THE WRIGLEYVILLE WAR
24. Going For Broke
25. Settling Down
26. The Winning Run
27. Late Innings
28. Screen Play II
29. Home Eye Opener
31. House of Cards
32. House of Cards Part II
33. The Safety Net
34. Daley Bloodbath
35. Cannons at the Gate
36. Seventy Percent Solution
37. Curse Words (Cub Fan's Last Lament)
38. The Goat Returns
39. General Stonewalling
40. Busting at the Seams
41. Final Salvos
42. Wasted Away Again in Wrigleyville
THE WRIGLEYVILLE WAR
GOING FOR BROKE
November 25, 2003
Thirty night games are too much! said one vocal neighborhood resident at a recent public hearing in the Wrigleyville Ward over the concept of the Cubs adding 18 more night games to their schedule in exchange for eliminating the 3:05 starts, adding security, and establishing some kind of neighborhood trust fund. The residents aired their gripes, but the tone of the meeting was that the new alderman and City Hall had cut their deal with the Tribune and the prospect of more night games in the residential neighborhood is probably a foregone conclusion. On this battlefront, the tide seems to swung clearly in favor of the Tribune.
Then there was the stunning news that last season in announced drug testing of players, more than five percent tested positive for steroids. The steroid issue is something that major league baseball has tried to keep under the carpet for years. Certain players have been suspect. Certain records have been called into inflated question.
Baseball does not need another scandal or controversy after spending so much time and energy trying to win back the fans from the Strike, the Aborted All-star Game, and the Pete Rose Ban. In the off-season winds of the lack of free agent signings, the ownership still collectively owning the Expos to that franchise's detriment, and the whisper of collusion by the players association, steroids that have been banned in all other major professional sports is the cancer which could infect the trust fans have put into the Game and its statistical records.
Baseball has the weakest drug enforcement policy. Junior high schools have stricter rules against banned substances than MLB. The policy is not in the formal collective bargaining agreement which will probably lead to more tension between players and management. The national press will not let this story fade away. The parties to the national pastime have to come to a reasonable resolution to performance enhancing drugs.
But a wiley baseball club could use the baseball steroid scandal to its advantage. Many clubs are saddled with huge player contracts on fading superstar talent. If a multimillion dollar player on the decline of his career, but is guaranteed huge dollars, tests positive for illegal substance, the club could use that breach to void out the balance of the player's contract. The player and his agent would balk, but that is what courts are for . . . to decide these issues.
A wiley club like the Cubs have used the courts to their advantage. Parent Tribune Company convinced a Cook County judge that the wholly owned ticket brokerage firm it founded was not illegally scalping event tickets in violation of state law. This was a big win for the Tribune. The decision may be appealed by the plaintiffs. But this validates the creative methods the Tower is using to maximize revenues from its corporate assets like Cub tickets. By cutting into the secondary ticket market as a ticket broker, the Tribune maximizes the return on the top dollar prices some fans are willing to pay for a series with the Cardinals, White Sox or Yankees.
The Tribune's only real competitor, and most vocal critic, the Sun-Times, is on the block because the Conrad Black accounting/financial scandal. The Sun-Times has been on the neighborhood stories, the rooftop issues, and the ticket brokerage class action lawsuit. The Tribune columns have for the most part towed the company public relations line. Columnists on the television after the judge's decision in the ticket case were hard pressed to come up with a coherent explanation of why this decision was a victory for the fans as the management had proclaimed in the court hallway. If the Sun-Times is not bought by an aggressive, deep pocket publisher, Chicago may become a one-horse media town, with the Tribune controlling the city's largest newspaper, radio station and television station. All they have to do is sit back and see if the Black empire crumbles. This would be the Tower's greatest triumph against its arch rival.
The Tribune has gone for broke in its recent battles against city hall, the area residents, rooftop owners and the ticket brokers. But the war is not over. How will the other major league owners like the concept of the Cubs not paying their revenue sharing on their own scalped tickets? How will the tax collector view the book entry accounting between the Cubs and the Trib's ticket broker? In physics, for every reaction there is an equal and opposite reaction. It will take some time to discover how much wake has been generated by the Tribune's recent victories.
January 14, 2004
The Cubs agreed in principle to settle with a majority of the rooftop owners. The rooftoppers have agreed to pay approximately 17 percent of their profits to the Cubs in exchange for 20 years of co-existence and dismissal of the Trib's copyright infringement suit. The bottom line is that the Cubs will garner an additional two million dollars a season, and as one observer stated, for doing nothing.
The settlement comes shortly after the Cubs beat back the consumer class action suit victory for the Tribune.
The legal system should be plain black and white in its application of the rule of law to the facts of a particular case. But the legal system is fraught with inconsistent decisions and risk. Ninety-seven percent of all cases get resolved or settled before trial. The rooftop owners probably felt squeezed by the Trib legal machine and the prospect of mounting legal bills for the scheduled February trial. The bottom line was that if they lost, they lost their rooftop businesses. If they won, they still lost having to pay a lot of money in legal fees to defend their position.
The final settlement papers have not been signed so the reports in the local press has been second-hand. It appears that the Cubs did not promise that they would not seek expansion of the bleachers, but it was reported that if there are future construction that obscures the views, there may be a rebate of the license fees.
As stated in previous Wars chapters, this was a case where both sides were off-base. The rooftop owners had no absolute right to an unobstructed view into Wrigley. However, their patrons were not stealing a copyrighted event as the Tribune alleged in its complaint. The Trib was in its rights to block (with permits) any outside view and the rooftop owners could not enjoin that construction. It should have resulted in the status quo stalemate. In essence, the rooftop owners bought some peace and status quo.
However, two rooftop owners will take their defense to trial. And the neighborhood association is still not letting up in their objections to more Cub night games and the bleacher expansion proposal. But the Trib legal team has been on a roll lately and now will focus on the next few items on the revenue enhancement agenda.
THE WINNING RUN
February 12, 2004
The greatest fear of those under siege, even if in a defensible position, is that the enemy will send waves and hordes of soldiers in direct assault after direct assault. There is not enough bullets in the chamber to cut down thousands of rushing madmen.
The Tribune army has battled its way through the field. It has strung together a series of victories that has made other opponents calling for a truce.
First, the city landmark commission declared Wrigley Field a landmark. The Cubs were against the move. Landmark status means additional hurdles if the owner of the property wants to change any of its features. It would also require preservation of the existing structure. The Cubs want to modify the existing park-- add bleachers, level the parking lot and create a twelve-month sport-bar-restaurant and hall of fame museum. Instead of fighting hard, the Cubs made a tactical retreat.
Second, the Tribune won the consumer ticket scalping case. The trial court ruled that the ticket broker-subsidiary was a separate legal entity from the Cubs so as not to violate the state law that prohibits an event sponsor from reselling tickets above face value.
Third, the Tribune negotiated a settlement with the majority of the rooftop owners. The rooftop owners who settled agreed to pay 17 percent of their revenues to the Cubs. This equates to approximately $1.7 million in revenue to the Cubs. The only concession the roof owners got was the prospect of reimbursement if any bleacher expansion obstructs their current views. Three owners suits will continue to trial.
Fourth, with the political push of the current neighborhood alderman and as the Sun-Times reported doubling of their lobbying expenses toward city hall, the Cubs got a deal to increase night games to 30 over the next few seasons from the current 18. Twenty-two night games will be played this season. The Cubs will reap additional revenue from those television rights and the assignment of premium ticket prices for those games. Many long-time residents are still upset with the prospect of one-third of Cub games disrupting their homelife. The Cubs pledged one million dollars into a vague trust fund to cover future neighborhood issues (police, garbage collection, etc.).
Fifth, with Mayor Daley taking direct heat from the Sun-Times investigative series on the city truck rental scandal, city hall relents to its hard line position on expansion. The green light is given for the Cubs to add 200 more seats behind home plate. (The Cardinals had floated the idea of private seat licenses and premium seats of $175 in their new proposed ballpark in order to pay for public funding.) The Cubs must have picked up on the dollar signs; the new seats will be tagged at $200-250/each. It is estimated that $3.2 million in additional revenue will be raised with the new seats-- which will be almost literally directly in play.
In the offseason, the Cubs have increased the face value on their three-tier ticket pricing structure. The summer is filled with the premium ticket prices for games against powerhouses, like the lowly Brewers. With the post-season success and fan hope at the high water level, nothing is more satisfying to the Tower than the Cubs be handed more than $4.9 million in new revenue for 2004.
Sixth, the Run could only be capped off with the fans with the lifting of two curses. Later this month, the infamous playoff foul ball will be destroyed at Harry Carey's restaurant. The ball, auctioned off for $113,000, will be sacrificed for good Cub karma. THE BEST SOLUTION TO DESTROY THIS CURSED BALL WOULD BE TO HAVE THE BILLY GOAT EAT IT! The Curse of the Billy Goat still sticks in the craw of deep-blue Cub fans. In one magical media moment, two curses can be allegedly cured!!
February 12, 2004
The Cubs have won, again, the city offseason hot stove league. The White Sox let their best players walk. The media is reporting that the Sox are willing to trade their best players to cut payroll. The Sox won't spend any money for pitching, not even for a future hall of famer like Greg Maddux.
The Cubs have had a $10-12 million, two year deal for Maddux on the table for months. Maddux's agent believes there is a better market for his client, but apparently no other club wants to commit huge dollars for a 38 year old curveballer. What comes around goes around. In the hearts of long suffering Cub fans, the prospect of the Cubs resigning Maddux is closing the loop on history. The Tribune withdrew its contract to Maddux, who then left to win Cy Young awards with the Atlanta Braves. He became the professional professional pitcher on the staff of the 1990s. A sure hall of famer.
But Maddux's agent keeps floating trial balloons that two or three or four other teams are really, really interested in his client services. First it was LA. The Dodgers were just sold by Fox to a Boston real estate developer, who borrowed most of the purchase price from Fox. Lenders do not like their borrowers to spend like drunken sailors-- especially in baseball. For every dollar lost, is one less dollar against the principal mortgage. The Dodgers are also in management chaos-- the current GM had to re-interview to keep his job. LA would appear not ready to make a move, or a move greater than the Cubs current offer.
