Obsessive Wrigley Renovation Watch: The Mayor’s Office Grabs Some Leverage, But a Deal Will Likely Still Get Done

We all wish the Joe Ricketts/President Obama/SuperPAC/attack ad/etc. flap hadn’t happened. Our reasons for wishing it hadn’t happened are varied, and personal. I’d rather not get into those, and would again admonish you not to talk about politics here. It’s a viable conversation, but this isn’t the place. We’re all Cubs fans. Remember that.

That said, as far as the Cubs are concerned, it was unfortunate, and it has impacted the team’s efforts to negotiate a shared Wrigley Field renovation funding arrangement with the city of Chicago. As you’ll recall, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is the former Chief of Staff for the President, and a close political ally of President Obama, who hails most recently from Chicago. An attack on President Obama, therefore, could have political fallout in the city for anyone doing the attacking. So, we have to talk about the Wrigley renovation part of the flap, and then, hopefully, after today, we can leave it all in the past.

In the days since the story originally broke, Chicago Cubs Owner and Chairman Tom Ricketts has distanced himself from the (rejected) political attack plan of his father, and Cubs’ board member Laura Ricketts (who is a big President Obama supporter) has also offered a statement. First, from Tom:

As chairman of the Chicago Cubs, I repudiate any return to racially divisive issues in this year’s presidential campaign or in any setting — like my father has. I shall have no further comment on this or any other election year political issue. My full-time focus is on making the Chicago Cubs a World Series champion, preserving Wrigley Field, and making the Chicago Cubs a great corporate citizen.

Seems like the right approach, and about as wise as such a statement goes. “We don’t like what that proposed plan said, we have nothing to do with it, and we aren’t getting into all that political stuff.” The end (with a few more salient comments to the Sun-Times). Fine with me.

Next, from Laura:

All of my family members and I love this country and are passionate about doing what is right for the country. That love of country was instilled in us by my father. We have different political views on how to achieve what is best for the future of America, but we agree that each of us is entitled to our own views and our right to voice those views.

Though we may have diverse political views, above all we love and respect each other. My own personal view is that President Obama has been a great leader in very difficult times. He has been leading us to an economic recovery; served with great honor as commander-in-chief during a time of war; been a strong proponent on issues important to women and just last week he exhibited great courage in endorsing the freedom to marry for gay and lesbian Americans.

Very calculated, and, again, fine with me (not the politics of it – because, again, that simply isn’t my business in one direction or the other – but the wisdom of it). Laura, you’ll note, introduced Kerry Wood at his retirement press conference on Saturday. I doubt very much that was a coincidence.

Mayor Emanuel also reacted to the flap in both public comments, and in private statements. Publicly, Mayor Emanuel said, “America is too great a country with too great a future for the content that they’re talking about. And it’s insulting to the President. It’s insulting to the country. I don’t think that’s fitting in a campaign of any nature. You can have disagreements without being disagreeable.” Emanuel added that he would have “conversations” about the Wrigley Field issue at a later time.

Privately, Emanuel was said to be very angry about the issue, per an anonymous aide: “The Mayor was livid when he read that the Ricketts were going to launch a $10 million campaign against President Obama — with the type of racially motivated ads that are insulting to the president and the presidential campaign. He is also livid with their blatant hypocrisy.” The aide added that Emanuel was not taking calls from the Ricketts at this time.

Here’s the thing about those anonymous comments: they were repeated to a number of news sources, for example here in Crain’s and here in the Washington Post. Given that the quotes are near word-for-word copies, it’s clear that this was a calculated message coming from the Mayor’s Office, released “anonymously.” There was a conversation, a strategy session, and a decision was made to place these quotes in the media.

Why? Leverage.

We all know that the Mayor’s Office and the Cubs remain in a back-and-forth about the city’s involvement in the funding of a renovation of Wrigley Field. The Mayor’s Office has now just “anonymously leaked” that it is “livid” about this flap, and it is cutting off communications. I can only assume that the Mayor’s Office hopes folks – citizens, fans, political entities – will express outrage about the issue, allowing the Mayor to turn the heat back up on the Cubs when they, inevitably, come back to the table to resume funding negotiations.

It’s a deeply political maneuver, and not all that subtle. But it sure makes sense, doesn’t it? Obviously it’s bad news for the Cubs, because it’s clear that, whether the Mayor is actually outraged or not, he’s going to use this to his advantage. And every dollar that he’s able to reclaim in these negotiations is a dollar that comes out of the Cubs’ pockets. React to that how you will.

An ancillary (or primary) benefit of Emanuel’s approach is that it creates pressure on Joe Ricketts (theoretically applied by his kids and his own desire to save some scratch) to see that the controversial attack on President Obama is scuttled, and to see that similar lines of attack are more carefully scrutinized in the future. It’s one thing for Emanuel to come out and say publicly, as he did, that the proposal was insulting and below-the-belt, but that, alone, isn’t going to move the needle. Leak statements suggesting you’ll pull the rug out from under the Cubs on hundreds of millions of dollars? That’ll move the needle.

Fortunately for the Cubs, the Sun-Times cites sources in City Hall who expect that, ultimately, a funding deal for Wrigley Field will still get done, even if the flap emboldens the Mayor to drive for a better deal. The flap could also slow the process down, which was in position to see construction start as early as this Fall.

Hopefully, then, this whole mess is soon behind us.

