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Cubs intensify battle with rooftop owners

 
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Updated: May 23, 2014 1:56AM



Why, oh, why, didn’t the Cubs buy every building around Wrigley Field when they had the chance? Every blasted brownstone from right-field foul pole to left-field foul pole?

The gum-chewing Wrigley family never was interested, and the Tribune Company couldn’t possibly have crammed something that radical down its corporate gullet.

So now we have the Ricketts-owned Cubs declaring war on the Waveland-Sheffield rooftop owners, and the rustling noise you just heard is the sound of lawyers throughout Chicago going to the mattresses.

This should be amusing.

Especially for those of you who like finger-pointing and ­depositions and sanctimony and barely ­repressed homicidal strangulation desires.

“We’ve spent endless hours in negotiations with rooftop businesses,” Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts said Monday, sounding like Vladimir Putin huffing about former Soviet territory. “We’ve gotten nowhere. It has to end. It’s time to move forward.”

Gary Pressey’s organ to knob 11! Grounds crew to the bleachers! Bullpen pitchers commence hurling grenades over the ivy!

Oh, this is lovely.

This is a man with a hot-dog chunk stuck in his throat finally running full-tilt into the edge of a chair, hoping the gob will launch itself like a champagne cork. This is a man doing that, unconcerned that he might break his ribs and puncture his liver in the process.

It’s simple: The Cubs are terrible. Ricketts says they can’t get better until he gets new revenue streams from Wrigley Field. That means signs and other things that will block the rooftop owners’ views. There’s purportedly a contract that says the Cubs can’t do that. The rooftop owners vow to go down in a hail of mutually assured destruction if the Cubs move forward.

Ricketts says he’s fed up, that the law can take a back seat to his humiliation. He has unveiled plans for new seating, lighting and signs that will make Wrigley more like Times Square than olden times.

“The time to build a winner is now,” Ricketts said. It has the ring of a battle cry.

But what it says to me is that Cubbie folks have figured out some legal loopholes and discovered how Chicago works — can you say back rooms and greased palms and big feet? — and decided, after getting lawyered-up, to launch a hell-for-leather stampede. There’s nothing to stop them except a bunch of prairie dog holes and real-estate owners with catapults full of flaming tar.

Maybe this plan will work. Maybe Mayor Rahm Emanuel will ram it down voters’ throats before election day in February. We all know the gentle touch the Rahmer has. Contract? What contract?

Which, of course, is the funny part in this war. (There’s always stupid humor behind every conflict.) You see, the contract the Cubs are angrily blowing up is one they built themselves.

Yes, it’s true. Good ol’ Cubs president Crane Kenney, with help from legal counsel Mike Lufrano, made the contract with the rooftop owners a decade ago, guaranteeing the building owners and their customers the right to peek in at Cubs activity for a pitifully low percentage of the take. Terrible deal for the Cubs. But signed, stamped, delivered.

One supposes this D-Day has been coming all these years because the contract is ludicrous and doesn’t expire until 2023.

Maybe the building owners can be squashed in court. Maybe what the Cubs want trumps the law as we know it. Maybe there is an escape clause for the Cubs. Maybe there will be a sabre duel at high noon near the Ernie Banks statue — a skilled Ricketts bond manager vs. Beth Murphy — survivor take all.

Or maybe Ricketts just has said, screw it, we’ll pay them off.

That payoff, I’m thinking, just to make the rooftop folks go away — after all the millions of dollars they’ve spent souping up their parasitic venues — could be gigantic. Maybe as much as signing Max Scherzer and 10 Brian Schlitters.

There’s no easy way out of this one. And the pity is that if the Cubs get what they want, they will have destroyed much of the unique charm of the old park.

There is always irony in ­conflicts, too. For the Cubs, it’s that they’ll never be what they almost were — an inclusive stadium that brought the neighborhood right into the ballyard. A city theme park like no other.

Watch the bombs explode. This is what we have instead of good baseball.



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