The other rumor is that the Cardinals would go after Maddux. The Cards need pitching, since the Astros bolstered their staff with the addition of ex-Yankee starters Andy Petitte and Roger Clemens. In an arms race, the Cards finish third behind Houston and Chicago. The Cards need to continue to maintain a competitive edge in order to gather public favor and public funding for a new baseball megaplex. (The Brewers made the same appeal to the Wisconsin legislature who funded Miller Park under the guise that the Brewers would then become a competitive major league franchise. When the departed team president acknowledged that the Brewers would never get to that level, a firestorm of political heat generated an audit of the baseball team. However, Bud Selig is steering the auditor away from the actual books--- only agreeing to provide summary line items, nothing broken out. Clearly, not an audit worthy. Probably a delaying tactic, since after the audit was agreed to, Selig has put his club on the market.) The Cards payroll is already crushing their budget, and they have one matinee idol in Albert Pujols, a franchise player, who is nearing free agency. The Cards need to conserve cash to re-sign him. So it would be a real longshot for St. Louis to make a better bid than the Cubs.
The Cubs are standing pat. This negotiating tactic worked well with the settling rooftop owners. They caved rather than fighting to the death. The fans are on the Cubs side; if Maddux does not sign--- no big deal, the Cubs beat the Braves last season anyway without Maddux. Even if they lose the player to another club, the Cubs are rewarded because they tried to make good.
Institutional trust is very important to a newspaper chain. Creditability is what it is selling to its readership. So when the news has been so favorable to the Tribune in recent weeks, the New York Post screams the headline A BAD NEWSDAY. The Post quotes from new litigation against the Tribune's Newsday. The Trib subsidiary is being sued under racketeering laws for fraudulently increasing its audited circulation numbers that were used to set advertising rates. The plaintiffs claim that hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake. Newsday denies the charges, claiming that the basis of the suit is a disgruntled, terminated newspaper distributor. It should be a simple thing to prove: revenue should match the circulation numbers for papers sold. If the papers were not sold (and trashed) the accounting revenue trail should have sent off a red light in upper management. If your advertisers cannot trust your circulation numbers, then what should your readers trust about your news stories or your editorials? Reputation is much harder to reclaim than a couple hundred rooftop seat ticket prices.
SCREEN PLAY II
March 25, 2004
Eleven of twelve. That is a .917 batting average. Pretty good stat in any league or endeavor.
But the Cubs are still steamed at one rooftop owner who refused to settle for 17 percent of his receipts. Skybox on Waveland refuses to cave in to the pressure to settle. The Associated Press reported that the roof top owner's attorney said his client would never pay anything to the Cubs.
So the Cubs plan to bring back a form of screening or obstructing this lone rooftop hold-out's view. Some may call it a petty move. But for the Cubs, it is more than a matter of principle; it has to do something to appease the other eleven roofers who are paying the Cubs money this season to keep their view. If the Cubs let one roofer pass for free, they think, then why would the other eleven continue to pay us? They have to pay for something.
As analyzed in earlier episodes of this chronicle, both sides of this dispute were off-kilter in their positions. Illinois law does not allow property owners any ancient English rights of light, air or view. A property owner can erect a fence to block a neighbor's view into their property and the neighbor has no recourse. The charm of Wrigley is that it is a ballpark in a neighborhood, not a cookie-cutter concrete multipurpose stadium in a sea of asphalt parking lots. So the neighbors got nosy and put folding chairs on the roof to get a glimpse of the ball game. Big Deal. When the building owners starting putting up bleachers, charging skybox dollars and creating a new cottage industry, the Cubs got steamed (especially when the economy slowed and the first thing to go in corporate budgets were sports boxes and season tickets.)
The Cubs argument that the viewers on the roofs were infringing on their copyrighted broadcast was wrong because their is no copyright until it is affixed in a permanent, tangible medium. The roofers complained that the Cubs could not block their view into the park but that argument was equally invalid under state law.
Even when the majority of the troops sign a disarmament treaty, there are a few renegade companies who still thing that the fight is still on. It happened after the South was defeated in the Civil War.
The federal court trial was to have begun a month or so ago but there has been no media reports of what, if anything, has occurred since the settlement with the other owners was reached. This may be one of those feuding Hatfield-Mccoy moments. The Cubs put up some screens. The rooftopper raises his bleachers to compensate. Then the Cubs react to that move. Then the roofer reacts to that countermove.
HOME EYE OPENER
April 9, 2004
The War is Over! Occupation Begins!
Crains Chicago Business reported today that the last roof top hold-out agreed to settle with the Cubs over the Cubs copyright infringement suit. The Cubs had threatened to block the lone holdout's view of Wrigley Field. The owner went into federal court seeking an injunction to avoid the Cubs action.
Recently, the attorney for the Skybox owner declared that his client would never pay a dime to the Tribune Cubs. But the judge and the city wanted the matter settled before opening day. It appears the judge did not rule on the merits of the rooftop owner's emergency motion; instead, he wanted the sides to settle their dispute. When a judge wants a case to settle, it puts pressure on their attorneys to get a deal done (because they will have other matters before the judge in the future.) Judges squeeze settlements so they don't have to make difficult rulings. It is speculation of what the judge would have ruled; it was an all-or-nothing situation. He may have hinted to the rooftop owner that you should settle for something, because he could rule against it. He may have hinted to the Tribune to settle for less because he could rule against the Cubs. If he ruled the Cubs could block the view (presumably with the city's consent), then the rooftop owner's business would dry up. If he ruled the Cubs had no right to block the view, and possibly ruling that the Tribune's suit for copyright infringement had little merit, it would hurt the Cubs future collection from the settling rooftop owners who would feel they are paying 17 percent of their gross income for no reason other than to settle their prior litigation. Certainty has a price.
The settlement creates sets no legal precedent but creates bad precedent. It could make large corporations believe that their product that is in public view subjects any viewer to damages for copyright infringement. A car magazine who takes a photograph of a manufacturer's prototype of next year's model at an interstate rest area could be brought into court by the car maker because the magazine used the picture of the car maker's product in their magazine.
The Tribune has flexed its muscle again. The settlement is confidential, but it is probable that they extracted revenue from the holdout rooftop owner (maybe at less than 17 percent). The battles over the rooftop views, more night games and the ticket scalping subsidiary trials over, the Cubs now have one issue placed on the backburner-- the eventual desire to expand Wrigley Field over the public sidewalks and streets over the objections of the neighborhood association.
May 9, 2004
Perception is reality or Reality is perception. A blood stained sidewalk is real.
Last week a young man was killed during a traffic altercation. The incident happened after a Cub game. The stories are conflicting on what occurred prior to the shooting. The victim, a pedestrian, may have cut off an SUV that was crawling through the post-game traffic. There may have been words. One report indicated that someone hit the driver with a souvenir baseball bat, and the passenger of the SUV got out of the vehicle and shot a man. This happened within a half block of traffic police, who were moving toward the scene when the shot was fired.
This is the worst public incident in Wrigleyville. But the neighborhood had forewarned the Cubs and the city about the increasing problems the games were having on the residential-bar neighborhood.
Just as conflicting the stories of the shooting are, there are conflicting reports as to how crime around the ballpark has increased in the past few years. The city keeps those numbers quiet because it would hurt the city's image. The Cubs keep those incidents quiet because it would hurt business. The Trib keeps those incidents quiet because it would hurt the Cubs. But the Cubs had to have known of the increasing problems because it pledged to fund a million dollar community chest to address these increasing problems.
Image is important. When the old Comiskey Park stood, the rap against the place was that it was located in a bad neighborhood, too close to public housing, and in high crime zone. But the park was within a throw's distance from a police command headquarters. The neighborhood was the mayor's home ward. And he was a Sox fan.
In any venue where crowds convene, there are a typical share of pickpockets, scalpers, criminals, gamblers, and drunken idiots. Inside Comiskey Park, it seemed to be at least one upper deck fight a night. But sitting in the Wrigley bleachers for the last two decades, there were always some similar altercation.
But there is one trend that may get lost in the discussion. In the past, the problems associated with the city ballparks came from baseball fans who were attending the games. But with Wrigley Field becoming the fashionable, open air saloon for twenty-somethings to mingle prior to the club scene, with the game as being the secondary, the park is attracting a different crowd. Outside the ballpark, it looks like New Orleans during Mardi Gras. Nightly. The problems compound themselves when people bake in the sun for hours drinking large beers. This is after chugging two hours pre-game in the local bars, and then drinking more after the game. Wrigleyville is now viewed as a party central focus point. Some police officers and concerned officials think it may become a flash point for future incidents.
The park is drawing the casual or non-fan who is caught up on the hype of Cubs championship season. The bandwagon was pretty full before last season's finish. But the crowds are cramming Addison and Clark Streets to re-live the Atlanta series close the streets, Spring Break, beach party mentality. The casual fan who becomes a casualty just by keeping up with the current city trend signals a new direction.
Nothing hurts property values more than crime. Especially rampant, headline, grisly crimes. Chicago is the woes of another annual budget deficit. The skyrocketing property tax bills have the neighborhood residents fuming for reform. They have mortgaged their lives to live in the trendy, high rent Lakeview neighborhood. Crime kills their investment. Add violence to the equation, politicians will feel the heat shortly. And a Chicago politician knows one thing--- angry voters make incumbents casualties.
HOUSE OF CARDS
July 21, 2004
The City of Chicago has ordered the Cubs to fully inspect Wrigley Field after the media reported that a chunk of concrete nearly hit a five year old boy after a game last Friday. It was the second incident this season. The Cubs will have to hire a structural engineer to inspect the premises. After the Cardinals series, the Cubs should also hire a nuclear engineer to clean up the fall-out of the club's meltdown.
Carlos Zambrano, the animated Cub starter, got tossed by the home plate umpire after hitting Cardinal outfielder Jim Edmonds for the second time. He had given up a previous homer to Edmonds, and had lost the lead with the prior batter. He lost his mind afterward. Dusty Baker called it passion while others called it uncontrolled unsportsmanlike conduct.
Then the next game, reliever LaTroy Hawkins gets lit up by the Cards. But he goes into a vicious shouting match with the home plate umpire. The fuse to the rant? Hawkins is still holding a two year old grudge against the ump for tossing him out of a game in 2002 when he was with the Twins. It took five Cub coaches to restrain Hawkins from physically attacking the umpire. None of his teammates came to rescue to hold him back from a possible suspension.
