Ricketts family seems to win even if Cubs maintain losing ways
BY RICK TELANDER Sports Columnist April 2, 2014 11:05PM
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The Cubs’ home opener is Friday, and I expect Wrigley Field to be a rocking, joyous place.
Who cares about the weather? Or the Cubs’ record?
The boys are back! Next Year rules! Here we go!
Are you skeptical?
I understand. But consider this: Over the winter, after losing 96 games in 2013 and getting nowhere in the offseason with signage, Wrigley renovation, rooftop peace, etc., the franchise soared in value by a whopping 20 percent.
The club is now worth, according to the just-released Forbes annual list of MLB franchise valuations, $1.2 billion.
That makes the Cubs the fourth-most valuable team in the major leagues. Astoundingly, they come just after winning enterprises such as the Yankees, Dodgers and Red Sox. Those three teams have won 40 World Series championships in the 105 years that the Cubs have won none.
Yes, there’s potentially huge TV revenue in the Cubs’ future — maybe as much as $200 million a year. But every major-league team is ready to cash in on TV’s last gasp at locking up programming that offers real-time advertising revenue.
This new Cubs valuation is an astounding 42 percent more than the Ricketts clan paid for the team only 41/2 years ago. This comes after producing not a single winning season, four fifth-place finishes and an amazing 375 losses by teams as bad as any in Cubs history.
The White Sox had a terrible 2013 season, too, just like the Cubs. But they lost tons of TV viewers and U.S. Cellular Field attendees, and are valued by Forbes at just $695 million.
The real-world market seems to work its invisible hand on the Sox. Not so the Cubs.
Attempting to explain this bizarre illogic, veteran sports-business consultant Marc Ganis said recently that ‘‘the team losing games on the field, unfortunately, has been part of its value.’’
Actually, that’s fortunately. For folks such as the Rickettses.
Imagine: The Cubs stink, and that’s part of their bling.
So my point about the pending frenzy for the home opener must be considered with this Alice-in-Wonderland brain-scrambling reality in mind.
Even as the Cubs played their second game against the Pirates on Wednesday night, the Ricketts family appeared on a ‘‘60 Minutes Sports’’ episode on Showtime, talking up the happy times ahead.
“When we took over ownership of the Cubs, it was, ‘If we ever win a World Series,’ ’’ Laura Ricketts says on the show. “Now the whole . . . culture of the organization has changed to . . . ‘When.’ ’’
She added a kicker: ‘‘The Cubs are coming back.”
See, here’s what gets me. With all the Ricketts family thrashings and firings, and the addition of scores of genius front-office people, led by smartest-man-in-any-room-on-any-planet Theo Epstein, and all the promises and vows, and all the ‘‘rebuilding,’’ you would reasonably be led to believe that the Cubs once were far worse than they are now.
In 2003, they were five outs away from the World Series.
In 2007, they won the National League Central.
In 2008, they won the NL Central, had seven All-Stars and had the best record in the league.
Even in 2009, the season before the Ricketts family took official control, the Cubs had a reasonable 83-78 record and finished second in the NL Central.
What have the Rickettses been ‘‘rebuilding’’ except whatever mess they made? And when does this ‘‘comeback’’ begin?
Oh, dear, it’s Cubness, and everybody can wait. Waiting is what Cubs fans know better than any fans on the planet.
Someday Javy Baez and Kris Bryant and Albert Almora will work their alleged magic in the big leagues. The problem with that — thinking of this logically, which is almost silly when pondering the Cubs — is that the guys who are in place now might be fading by then.
For instance, Starlin Castro. He was a Hall of Famer-to-be, remember? Now, you wonder if he’s a quality starter.
Then there’s Anthony Rizzo, the big left-handed power hitter the Cubs always have needed. The first baseman is signed for a lot of years, and yet he could be a total dud. He batted .191 last season with men in scoring position. In the first game against the Pirates, he went hitless from his cleanup spot, leaving four men on base.
But the home opener at Wrigley will be happy.
Winning is nice. But losing’s fine, too.