MORRISSEY: Not buying what you’re selling, Cubs
BY RICK MORRISSEY email@example.com | @MorrisseyCST May 17, 2014 7:10PM
The famed Wrigley Field Marquee will return to it's 1930's colors, mallard green and french quarter gold, thanks to the team's partnership with Benjamin Moore Paints. The Marquee will be painted to match its mid-1930's color scheme that followed its installation in 1934. Al Podgorski / Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 23, 2014 11:42AM
Marketing people have to market something. It’s what they do.
Where you see a plain brown box, marketers see advertising space, tie-ins with corporate partners and free keychains to the first 10,000 box buyers.
In the absence of anything resembling a consistent winner the last 30 years, the Cubs have marketed a ballpark rather than a baseball team to the masses. It’s hard to tell which is the opiate of the people — Wrigley Field itself or the beer flowing inside the stadium during games. Either way, the franchise has ‘‘positioned’’ the ballpark as a place for you to get away from your troubles, never mind that your biggest trouble might be that you root for an awful baseball team.
But the Cubs’ marketing efforts have finally met their white whale the last several seasons. You can only put an embarrassing product on the field for so long before the sideshows and the barkers become ridiculous. Pick an image — the emperor without clothes or the Great and Powerful Oz revealed behind the curtain. That’s the suddenly self-aware Cubs, who are on their way to a 100-plus-loss season after 96, 101 and 91 losses the previous three seasons. And let’s not even talk about 2015.
If I were in charge of the franchise (and it’s only a matter of time), I would have marketed nothing this season. Correct: nothing. Out of respect for the fans, the only thing the Cubs should be selling is silence. No 100th anniversary of Wrigley. No bobbleheads. No magnetic schedules. No celebrity seventh-inning-stretch singers. Nothing.
I would have gone with funereal black banners in place of red, white and blue bunting.
The message? We stink, and we won’t sell you something in the hope you’ll avert your eyes from the carnage on the field. We’re not going to pretend this isn’t happening.
Wouldn’t that be refreshing? Wouldn’t you think more of the Cubs for it?
Now, my marketing nihilism might strike you as completely unrealistic. The Cubs are a business just like any other business, and they need to make money any way they can. But they have gone beyond tone deaf this season. Their fans are staying away in droves because of the bad baseball that has been ladled to them like gruel. They won’t be appeased by a Babe Ruth bobblehead.
On Friday, the Cubs had Ruth’s 97-year-old daughter throw out the first pitch in recognition of Ruth’s ‘‘called shot’’ game at Wrigley in the 1932 World Series. Her inclusion was part of their never-ending celebration of the 100th birthday of the ballpark.
I love the whole idea of Babe Ruth — the long home runs, the oversized appetites, etc. But Friday’s event had me thinking about the way the Cubs are always on the periphery of baseball history. They don’t make the good kind of history. They witness it.
Last week, the Cubs painted the historic red Wrigley Field marquee at Clark and Addison green, its original color. That might seem to be a visual thing, but it’s actually the Cubs’ tin ear at work again. In the face of all this losing, the paint job looks silly, like worrying about whether your belt matches your shoes as you walk to the gallows.
Who in the Cubs’ hierarchy spends his or her time thinking of these things? Is there not one person who realizes the absurdity of the on-field/off-field disconnect? The marketing department and the baseball-operations department are separate entities, but at some point, doesn’t somebody have to say, ‘‘Maybe we should tone down the sales job’’?
The low point arrived in January when the Cubs unveiled a mascot named Clark. Why the need for a furry friend? Well, after you’ve gone 105 years without a World Series title, and while you’re in the middle of a five-year mushroom cloud of a rebuilding project, it eventually comes to you that what has been missing is a mascot to make things right!
I’m sure the Cubs are reading this and saying, ‘‘Think of the kids.’’ I am thinking of the kids. I’m thinking how scarred they must be by a team that, going into Saturday’s game, had a .325 winning percentage, well on the way to the lowest percentage in franchise history. I’m thinking the kids are not going to find emotional safe harbor in a mascot or a trinket.
It reminds me of what Charlie Brown would say after each trick-or-treating stop: ‘‘I got a rock.’’
And you got a bobblehead, young Cubs fan. Good grief.