The rest of the team sat on the bench. They had seen this before; they had seen it all season. Kerry Wood got tossed earlier in the year after being pulled from a game. Moises Alou and Sammy Sosa are constantly griping about ball and strike counts. There has been a complete lack of fundamental focus on the basepaths, and numerous miscues in the outfield. The team has lost its discipline. Baker has given his players, mostly veterans, free reign to do what they like during the game. Like Corey Patterson, swinging at pitches in the dirt and over his head, instead of bunting a baserunner over to scoring position.
The 2004 team was built to Win this Year. The expectations were that there would be no Next Years after the team came within six outs of the World Series. The team was built on young, fireballer pitchers, and professional veteran hitters. The team was really a house of cards that is collapsing like the chunks of concrete from the upper deck. But the young pitchers have nagging arm injuries; the professional players have lost focus of the fundamentals of the game; coaches cannot correct the players increasing fundamental mental errors and Baker's managerial style continues to mismanage his pitching staff and juggling the line-up so much that there is no chance of consistency. There is no order in chaos. And the team is in chaos.
Third base coach Wendall Wave Them Home Kim sent Aramis Ramirez, who just limped into second base favoring a groin injury that kept him out of the lineup for two weeks, to the plate on a short flare to the outfield. Ramirez was easily gunned down at home plate. He could have been lost for the season by re-aggravating his injury. There was no discipline to Kim for his outrageous error. That's Baker's philosophy; don't blame us, blame somebody else.
Baker is also in denial. The Cubs sank to 10 games behind the Cardinals, but he believes that the Cubs are still in the Race. Maybe a Race to the Exits after this homestand.
HOUSE OF CARDS PART II
July 23, 2004
The Trib has had a bad month. Corporate profits are down. It had to take a $35 million charge against the growing circulation scandal. The next wave of PR on the Wrigley Field expansion plans have fallen on deaf ears. Now, there are more reports of falling chunks of concrete at Wrigley. Mayor Daley has now stated that he may shut the park unless it passes a safety check. The Cub President then admits that they have a concrete problem based upon the age of the building (90+ years old).
Cub fans also have a concrete problem. It is the Cub team.
But like the medieval castles of Europe, Wrigley Field has taken the abuse of annual battles, four stormy seasons of weather, and brain-baked ballplayers. The Cubs are 10 games behind the Cardinals. The team (players and manager) blame their woes on injuries, the schedule, the media, and the fans. The serfs have filled the park to 99.5 percent capacity this season (as compared to 51 percent for the White Sox). The serfs soldiers have quit defending their honor; they got swept by the rival Cardinal clan. In the process, Carlos Zambrano and LaTroy Hawkins will face long suspensions for abusing umpires and acting unprofessional on national cable television. (Kerry Wood is also going to have to serve an early season suspension for going after an ump in St. Louis.)
Just as in mediaeval times, an advancing army would make their presence known to the townspeople. Huge catapults could be seen from the castle towers. Vast armies of archers and horsemen would plant fear into the minds of the serfs. Many castle cities would fall without a battle.
The Cubs are done with the Cardinals. The Cards used the mental fear factor to dominate the gamesmanship of their rivalry. There is no way to make up 10 games against an opponent when you no longer play that team for the rest of the season. Dusty Baker is now playing for the wild card post-season birth. It is a concession of defeat without mentioning the word directly.
Baker could not see that the sky was falling in on his club. It has lost its composure. It was a team that lacks the mental focus to play average defense. Its offense is geared solely toward the home run (43 percent of runs scored this season are from HRs). Earl Weaver may be proud of that offensive philosophy, but he had great fielders and an excellent solid pitching rotation that he knew how to use to get the World Series. Baker has yet to manage a victory between the white lines. His handling of the bullpen, lack of discipline of his batters, and lack of benching players that are not performing because they are veterans, is not leadership. It is a concession. But the management team still believes that Baker is the answer to the field general woes of the past. But in this House of Cards, this is another version of three-card-Monty.
The Wrigley concession stands may be selling helmets for children. For the falling concrete. For protection.
THE SAFETY NET
August 1, 2004
After media reports of at least three incidents of chunks of concrete falling from the upper deck to the ground level, the owners of Wrigley Field quickly installed fish nets under the decking in order to catch any debris. It was a quick solution to a potentially dangerous problem.
It was really in response to an angry Mayor Daley tirade that threatened to close the ball park if it was unsafe. After last summer's deck collapse disasters, the city's building department has been under fire. What upsets the mayor more is that the Cubs never notified city hall of the apparent concrete problem. However, rarely does a property owner call the city inspector to tell them they have a code problem. The tone of the mayor was almost as defensive as the post-Meigs Field airport bulldozing. Would Daley, a White Sox fan, bulldoze Wrigley??
It was another bitter punch between the feuding sides. The Cubs have been re-floating the idea of taking the street next to their park and expand the bleachers to accommodate a few thousand more fans. The project would include building a parking deck and year round restaurant-Cub museum. It is a boardroom attempt to add additional year-round revenue from the old ball yard.
However, the neighborhood and the mayor have again been cool to the project. The idea of a private corporation taking control of public streets for private gain is a bad precedent. The neighborhood leaders find the idea of massive steel beams on Waveland and Sheffield as potential crime areas or open outhouses.
Some critics could raise the ire of the Tower by connecting the disconnected dots: the Cubs have been pushing too hard to the Wrigley Field expansion. The Tribune activity shows a pattern of having other third parties fund the continuing operations of the team. They pushed hard for the rooftop owners giving them millions of dollars. Have the Cubs been penny-pinching or waiting for all the potential outside revenue concessions to be in place in order to major reconstructive repairs to the 90 year old park?
Wrigley has been at 99.5 percent capacity for the season. 39,000 plus fans stomping, moving and swaying the structure. The late Bill Veeck once remarked that the scoreboard was constructed to withstand hurricane winds. Architects remark that engineers of that era overbuilt their structures. But the skeleton of the park is exposed steel beam and concrete decks. Wind, rain and friction of man/nature take a toll. The toll is being to show at Clark and Addison.
But the idea of a safety net to hold the city inspectors at bay begs another question. Are not the chunks of concrete falling actually holding up the seats of the upper deck? And why did the city refuse to release the initial structural engineering report?
The city makes revenue off Wrigleyville merchants sales and business taxes. If Wrigley is not safe, or red tagged as being unfit until repairs are completed, the Cubs would have to play elsewhere--- Sox Park or in Milwaukee. It would kill attendance, and draw fire from season ticket owners. It would lead to more bad press.
The Tribune's last financial quarter was mired with a $35 million charge for a newspaper circulation scandal. Its main competitor, the Sun-Times, is being torn apart during the Hollinger litigation, and is having its own inflated circulation scandal brewing as the court proceedings and asset sales of the Conrad Black empire goes forward.
Like the falling chunks of concrete, exactly the same condition of the ball club--- the Cubs have fallen more than 10 games behind the rival Cardinals. The Cubs ended July in a near free fall. Jim Hendry, the Cub GM, also tried to get a safety net in order to keep the attendance flowing toward 3 million.
He got Boston Red Sox All-Star Nomar Garciaparra to solidify shortstop. The fans loved the move. It was a good PR move; but the Cubs team was built for the television draw: power pitching and power hitting. Both have been grinding gears for weeks. The Cubs flamethrower starters of Wood and Prior have been disabled; Zambrano off his rocker at times; and the most consistent pitcher has been 299 game winner Greg Maddux.
The Cubs vow to repair Wrigley during the off-season. It is still questionable whether the band-aids made during the season will work.
August 12, 2004
The bayonets of words were bloody as back and forth hand to hand combat continues in the War Zone.
Non-Tribune media outlets first reported the problem of falling concrete chunks at Wrigley Field. The story made the mayor's office queasy after a last summer of porch collapses and criticism of lax building inspections. The Cubs were highly defensive. The mayor turned up the volume by proclaiming that he'd shut down the park if the concrete problem was not addressed before the next homestand. The Cubs put up safety nets. The Tribune claimed to have spent millions each year in maintenance at Wrigley, the 90 year old ballpark.
Then city hall decided to look into the Wrigley repairs. There apparently is a 2001 structural engineering report that is not favorable to the cause. Another engineering report concluded that there was no dangerous condition, and recommended as a precaution the safety net solution. City inspectors relented for the moment.
The mayor accused the Tribune of failing to report the concrete problem. The Trib fired back with an editorial blasting the mayor for raising his blood pressure over a non-issue. The Tribune believes that the mayor is standing on its soapbox screaming at the Cub situation as a way to deflect the negative articles being printed by the Tribune about the recent spat of city hall scandals and unfavorable stories.
Then city hall building department checks its records to find that the Cubs never got a permit for any of the alleged millions of dollars of repairs at the ball park. The mayor fumes that the last engineering report was only a few pictures but nothing about what was done to repair the structural issues. The mayor demanded in public that the Tribune prove that it spent millions on maintaining Wrigley.
The Tribune then fires back by filing a freedom of information request at city hall looking to see all the permits for the city hall facade. Apparently, the Trib was looking to find that the mayor's office failed to maintain its own building in the way it expects the Cubs to maintain their field.
Mayor Daley was outraged by the FOI request. He claimed that the Tribune was playing a double standard--- the Tribune as the Fourth Estate covers everyone but the Cubs objectively while giving its subsidiary a pass on a public safety issue. The Tribune states that it's newspaper editorial content is not dictated or slanted by the corporation's ownership of the Cub franchise.
The city hall records released show that there is no issue with the city hall facade. Then the Tribune's other local subsidiary, WGN-TV, is visited by city inspectors who find that the television station was making a sat-TV installation without a permit. The station manager claims he thought the work was covered under a monthly maintenance permit. But the inspectors wrote a stop work order.
So for a full week the parties have been battling in public over accusations and counter-charges.
