more aggressive, big-market approach to rebuilding at the minor-and major-league levels.
Slick presentations involving a new spring-training facility paid for by the city of Mesa and a Dominican academy that cost a modest $6 million didn’t come close to answering it any more than the boasting about more amateur spending than anyone else in baseball the last four years (largely a function of being bad enough to qualify for higher spending caps under a new system).
Despite multiple sources continuing to point to the team’s MLB-high debt (imposed by Sam Zell as a purchase requirement) and restrictive bank covenants related to it, Ricketts told fans the same thing he told the Sun-Times in an interview last September:
“Almost every single team has some debt,” he said. “It’s a factor. It’s something that’s a piece of the puzzle. But it’s not as big a piece of the puzzle as people think.
“We know where we are, and we know it’s not limiting the team and we know over time it’s going to get stronger. We still have a very strong baseball budget. It is sufficient.”
Both Ricketts and Kenney said the Wrigley Field renovation project originally scheduled to be done over five consecutive offseasons has been restructured to be completed in four.
That work is expected to begin this year, they said, at a cost increase of “a little less than 10 percent” over the original $300 million estimate.
Kenney said the club had two “good” meetings with most of the rooftop owners last week, with enough progress that team officials seem to expect a quick resolution to differences that threatened to lead to a lawsuit by the rooftop owners over planned outfield signage.
A 20-year contract between the Cubs and rooftop owners allowing the views into the park for a 17 percent cut of sales has 11 seasons left.
The Cubs say they expect to know by Opening Day where their WGN portion of televised games will land starting in 2015.
◆ Marketing director Alison Miller, when asked to reconsider the team’s mascot plan: “No. Clark is here to stay.”