One has to be naive to believe that neither party is taking the sole moral ground. The Tribune is a corporation that runs by the bottom line through a militaristic management style. It has used its name, reputation and clout to sell newspapers, sell television programs, and in this case, push their Cub product into a national mania. It believes that its departments are controlled by Trib management, and not the mayor's office. The Tribune coverage of the neighborhood issues, the requirement for more night games, and the pro-bleacher expansion stories are a systematic public relations machine to sway public opinion and to change the city council's blockade of their profit-making plans to redevelop the area around the ball park in the Tribune's best interests.
Mayor Daley is continually irked by the press reports that O'Hare expansion is not needed, that the FAA is threatening to operate the airport if flight delays are not corrected, that the city hired truck program was a huge financial windfall for seedy friends and insiders, and that the state Democratic party is no longer centered in his office. Daley may not be the force in Springfield, but he is King Killer Rabbit in his briar patch, Chicago. He knows that he will never get the type of editorial praise from the Tribune that he would want; he does not care if he fires barb after barb at the Tower. He is not threatened by the prospect of not receiving an endorsement.
The charge that the newspaper is using its journalistic integrity to prop up a campaign against the mayor because of the Cub dispute would be a turning point. A newspaper, being a quasi-public trust, an institution which historically has served its readership as its liaison with government, must rely upon its reputation and credibility in order to function. The Trib has also been hit by a circulation scandal with its other papers. It does not have the surplus of goodwill capital to waste to slant its investigative coverage and reporting against the mayor as revenge for the mayor's office pressing building codes on the Cubs.
Daley appears that he is unwilling to let up on his venting at the Cub situation. It has tabled all prospects for the Cubs bleacher expansion project being approved this summer. And that hurts the Cubs short term bottom line.
CANNONS AT THE GATE
August 20, 2004
The Los Angeles Times is owned by the Tribune Company.
P.J. Huffstutter is a Los Angeles Times reporter.
Huffstutter interviewed City Building Commissioner Stan Kaderbek on the Wrigley Field concrete controversy. During that interview, Kaderbek heard that the reporter had spoken to a Cub official who stated that some of the past repairs were shoddy and that was the cause of any falling concrete.
Huffstutter is an employee of the Tribune Company. The Tribune owns the Cubs.
Kaderbek was as outraged as Mayor Daley. His department had been asking for the Trib's engineering reports and construction repairs for the alleged non-permitted work done at Wrigley during the past off-seasons. He was furious that it was alleged that the Cubs knew of shoddy repairs but did nothing to correct the situation.
The city reaction was swift. With the big guns pointed directly at the main gate on Addison, the city demanded that another structural inspection be conducted and the premises pass the inspection or the ball park would be closed before the Monday night game. The deadline was set for Noon on Monday, August 23rd.
Late today, the city hired its own inspection firm to conduct a thorough review of the field structures.
Flabbergasted, the Tribune released a statement refuting any statement Huffstutter may have said to Kaderbek. She stated that she never had no credible information of any shoddy work done at Wrigley. She claimed that she was working on several stories and mixed up her stories.
The Tribune's own employee became the source of a major local news story, defending her own employer from her own charges of a public building safety issue. The credibility of the Tribune Company took another hit in a year filled with journalism-integrity hits.
The Cubs statement proclaimed that two engineers have found the ball park safe and sound. However, the city inspectors want another study and the threat of shutting down the park would stand a legal challenge because there is probable cause of a structural problem because a) chunks of concrete have already fallen and b) the Cubs put up nets to catch any further falling concrete.
The Sun-Times re-reported that a 2001 study concluded that there were serious defects and recommended replacement of the bleacher and upper deck ramps. The Cubs said they had made repairs, spending $2 million, in the past few seasons on maintenance issues. However, the club admitted that it did so without any permits (and therefore no city inspections on site) during those repairs.
City hall does not state that those repairs are shoddy or poor. However, the city is still concerned about the structural integrity of the 90 year old structure. Having the Tribune attempt to diffuse the situation by filing requests for city hall building records, the corporation was throwing gasoline on the fire.
The prospect of a RED TAG, or a temporary code violation injunction, would shut out 40,000 paying patrons from the Tribune's revenue machine. The only way to get answers from the Fourth Estate is to hit it in its pocketbook because it is apparent that the Tribune cannot cover the Cubs without being tangled up in the story filtered through the public relations department.
City hall's big guns are loaded with powder. Mayor Daley is ready to fire the final shot in this saga. And the Tribune can only concede to the barbs at their gates because it is a no-win situation. If the Trib fights more inspections, the park gets closed and the Cub fans will not travel to Sox Park or Milwaukee to see their team. Most fans come to Wrigley to drink like Rush Street and be seen like Division Street.
SEVENTY PERCENT SOLUTION
September 28, 2004
Last week, the Cubs needed to win seventy percent of the remaining games to win the wild card spot for the playoffs. The team was on pace to meet seventy percent solution until the Cincinnati Reds, playing for pride alone, showed up to put a damper on the post-season expectations.
Three million fans paid to see the Cubs at Wrigley Field this season. A record. And for the fourth time this summer, engineers inspected Wrigley for structural repairs.
The back and forth swings of the battle between the Tribune and the Cubs has continued non-stop for weeks. One of the building department heads had floated the idea that the bleacher expansion could go forward if the existing seats had at least a seventy percent view of the existing scenery beyond the outfield walls. It seemed reasonable. But if anyone has sat recently in the back of the lower terrace reserve section, you can't see seventy percent of the outfield let alone the skyline of Lakeview. The Cubs also started plugging in the sight lines and found that they would be losing hundreds of seats with the seventy percent solution. So that trial balloon died a quick death.
City hall continued to taunt the Cubs about the safety of the concrete decks. Then city hall was rocked with another scandal, this one about allegedly hiring unqualified sons of union leaders to become city building inspectors. More dubious inspector resumes have been printed in the local papers. The city, criticized last year during the season of porch collapses, had to pull back and defend its building department. The mayor pulled away from defending his building chief as the newspapers continued to berate the story day after day. One thing Mayor Daley is consistent about is that if there is a person on his payroll which is causing negative press, that person is usually unemployed within the next news cycle.
Throughout the summer of discontent, the Cubs drew three million patrons into Wrigley Field. Plus seventeen percent of the rooftop revenue. It had to be a banner revenue year for the Cubs (but the Tribune's annual report does not itemize the profit and loss of the Cub team in its consolidated statements.)
But the team wants more revenue. It is like a junkie addicted to Jacksons. The one solution never discussed is re-opening the closed center field bleachers. The dumb evergreen potted plants could easily be removed for the beer and sun soaked patron that the Cubs are desperate to sardine into the confines. The center field bleachers have been closed or covered on and off during most of the Cubs Park history. The idea is that a a solid color is needed so that the batter does not lose sight of the ball being thrown by the pitcher (i.e. at his head). However, the center field bleachers were open to the public in the 1962 All-star Game. It is possible to open to the centerfield stands, but put up a see-through windscreen in front of the wall. Or this section may be in the plans for the centerfield restaurant like other modern fields like Skydome have come to cater the upscale patron.
OCTOBER 3, 2004
The Cubs were five out from the World Series last season when the Marlins mounted an error filled comeback. The Cubs had one last game to redeem themselves, but fell short. Florida went on to the Series, and Cub fans went home disappointed after the finest season in recent memory.
GM Jim Hendry added more parts in the 2004 club because he had to be aware that Cub fans had even greater expectations for this season. He had to find a credible solution to the lapses from last season, so he added more veterans to manager Dusty Baker's bench. On paper, the team was the contender.
The Cubs controlled their own destiny for the last week of the season. All of the annoying, aggravating, stupid and frustrating aspects of the long season would have been forgotten if the Cubs would just play .500 ball to close the deal. But the team lost 6 of the last 7 games, 5 by one run, with the bullpen blowing up time and time again and bad fundamental play by fielders. Instead of stepping up to the plate (and getting a timely hit), this team sought excuses and lay the blame on outside persons.
In the middle of the season, Moises Alou feuded with the media over their apparent lack of respect to him and his team. Sammy (So-So) Sosa's season long slump lead him to cry that there was no love at Wrigley for him. The reason for the fan boos was the constant strike outs with men in scoring position. LaTroy Hawkins turned into an extra in a remake of Cuckoo's Nest, yelling at the press, charging umpires and ranting after blowing a save. Kerry Wood gets tossed by an umpire after he is pulled from a game, and serves his suspension late in the season with no apologies. Alou has had constant fits with umpires on strike calls. Catcher Michael Barrett gets into a fight with Houston Astro pitcher Roy Oswalt. The Astros are dead in the standings at that point, so this turns into a headhunting pitching duel that fires the Astros into a long season ending winning streak that leapfrogs them into the playoff hunt over the Cubs.
The personna of the 2004 Cubs were not the lovable, sportsmanlike, blue collar ballplayer. This team is mean-spirited, temperamental, spoiled, unlikable, selfish and aloof ballplayers. The fans could have taken their faults with a cube of sugar. . . if the team was winning. But when the players total lack of fundamental basics of baserunning, fielding and bunting come back to haunt the box score game after game, the fans get angry that multimillion players are acting like . . . seven year old children. Spoiled brats get on everyone's nerves after a while.
So in the final weekend of the season, with the Cubs on life-support for the wild card playoff spot, the team's energy and venom is lashed out at broadcaster Steve Stone. Stone commented that this Cub team has the talent to win but the players on the field failed to bring that ship in. Steve Stone was a Cy Young award winning pitcher on championship teams. He has the eye of a scout, the intelligence of a keen general manager, and the experience of major league pitcher. The fans appreciate his insight in the game. Stone has the credibility to back up his comments. (Players often yell at media writers that they have no idea what they are talking about because never played the game. That player excuse does not wash with Stone, who had an accomplished major league career.)
Stone's comments were not as bad as local writers and sports talk hosts. In fact, Stone's comments were based on the obvious. When the first two batters are 0 for 28 in a series, the fans are also aware that the players are at fault for not performing to an acceptable level. When the situation calls for a bunt, the fan at home or in the stands, knows that moving a runner into scoring position is key in manufacturing runs. When Cub after Cub flubs a bunt attempt, then makes an out without advancing a runner and the rally dies quickly, fans have the right to curse under their breath. And when Mark Prior strikes out 16 batters, pitches 9 innings of 1 run ball, and the team still LOSES, everyone has a right to bemoan the lack of hitting by the Cub regulars.
This Cub team's standard operating procedure to deal with pressure is to snap at the media. Throughout the season, players complained to Cub management about Chip Caray and Stone's broadcasts. In the middle of the summer, it got so bad that Caray, a long time milquetoast, corporate homer, started satirical barbs at the players. No one countered the players' concerns about the broadcast with the fact that the players should not be paying attention to the live broadcast commentary WHEN THE GAME IS BEING PLAYED!! Should not a player be watching the actual field of play, rather than watching television?? The worse case was relief pitcher Kent Mercker CALLED the broadcast booth during the game complaining about Carey and Stone! Baker never reeled in any of his players to lecture them that their focus should be on the games, not what is being broadcast. The players should have been more concerned about winning than whining. (Apparently, in the modern clubhouse, there is only a slight difference between winning and whining.)
When the Cubs are in the hot seat, with playoff tickets being printed, and the team is struggling with bottom feeders like the Mets and the Reds, the players final verbal assault is against Stone. If the purpose was to deflect the attention for their bad play, the opposite result happened as fans and the media jumped on the story. Despite the fact that the players are wrong, Hendry called Stone on the carpet and had him meet with Baker and himself before the weekend series with the Braves. Now, the Tribune has been saying for years that it runs the Cubs as a separate entity. This claim is so that the credibility of the Tribune sportswriters are not compromised by their coverage of the team. But this last episode is evidence that the claim is a farce. During the ticket scalp suit, it was clear that the Tribune Tower is the consolidated control of all operations, big to small. The Trib paper in Hartford mistakenly sent a newspaper agent named Mark Gutherie former pitcher Mark Gutherie's $300,000 salary check this summer. So how can the Trib really claim that there are separate business books? And further, what personnel authority does Cub general manager Hendry have to demand Stone appear for a meeting with the team over Stone's commentary? Stone is an employee of Tribune broadcasting, not the Cubs. (Teams have fashioned into their broadcast contracts the concept of approving the broadcasters hired to broadcast their games; but typically the broadcasters are employed by the radio and television stations who are responsible for their content.)
Hendry claimed that Stone had gone too far in his comments about the team. He felt that Stone's tone was over the line. In the parking lot after the meeting, with applauding fans at the fence, Stone said that everything was aired out but I regret nothing. The Cubs and the Tribune are at the edge of very dangerous ground. The Tribune has crossed their own invisible line of corporate enterprises by having an unrelated division begin to attempt to discipline employees of another division. Besides, the corporate mothership cannot see one dollar sign ahead of the next. Sports fans identify closely with their team broadcasters. Stone is the fans' ombudsmen to the Game. When you diss Stone, you are dissing your paying customers. I recall during one bad season when the Chicago White Sox were putting on a pathetic show, broadcasters Harry Carey and Jimmy Piersall got so frustrated that they went down every single Sox roster, from the majors to rookie ball, and made comments about the state of the players and the organization. It was great independent direct broadcasting. It also signaled the end of the Carey-Piersall broadcasting career on the South Side. But the Cubs quickly hired Carey when he was dumped by the Sox, and with the superstation signal behind him, Carey became more popular and profitable than the Cub teams he broadcast. (The rumor had it that Caray's presence and 7th Inning stretch equated into more than $4 million in extra beer revenue per season.) Harry was the Fan's Fan. And the Tribune kept their hands off the Legend because he was its number one entertainer.
Under the cloud of player sniping, Tribune personnel issues, and the Cubs dropping two games behind the wild card leaders, the Cub fans shuffle into Wrigley Field with the pace of a Bataan Death march. Baker must have not known the critical nature of Saturday's game because he started Jose Macias in centerfield instead of his gold glover starter, Corey Patterson. In the 6th inning, with the Cubs in control of the game, Macias loses a fly ball hit directly to him (it nearly hits him in the belly), allowing the Braves to cut the score to 6-4. (How can they blame Stone for that mental error?) The bullpen comes into the game and allows the winning runs to cross the plate. (How can they blame Stone for not getting outs in relief when he is sitting in the booth above home plate?) In the last chance for redemption in the ninth, Nomar Garciaparra looks at strike three. Then Alou whiffs on a 1-2 hard slider. At 3:45 p.m., the Cubs are eliminated.
The national broadcasters from Fox Television stated the obvious during the game. Tim McCarver said early in the broadcast that the Cub team was built around the home run. He said that a team can't win that way. He said it is like an army with only artillery. You cannot win without foot soldiers and basic strategy. Stone knows this principle. He lived it while playing in Baltimore. Earl Weaver's championship strategy was great starting pitching, good defensive, and the 3-run homer. The Cubs were built on paper in the same philosophy, but the failing was that the team defensive was below average and the hitters were so streaky that the 3-run homer was hard to come by when all batters were swinging for the fence instead of getting walks or singles. During the game there was a fan with a large banner: HOME RUN OR BUST. The Cubs busted during the last week of the season as timely hitting turned into a desert. In the 5th inning, McCarver said (the) last week of the season will live in infamy in Cub lore -- but not as bad as '69. The collapse of the league leading Cubs in 1969 is still one of the black holes in fan history.
In the post-game press conference, Baker said it was a nightmare. (When did he wake up? Before or after submitting the day's lineup card?) I'm not used to have teams playing like this, he said. Baker has had a history of only managing veteran teams. He plays older players at the expense of younger players or rookies because he is more comfortable with the prospect that vets will be able to perform more consistently. Baker lets every player handle his own game prep, practice and game performance. But if a veteran is not pushed to meet his expected performance level, the player because complacent. The team then lacks the urgency to perform as a team. Contrast the Cub last week with the Los Angeles Dodgers. During the season, the team traded their starting right fielder, and set up man in the bullpen. The fans feared the worse when the starter they got in return from Florida got hurt. The Dodger season was on the brink of disaster. But during the last week of the season, the team mounted four comeback wins when losing in the 8th inning, with newcomer Steve Finley hitting a grand slam home run to clinch the NL West.
Baker is still defensive about the media questions about the Collapse. This was the worst stretch as a manager down to the wire, Baker said. He said that we will tighten it up next year. It's a matter of practice, work on the simple things. I'm not blaming the coaches or chastening any players. In commenting on losing 7 of the last 8 games, Mark Prior said that the team played as poor in the last ten games as he could ever recall. But Alou said, If you told me we were going home at the All-star game, I'd say you're crazy. Barrett called the week frustrating. But only one player understood the dynamic of losing. Second baseman/reserve Todd Walker said that being eliminated affects the fans. Loyal Cub fans got hurt --- we let these people down.
ABC-TV 7 sportsreporter Brad Palmer summed up the situation on his 10 p.m. broadcast. He said that on paper, the Cubs had the best players but not the head or heart to win. Fans deserved more than they got (from the players and manager), Palmer concluded. This statement was harsher than any comment made by Stone. (Will the Cubs pull Palmer's press credentials next season for again stating the obvious?)
The blame game will continue through the off-season. When Stone met the media and fans after his Hendry meeting, there was some comments about his status of returning to the broadcast booth next season. Stone said that he was proud of his career in baseball and he hoped that it would continue in Chicago. The inference is that the Cub management, in propping up the fragile egos of the players, may make Stone the sacrificial scapegoat for this disappointing season. If the plan is to fire Stone to cover up the team's own lapses, then the Tribune is about to nuke itself in a negative fan backlash. If the Tribune thinks Cub fans are brain-dead, beer guzzling sheep who will come to Wrigley Field for the atmosphere rather than being true, knowledgeable fans of the sport, they will lose their market base faster than the White Sox's Jerry Reinsdorf who is still being blamed for the last labor strike and the infamous White Flag trade where he gave away the best players on the roster when the team was only 3 games behind in the standings.
If the Tribune fires Stone for telling truth, then the Tribune's own credibility is lost forever. The Trib is still in the midst of a circulation scandal at its subsidiaries. If you cannot accurately tell your paying advertisers how many papers you sell on a daily basis, how can your readers trust the facts gathered by Trib reporters? As stated before, Stone represents the Cubs paying customers. If you fire him, you are firing your paying customers. We don't want you; we don't need you. Fans can find other things to be loyal to than the Cubs. It can turn into a nasty open warfare between fans and ownership, like the Blackhawk faithful and the Wirtz family. The fans have given up supporting the team because ownership does not respect them. And what has that lead to? An owner lock-out and possible death of a major professional sport? If the Tribune believes that there will be always fans of America's sport (baseball), they don't realize that America's pastime has changed to professional football. Some don't believe the growth and popularity numbers of the industry of baseball. The Milwaukee Brewers state audit showed that the independent sports economists are right; that the state of baseball is built on a house of cards. Bud Selig massaged the baseball schedule to pump up his fan attendance by having the Cubs play only week day games in Miller Park. Why? So his family could jack up the selling price for the team. (The sale of the Brewers was announced a few weeks ago.) If baseball is in such fine shape, with great fans, was is the number one fan, Commissioner Selig, selling his team?
If Stone is fired, Mayor Daley will smile ear to ear. It would be another bullet in his sniping comment gun. It would deflect more heat from the growing list of scandals at city hall. The latest bit of bad news for the Mayor is that the FAA is suing the city for violating federal rules. The mayor never notified the FAA of the mayor's midnight deconstruction of Meigs Field. That violation could lead to a $33,000 fine. Peanuts for the mayor, no doubt. But the FAA is also claiming that the mayor improperly used federal airport development funds to destroy an airport. Daley says he had a right to divert O'Hare development funds in order to destroy Meigs because he had a duty to put the property back for the park district. The FAA is looking for $4.5 million in penalties. Daley then defends the action because since 9/11, Meigs Field was a threat to city security. At the time, everyone laughed at the suggestion that Meigs was a security threat. Daley even backed off on that statement at the time, and went to the back-up excuse of the lease to the property was up so the airport had to close. But Daley is sticking with the security issue, no doubt thinking that the Presidential election polls have national security the number issue in the minds of the voters. But Daley's illogic to get his own stubborn way mirrors the business management aspects of the Cub season. There is always some outside force to blame for one's own mistakes. Accountability is not good in politics or in professional baseball. Accountability is a curse word not to be uttered in public.
OCTOBER 12, 2004
THE GOAT RETURNS
It took a matter of seconds after the Cub season ended in disappointment that the vicious knife-fight called Blame turned into an ugly street war around Clark and Addison Streets.
Sammy Sosa. The Cub captain. He did not play in the final home game. He left the park as the meaningless game started, even though he stated he left in the 7th. The Tribune immediately countered with security camera footage of Sosa leaving the parking lot in the first inning. Why would Sosa leave his teammates gathering splinters on the bench? And why would the Tribune smear their star player with the proof that Sosa was lying when he said he left near the end of the contest?
Dusty Baker. The Cub manager. Baker was hired to change the lovable loser image of the Cubs. He came into town with the reputation for being a player's manager. But that lead to favoritism of aging veterans over rookies in the lineup card. Baker did not drill his players, his veterans, because he believes that the veteran ballplayer is a professional who should prepare himself for each contest. The team fundamentals were horrible during the season. Player mistakes were a daily occurrence. The players began complaining about the umpires, then the fans, then the broadcasters. Baker did nothing to stop the whining when the Cubs began losing their collective focus.
Jim Hendry. The Cub general manager. Hendry compiled a team that was five outs away from the World Series in 2003. He knew what type of players Baker liked on his squad. Cagey veterans. So he added more veteran bench players to the mix. But during the season, it was clear that the starters were not being pushed to produce, and the bench and bullpen was breaking down physically and mentally. At the trade deadline, he pulled the trigger to acquire Nomar Garciaparra. But that stop-gap did not sit well with players like Sosa, who distained the instant fan appreciation of Nomar. Sosa thought that this was HIS team. But younger players like Derek Lee and Aramis Rameriz began to overshadow Sosa's home run hop. Hendry failed to get to Baker early and often to have the skipper manage the listing ship before it sank in the standings. The off-season may find the club without a left fielder, a right fielder, a short stop, a second baseman or two, and no closer or bullpen. The fans were on the verge of destiny, the Series, but now may have to face a major rebuilding season.
Wendell Kim. The third base windmill coach. Kim never sent a runner to his death at home plate he did not like. He liked to send them all. In 2003, Baker defended his coaching staff. But he never corrected any of the continuing mistakes. After the 2004 season, Kim was released by the Cub organization. Gene Clines switches with batting coach Gary Matthews next season. But if the players don't listen to anyone but themselves (or their supportive agents), why retain any coaches?
LaTroy Hawkins. The Cub closer. Hawkins closed more games for the opponent than he did for the Cubs. Or at least it seemed that way down the stretch. He came to town with a chip on his shoulder against the media. Hawkins charged an umpire, and none of his teammates went to his aid. Hawkins was suspended, and no one really cared. Hendry thought the Twin set-up man could be the de facto closer when journeyman Joe Borowski broke down like the rented mule that he was in 2003.
Moises Alou. The Cub leader. In a team without a vocal leader, Alou was the leader by default because of his age and pedigree. He came across as a gruff, whining, self-centered star who sat on fastballs to sweep into home runs to the left field bleachers. He had a feud with the media writers over what they reported about his pre-game rituals. He never came to the forefront to put his teammates back into line. In his free agent season, it appeared that Alou was keeping up his stats in order to be re-signed for next season.
Nomar Garciaparra. The Cub savoir. When he joined the Cubs from the Red Sox, he was an immediate fan favorite. But his short career with the Cubs was mired by nagging injuries, including a Mia Hammie. His Cub career will be probably shorter than the half-life a chum bucket in the Shedd Aquarium shark tank.
The Tribune Corporation. The Cub owner. It is hard to discuss accountability with a gothic masonry tower, but that is why corporations like to own franchises. There are layers upon layers of management to avoid answering the hard questions. The Cubs did spend money on players this season, but it may not have been wisely spent since by the end of the campaign there were glaring holes in the team. But for the accountants in the Tower, it was a profitable season; the rooftop revenues exceeded $3 million. If they can get rid of Sosa, the team could save potentially $20 million in contract obligations. If the Cubs drop Sosa, they owe him about $18 million. If the Cubs trade Sosa, another contract year of $18 million gets added to his $17 million salary. If the Cubs have to eat most of the salary, it is probably more cost effective to just release the slugger and force Baker to play a rookie, September call-up Jason Dubois in right field next year. It would not make Baker or Sosa happy, but the Trib has sent up the prospect by loudly calling Sosa a LIAR for his early exit on the last game of the season. When the Trib withheld $87,000 from Sosa (one day's pay), Sosa filed a grievance with the union. (The Tribune itself was fined approximately $36,000 from the city for failing to obtain permits for the ballpark repairs which looks like ledger balancing to the trained eye.) The Tribune did not lose money this season, just credibility. But in the close bean-counting world of Wall Street, credibility is not on the operating cash-flow statement.
Steve Stone. The Cub broadcaster. Stone is still simmering about how the season ended. He is still upset that he was called into the principal's office about his comments on the state of the team. Apparently, players during the season demanded Stone and Chip Caray not be allowed on the team plane because the players did not like their commentary. There were at least two shouting matches in hotel lobbies with Stone and players. It is incredible to believe that the Cub team had such thin skin not to take any obvious criticism. It is also more incredible that the unprofessional conduct of the players was allowed to go unchecked for an entire season. But San Francisco sportswriters said that the us against the world mentality is a Baker trademark in how he handles his teams. Baker's teams always had a chip on their shoulder. The Baker teams are not usually considered fan friendly. Carey bailed as the last broadcast was ending. Stone was upset because he believes that the Trib-Cub axis low-balled Carey in contract negotiations so Carey had no alternative but leave for an another venue. This leaves Stone in limbo, without a partner, and without a firm contract for next season. Stone wants imput into the announcer, but the Tribune is making demands that the voice of the Cubs not have side work for the networks, which will lead to a non-name broadcaster being hired. The position is ripe for the Trib to bounce Stone in order to bring in a new broadcast team. It will also be a cue that Team players also include broadcast analysts who need to toe the corporate public relations line.
Kerry Wood and Mark Prior. The Cub pitching duo. Wood and Prior were supposed to be the national league aces, like Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez are for the Red Sox. But both players were hurt for long stretches of the season, leaving the hard lifting to veteran Greg Maddux, the fifth starter in theory, to lead the pitching staff. It was reported by WSCR that it was Wood and Prior who spoke against Stone the most in the locker room, but after the season, Prior stated that he was indifferent to what the broadcasters had to say about his performance. The radio station also reported that only four players came up to Stone to support him: Sosa, Todd Walker, Lee and catcher Michael Barrett. Four players recognizing that broadcasters do not win or lose games out of a roster of twenty-five plus is bush-league at best.
The fans. Yes, Sosa blamed them early season boo birds as hurting him and the team. The fans had no right to complain when he struck out, missed a fly ball in the outfield, ran into a out on the basepaths, or hopped out of the batter's box turning an easy double into a long single. The fans had high expectations for the season, so they should be used to being disappointed. But the bandwagon that the Trib built is mostly housed by the newbie fan and corporate ticket buyer. They are the fickle, self-absorbed, instant gratification fan who wants it all now--- much like the modern baseball player at salary contract time. The newbie fan has the attention span of a butterfly. Without winning, the newbie fan will move on to the next fashionable cultural icon. It is the knowledgeable, die-hard fan who has spent thousands, bled Cubbie blue for decades, and wasted large percentage of their lives watching their team find new ways to fail.
It is the one-year anniversary of the alleged fan interference game. Some fans were lulled into the off-season circus of Harry Caray's Restaurant blowing up the ball in order to lift the (new) Curse. The Billy Goat Curse had been exorcised several times in the past. So blowing up a baseball, which cost a fortune to acquire, about $106k, was the fix. Right? But in the secret tent, with the one camera angle, and the ball wiggle before the instantaneous sprawl of inner core twine, did the real ball really get blown to pieces? Or was it a magic trick with the expensive ball snug in a safety deposit box? Call Mythbusters for this urban legend: the destruction of the cursed ball. For the believers of dark magic like blowing up baseballs, they must be fools to believe that the real ball's bad karma was destroyed because the Cubs did not make the playoffs this year. What will the fans want to blow up this off-season?
The 2004 post-season may not have one Goat, but a herd of them. The finger pointing has begun in earnest, with more shades than the colors on the fall leaves.
December 18, 2004
It has been a mild, apathetic winter. Attrition rates have been high. But the march to the end game continues in Wrigleyville.
Broadcaster Chip Carey left just as the season ended to return to the family roost in Atlanta. Later, his broadcast partner, Steve Stone, the bull's eye in the players' media rath for the season lost, abruptly resigned shortly thereafter. The Tribune and the Cubs were not sad to see either man leave the broadcast booth. It stonewalled the public with the press releases that it wanted Stone to return to the booth next season. But it has to be taken with a grain of salt. It was the typical kill the messenger gut reaction by Tribune broadcasting and the bean counters in the Tower to let Stone go. Changing broadcasters will have no effect on the entertainment product being produced on the field of play.
It also showed that the Trib's low-ball offer to retain Carey and Stone was a ruse to make them choose to leave the booth. The Cubs hired Bob Brenly and paid him more than the past two broadcasters made combined. So it was not about the money; it was about what the broadcasters were saying about the team - - exactly what the fans have been saying for two seasons.
The fans reaction to the booth shuffle was almost universal. They did not like it. Stone was the best color analyst in the game. He was smart. He had the ability to first guess the situation before it would occur on the field. In the end, the manager, the players, and team management did not want someone around with the reputation, knowledge and communication skills to tell the world of the Cubs glaring flaws. It's not good for business. The team has to keep its $4 million manager happy. It has to keep its $190 million players happy. Outside the equation was what would make the fans happy.
The Cubs were not happy with the city engineer's recommendation that any new bleacher expansion should not block 70 percent of the existing views to Sheffield and Waveland. It meant reducing the number of possible expansion seats, and the potential loss of hundreds of thousands of revenue dollars. But the Cubs marched on with its proposal to use the city sidewalk to expand the club against the howls of the community who believe that pillars on the public walkway will lead to more crime, lewd urinals and litter. The Cubs never clearly addressed these issues because they could stonewall the neighbors complaints because the city was in trouble. After making peace with the roof-top owners for last season, the Cubs expansion plans put back into motion the fact that the move will terminate several roof businesses because their view will be blocked. But the Cubs do not care; there is a buy-out provision in the settlement. Besides, the Cubs wanted the roof businesses to go away in the first place.
Chicago is running a huge budget deficit. The mayor has run out of free cash to pay for daily operations. Pension contributions and debt service takes all of the city's share of real estate property taxes. So the city is left to basically stealing cars to make ends meet. (The Chicago Sun-Times has been pounding the mayor and city departments with scandal after scandal, including the city towing scam where towed vehicles are sold for scrap prices to the tow operator who resells the cars for a huge profit while the owners, some without any notice, are left crying for lack of due process.)The current budget calls for any event to pay for all the police-traffic control costs. (Which begs to call into question why if businesses already pay for sales taxes, use taxes and property taxes for basic services like police, why pay again? The reason, because the city needs the money, and the cost will be passed along quietly by increased prices to the event customers.)
So the Tribune knows the mayor has the deficit gun to his head. The Tribune can play its golden bullet: cash. It appears that the Cubs will get just about everything it wants because it has a few million dollars to close the deal with the city. The Cubs will trim back a few hundred seats, and not have any pillars in the sidewalk, in exchange for the city reducing the sidewalk area (in essence selling part of the street to the Cubs for their expansion) for $1.1 million. Coupled with the fact that the Cubs want to buy the unopened Seminary Street that bisects the players parking lot in order to build a parking lot, year round museum/restaurant/souvenir shop for $2.2 million, the city is drooling at the possibility of getting $3.3 million dollars in revenue.
This is still just concepts. No final plans have been seen or approved by the citizens or the city council. The plans may be held close to the vest as the Trib may seek to steamroll approval of their grand plans and let the mayor continue to stonewall the press on its ramifications.
As the big transactions of the Cubs relate to off-the-field issues, it shows the focus of the team is more toward revenue enhancement than winning a championship. Dusty Baker has made so many contrary statements about what happened with his players last season that it is clear that the great manager of veteran players let the inmates run the asylum. He has no clue of molding a diverse group of spoiled millionaires into a champion.
How bumbling? The Sammy Sosa situation is the perfect example. Baker and Sosa apparently never got along. Sosa rips Baker for demoting him in the batting order; Baker says Sosa came to him with the move. A manager is supposed to make the moves, not the players. Sosa goes AWOL during the last game, and Baker has no clue he is gone. They snipe at each other during the off-season. The Tribune rips Sosa, using security camera tapes, to prove that Sosa was lying when he left early during that first game. They demeaned his waning skills, and desperately want to trade the aging slugger to free up $25 million in salary guarantees. But the mudslinging in the off-season has made trading Sosa even more difficult. Damaged goods. Baker will not manage Sosa next season. It puts GM Jim Hendry in a corner. He has to get rid of Sosa.
So some other general managers have offered to take Sosa off the Cubs hands. But they want the Cubs to eat all Sosa's salary for 2005 and 2006!! What GM would not take a player FOR FREE?? The Trib will not burn the millions it will be generating from bleacher expansion on a player who no longer plays for the Cubs. It would be cheaper benching Sosa, or even giving him his outright release than to trade him and pick up the bulk of the contract.
The Cubs have been playing hard ball with their players. Almost hoarding money to prop up the balance sheet. The Cubs have told Nomar Garciaparra we'll give you a one year contract so prove to us that you are an All-star The team resigned bench players Todd Walker and Nefi Perez, with Walker under the guise of starting at second base. Instead of paying below market price for quality starter Matt Clement, the Cubs left him to go off and sign with Boston. The Cubs are heading toward spring training falling backward on paper.
The talk was Hendry was to acquire Milwaukee's closer, Dan Kolb. Instead, the Braves trade marginal players and get Kolb. Instead of replacing Clement with a journeyman, Glendon Rusch, the Cubs could have acquired Tim Hudson from Oakland for a few minor leaguers or Mark Mulder for Rusch, fireballer Kyle Farnsworth, and a couple of AAA outfielders or pitching prospects. Hudson and Mulder are Cy Young caliber pitchers. So improving the team, adding to the injury prone starting pitching staff, is not on a radar. The entire focus has been getting rid of players like Sosa, and not seeing the potential for creating a monster wave of excitement of adding quality starters like the Yankees and Red Sox do as a matter of course.
The Cubs are still riding the excitement of the play-offs of 2003 to drive the expectation of winning the World Series. However, the lovable losers tag will wear thin because the Red Sox, the AL version of the Cubs, came through for their long suffering fans by spending for major talent. The Cubs can no longer stonewall the general fan that the team is competitive since last year's champion fell 16 games behind the Cardinals, who improved this week by acquiring Mulder.
March 23, 2005
BUSTING AT THE SEAMS
The cost of victory is measured in expectations over body bags. The Wrigleyville War came down to dollars and sense.
After months and months of protracted venom, sniping the press, and angry disappointments both on and off the field, the Tribune snared its most significant victory. The city, bankrupt and in need of hard currency, agreed to most of the Cubs Wrigley Field expansion requests, in exchange for $3.3 million dollars. The Cubs get to purchase a street that it had fenced off for the players parking lot so the team can create a large entertainment complex next to Wrigley for fan generated income for 12 months out of the year. The bleacher expansion of another 1800 seats over the city streets will generate approximately another $3.2 million in ticket sales. For the Tribster bean-counters, a $3.3 million investment will be quickly repaid within two years. That is a quick return on investment. So what if some of the roof top owners may get blocked by the new bleacher seats. Pay them off or fight the small battles back in the courts.
Money is what wins in the city. Which is badly needed in Tribland: for the media conglomerate's profits have been falling like a stone; off a third. Both traditional newspaper revenue and television advertising have dropped dramatically. Suddenly, milking the cash cow of the Cubs seems important to the bottom line.
Things are so bad that the Tribune had to announce that the Sammy Sosa get out of town on a rail trade to Baltimore would result in a three cent per share charge in the earnings quarter. The company had to disclose that the trade had a significant impact on overall corporate earnings!!! That is unprecedented.
So the Cubs will squeeze more bodies (i.e. more dollars) out of Wrigley Field by busting the seams of the falling concrete bleachers. But will it equate into a better entertainment product.
The wires must have got crossed in Trib Hollywood. The dramas are supposed to be on the WB and not in spring training. The injury list is busting at the seams in the pitching staff. Kerry Wood and Mark Prior, the superstar pitchers who were to carry the team to the World Series two years ago, pitched a combined FIVE innings in the spring before injuries shelved them to the horror of the fans. Then comeback relief pitcher, Joe Borowski, takes a comeback hit off the hand and breaks a bone. He is out for ten weeks. This leaves the team without a closer for the second straight season. LaTroy Hawkins, last year's relief pitcher meltdown, was reportedly yelling at the Congressional steroid hearings on television, ranting It's none of your business! Most fans believe it is none of Hawkins business to be put back into the closer role.
The player who had the golden arm, the 100 mph fastball of a closer, but the ten cent head, Kyle Farnsworth, was traded to the Tigers in the off-season prior to spring training injury disasters. The Cubs got a minor middle reliever in exchange.
The Cubs handcuffed themselves by attempting to get better by letting go alleged troublemakers in order to get better results in the standings. It would appear that the strategy has imploded on management. The Sosa trade provided the team with a back-up second baseman with no pop. The pickup of Burnitz to play RF in Sosa's place is a mirage; his numbers were inflated in Denver's thin air. The team has no proven day-to-day left fielder to replace Moises Alou. The workhorse starter, Matt Clement, was also not replaced; Ryan Dempster, the rehab project of last season, is being shelled in Arizona this spring.
The increased ticket prices have Cub fan wallets busting at the seams. Scratching their heads, it is a mind over heart crapshoot: will the Cubs be competitive (World Series worthy) or will the Cubs tank worse than last September's swan dive? Last year's collapse is still fresh in the minds of the purchasing public. The battles over physical improvements may be over but the battle for recapturing the fan's frenzied interest in the Cubs has just begun.
JUNE 23, 2005
Sandy Krum's lawsuit against the Cubs was dismissed by a circuit court judge who ruled that the team did not have to renew his contract. Krum was the assistant trainer during the recent Cub season collapse. He alleged the Cubs effectively fired him for whistleblowing on Dusty Baker's choice for trainer by telling management that the head trainer was not licensed in Illinois. If the case had proceeded forward, the public could have gotten an insight into the disarray of the Cub clubhouse during the Season of Discontent.
The pitching staff blamed the television broadcasters for creating the team's problems (by pointing out the obvious mistakes occurring on the field during games.) Physical confrontations on chartered plane rides, angry calls to the booth during games were never addressed by team management. Instead, the team appeased Baker by forcing Chip Caray and Steve Stone out of the WGN broadcast booth.
It did not quiet the critics. Stone continues his baseball commentary on local sports talk radio. The Tribune's replacements, Len Kasper and Bob Brenly, have quickly risen to the number one position as the worst sports broadcasters in Chicago history. During the early part of the season, the Cubs played the Diamondbacks in Arizona. Brenly, the former D'Back manager, could only comment on his old players. He was clueless on the strengths, weaknesses or general ability of any Cub player. The broadcast team was unprepared; mispronouncing player names; having no historical context to last season or team history. It was like the WGN signal was hijacked by a bad college television station. But the totally plain vanilla, bland to outright boring Qualude style of the new broadcasters is what the Tribune was after -- totally uncritical monotone play by play analysis as exciting as watching paint dry. The broadcast is devoid of any criticism of any on or off-field mistake. Kasper and Brenly are merely overpaid PR men with microphones. Instead of answering a major question of which pitchers should be demoted when Wood or Prior returns from the DL, the tandem talked about instant replay in other sports. To even opine or speculate which pitcher is not cutting it would be too critical of team management. Instead of representing the conversation of the fans in the stands, the broadcasters are neutered drones for the front office.
It is part of the Tribune's new business plan for the Cubs. When corporate management bet the bottom line on creating a fourth major broadcast network, the WB, the Cubs were orphaned off the superstation, WGN, in order to air the new network fare. However, the broadcast ratings have been poor. The backbone of the media empire, newspapers, is wrought in a circulation scandal, declining readership off almost ten percent, and advertiser cut-backs. The only business unit with growth potential is the lowly Cub franchise. So it pays the bankruptcy city $3 million in order to expand its ballpark and take over a public street in order to create a 12-month a year entertainment complex around Wrigley Field. The Trib has found itself running the largest tavern on the North Side for the past few years. Six dollar beers have more mark up than fifty cent newpaper editions. The team, whether it wins or loses is irrelevant, because the new game patron is more into the scene, the atmosphere, the beers, the people watching, the game is in the background like the big screens in any other sports bar. Game capacity still reaches an average of ninety-eight percent, more than three million projected visitors again this year, while the team itself is getting worse and worse as the season progresses toward the All-Star break.
it is the same old story. On paper, the Cubs are champions. When the season starts, the players come up with horrific injuries which builds up the excuse of why the team is not even close to first place. Nomar's gut-ripping groin injury is the standard example:
Nomar No More. Ouch.
But what really bugs the team is that it is no longer the city's darling baseball team. The bitterness of two bad play-off and late season collapses still gnaws in the craw of the die-hard fan. And cross-town rival, the White Sox, have the best team in major league baseball (on a small market budget.)
WASTED AWAY AGAIN IN WRIGLEYVILLE
October 17, 2005
WGN-TV Chicago is owned by the Tribune. During last Friday night's newscast, on the night that the White Sox were battling for the pennant against the Angels, the sports report did not lead with the White Sox story. In fact, it was buried as a footnote at the end of the sports cast. It was the biggest local sports story of the night; it came across as sour grapes and pettiness from the cross-town corporate media rival.
The Cub season was over long before that sports cast. By baseball standards, it was another disappointment in a long history of disappointments. By an accountant's standard, the Cubs still generate a growing revenue stream for the Tribune. It is the squeezing every dime from the Wrigley experience is the cornerstone of the current Trib business plan. After the last home game, the construction crews were on site to expand the bleachers to create more revenue next season. After the two successful Jimmy Buffett concerts at Wrigley, there will be a push to add more concerts in the park. (There are 24 open weekends during the baseball season; if each concert can generate a million dollars in revenue, management will salivate.) The focus is making money as the other Tribune ventures continue to sour the bottom line: there is a Times tax issue; declining broadcast and print advertising revenue; and the circulation scandal. The Tribune has decided that it is an entertainment company, and its assets should grab all the spendable entertainment dollars that within reach.
So the first off-season baseball move of the Cubs was to rehire the entire coaching staff. The coaching staff which allowed constant bad defense, poor baserunning and bonehead plays for an entire summer. Whether the mass rehiring was to appease Dusty Baker or to spite him is unclear. But it is clear that the 2006 season will have less expectations than last season because of the success of the Sox. The new Sox will be the darlings of the city for at least another year; the Sox have done what the Cubs, with all the money and media attention, had failed to do --- get the World Series in our collective lifetime.
The Cubs have huge holes to fill: the entire outfield, shortstop, second base, and the bullpen. The conflict will be with the manager who will not play rookies and the general manager who needs to validate his farm system and play the September call-ups full time in 2006. There will be more conflict and blame than the last two end-of-season collapses.
The snake in the infield grass will the lurking Sox. Most people do not recall that for the longest time, the White Sox used to outdraw the Cubs. There were times when you could have walked up to the gate and bought front row bleacher seats two minutes before the first pitch. 1984 team success began to change the tide. When the corporate spending in the 1980s increased in client entertainment perks, the 1989 team vaulted the sky box revenue and season ticket packages. But it was still run as a baseball club, until recently, when the Tribune put the full metal entertainment marketing plan on the club. It realized that it is running the largest city tavern on game days. So it continues to cater to the YUPPIE, urban, high octane beach crowd and the high end corporate block season ticket holders. Even adding $250/game seats behind home plate did not stop the premium mark-up for the entertainment venue.
The Cub business plan is tied to the fickle patron. If it is more trendy or fashionable to FOLLOW A WINNER, then they will move their beer drinking caravan to the South Side. This would leave the Cubs trying to hold onto the large, single game group busload sales to folks in Iowa and Wisconsin, the foundation of the Tribune radio-television-print empire. But the demographics for this base is dying off. Nothing lasts forever, including the stranglehold on the baseball entertainment dollar.
March 18, 2006
Hope springs eternal. Every spring there is hope on the North Side. Under the cool, crisp end of winter skies yields another ray of sunshine; another season will start soon.
But for the past two seasons, the Cubs have imploded in Arizona. The foundation of the clubhouse has again been rocked by keystone injuries: Kerry Wood delayed surgery will keep him out of the opening line-up card and Mark Prior's latest mystery pain injury will keep him in Mesa for extended spring training. Conspiracy theorists are groaning, again.
The chaps at Baseball Prospectus website, along with Steve Stone Pony, are gloating today as the rest of the Chicago sports media herd is chomping at the bit, fuming at the team, and scratching their collective bonnets on the Mark Prior not-injured but light-toss-work-out routine turns into a shoulder strain before actually pitching in game. (Wow, that is a long, run-on sentence; as long as the Cubs current destiny of futility.) The conspiracy theorists are out with the BIG cannons today; the consensus is that the Cubs are liars, frauds and idiots that never can be trusted. The sports radio crowd has taken the poison blow dart guns to Mesa this week. In the Crash and Burn sequel, the Cubs have no one to replace Wood or Prior in the rotation. Zambo is the opening day starter. Maddux is a pitcher who Baker wanted to have retired, is now the #2 guy (again). Rusch was supposed to be the lefty long reliever, spot starter that the club desperately needs in the early going. Jerome Williams was supposed to be the 5th starter at best. All of Hendry's quality minor league hurlers, people he refused to trade, look like dog food at a pig roast. Rich "Over The" Hill is just awful this spring. Does he get a ML contract with a career 9.03 ERA? In Cubland, probably. Angel Broken Wings Guzman has not pitched outside AA ball without arm problems. Steve Marshall Dillon is a Rich Hill clone with control problems. So different on the other side of town. Contreras has a tweek, Ozzie shrugs. He has six quality starters in camp so one or two can go down without him scrambling to find a minor leaguer. In fact, Brandon McCarthy, Ozzie's #6 guy, would be the Cubs 1A starter at this point. Which leads us to this question. Are the Woods-Prior marketing golden boy tandem the worst Cubs BUSTS of all time???
On March 6, 2006, I wrote an email describing the current state of Cubland: The WGN spring training debut telecast was on in the background of Chez Pablo Sunday afternoon. Besides being an utterly bad broadcast tandem (Bob continues to regale on his Diamondback days), totally unprepared (they did not even identify half of the Cub minor leaguers who got into the game; no insight on any aspects of their game), it was a waste of airtime. Just like evil Ed Lynch days, when he signed a ton of Lynch like journeymen hack pitchers with hanging sliders, Jim Hendry has stocked the minors with big lollipop left handed pitchers like Hill and Marshall, whose out pitch is a 70 mph curve ball. In the bigs, the second go round, true hitters will think it is batting practice. As for the position players, they all look like Murton, stocky baby Kingmans with a slow, long home run swing. The field was filled with 50s and 60s and 70s uniform numbers, and Baker in his French Foreign legion desert head gear sitting in a trance on the patio chair like this is the company picnic. Hairston gets plunked, and Theriot plays the rest of the game, and Baker's only response is that we have to go slow with Walker because of his late season injury. He already has his season injury speech memorized. And he all but admitted there is no competition for roster spots in his mind. If he breaks camp today, his line-up of his favorites would be:
Derrek Lee gets hurt in the Bud Selig unnecessary World Baseball Classic. The bad news keeps on piling on the team. Dusty Baker is groaning in the media that he is not worried about not having a contract extension; but the tone is that he is ticked that Cubs management have not bowed down to his greatness and begged him back with another expensive long term deal. It will only be a matter of weeks before Baker and his Boys, after a long losing streak, to pit bull attack the media (again) the same old excuses. Baker will hide behind is old, loyal veterans; and the team will slide to the bottom of the standings. Heads will roll but pay checks will still be cashed.
The Daily Herald reported this week that former Cub pitcher Turk Wendell opines that the steroid era hitters are now suddenly free falling into baseball unemployment. He targeted Sammy Sosa in particular with his ire; the former centerpiece of the Cubs 1990s marketing machine has slinked off into the night. The centerpiece of the Cubs 2000s marketing machine, Wood and Prior, have slinked off to the trainer's room for another extended pout. The Baker era was the three-run home run and overpitching his flamethrower starters. The two fan favorite elements of the game sold tickets.
The Tribune does not care about the makeup of the team; it won its long battle for bleacher expansion. 1,800 new, expensive bleacher box seats will add millions of dollars to the bottom line. A new centerfield restaurant will quadruple the lowly hot dog vendor revenues. But not to be subject to any competition, the Tribune enlisted the local alderman to introduce an anti-peddler ordinance. The Cubs want to kick out all private vendors (the peanut sales, or generic score card hawks) camped on the sidewalks outside Wrigley Field. The reason of security and crowd control is another line of bunk. It is to eliminate the competition and force the fans to buy inside the park, at inflated prices. The Trib have encroached on the public sidewalks with the bleacher expansion; now it believes that it owns all the sidewalks around the park. It looks like a petty panic move on the Cubs part, but when one sees the listing Tribune flagship losing double digit circulation of its newspaper chains, free falling ad revenues from its media holdings, it is apparent that the business plan is to squeeze every single penny from any baseball fan within a two block area of the ballpark.
No longer are the Cubs the largest open view summer tavern in the city. The White Sox announced last week that it sold out its entire season ticket base (21,000) for the first time in New Comiskey history. There is now a viable sports franchise competition for the baseball ticket in town. The casual corporate fan that flocked to Wrigley now will gravitate toward the South Side because these casual fans like to be associated with winners. And the only winners in the city are the White Sox.
So the Cubs are doomed before the 2006 season starts; for any statement a Cub fan, a Cub manager, or a Trib accountant proclaims as being great, one will hear YEAH, BUT THE WHITE SOX WON THE WORLD SERIES!! End of discussion (until the Cubs win one.)
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