Like I said when the story first came out: it’s all just icky. I don’t even want to be talking about it, frankly. But I consider it my obligation to (1) offer you the news, (2) think critically about how things legitimately impact the Cubs, and (3) offer to you my thoughts. I don’t expect you all to agree with me every day. I do the best I can, but you have to remember: I am not a journalist. I am not impartial. I am a die-hard Chicago Cubs fan, and everything I say and do will be colored by that reality. I do my best to shoot straight, but I can never completely divorce myself from my fandom. I want things to turn out well for the Cubs.

At least I’m honest about it.

Brett Taylor is the editor and lead writer at Bleacher Nation, and can also be found as Bleacher Nation on Twitter and on Facebook.

65 responses to “Obsessive Wrigley Renovation Watch: The Mayor’s Office Grabs Some Leverage, But a Deal Will Likely Still Get Done”

  1. calicubsfan007

    I gotta say though Brett, if Emmanuel refuses to renovate Wrigley, he could be in danger of alienating a lot of voters. A ton of people in Chicago are Cubs fans (not White Sux LOL), that would be stupid on his part. But enough with politics, they bring out the worst in people. Wrigley is a national landmark, people need to support the renovations or the cubs might have to tear that down. That would make me sad. I haven’t been to Wrigley yet, and I want to so badly.

    1. Dante Hicks

      I doubt very much that people in Chicago would vote against him in this economy because he did public our money into a renovation. However, the election is not for almost 3 years. THe Bears once threatened to move to Indiana…if it had been the Bears? That would have been bad news. The Cubs? Not as much anymore.

      1. calicubsfan007

        Heh, bad news bears… They probably didn’t move because chicago is ten times better! LOL

  2. Frank Baron

    I would like to see the Cubs tell Emanuel to shove it… THE LITTLE TURD! They should pay for their own renovations. Possibly move the facility, building a replica of Wrigley in another location. BTW: Tell Laura no one care about her personal evaluations of the worst President of the last 100 years.

    1. justinjabs

      BOOOOO. *insert random word from previous game day thread here* politics! Yay baseball! Thanks Brett.

      1. calicubsfan007

        Funny (=

  3. Ron Swanson

    Well said, Brett. Now lets move on.

  4. Ben

    Yeah, I consider this my escape from the world of politics, finance and drama…..Surely don’t want to have to read political commentary in the comments

    1. calicubsfan007

      Agreed, hopefully, my comments aren’t construde as such. It was not intended.

  5. Dave H

    At this point, it has become a huge tug of war. I would not be surprised if we soon get the usual ” I’ll build a new stadium somewhere else campaign”. Soon then everything north of Belmont will be up in arms about their cash cow leaving….. blah blah blah. Just a matter of time.

    1. calicubsfan007

      Isn’t the first time, won’t be the last.

    2. Cheryl

      What Chicago doesn’t remember is that the Brooklyn Dodgers threatened to leave Brooklyn and did for the greener pastures of Los Angeles Hope it doesn’t come to that for the Cubs. They’re identified with the city. The Chicago administration should be aware that it could happen, not that it will.

      1. Noah

        Huge difference in history and demographics. Completely dissimilar situations.

        1. Cheryl

          Not necessariy. The Dodgers were identified with Brooklyn, just like the Cubs are identified with Chicago. The Dodgers begged for the building of a new stadium for themselves. They were turned down. Los Angeles courted the blocked Dodgers and eventually both the Dodgers and Giants moved to California. There are some similarites. But. I’d hate to see it ever come to that.

          1. Jon

            I believe O’Malley eventually moved the Dodgers to L.A. because the city commissioner wanted them to build the new Dodgers Stadium in Queens rather than Brooklyn. The Dodgers moved and took the Giants with them and then eventually New York got the Mets built right in Queens where the city commissioner wanted a ballpark in the first place. Whether it’s urban legend or not that’s why the Mets colors are what they are the blue, black and orange represent the teams that left N.Y. I could be all wrong on this though

            1. Cheryl

              You’re partially right. The Giants were abandoning the Polo Grounds and O’Malley would only agree to guid the new stadium in Brooklyn. Queens was offered as a possibity.

              1. Ralph

                The Brooklyn Cubs? Sounds funny but I would bet that they would get an All-Star game!

      2. rcleven

        What Illinois should remember is the WSux threatened to leave Illinois and are still here.

        What a deal that was for the tax payers of Illinois.

      3. FromFenwayPahk

        I wonder how many kiddos know that the L.A. Dodgers of Anehiem California are “dodgers” because Brooklyn had streetcars (instead of subways or elevateds), so the residents had to become artful in their dodging of streetcars. Talk about being identified with a place. (Read Wait Til Next Year by Doris Kearns Goodwin).

        As to what they actually dodge out in California…

    3. Cubmig

      I think for what the Cubs would like to achieve facility-wise, building a new ballpark would be the way to go. There are so many changes the powers-that-be want to make that working within the constraints that are given, the end result will not overcome the limitations the renovations seek to resolve.

  6. Ivy Walls

    What did I say! Mixing politics with sports and especially the desire or connection to public funds and politically situated initiatives is a perscription for business disaster.

    Ricketts the father was idiotic on many levels but self serving in this regards he took a hammer to the heads of his children’s efforts.

  7. calicubsfan007

    This is unrelated, but can anybody make an All-Brawl Team thread? I mean like the players who were well known for getting in (and normally winning) brawls on the field. I would love to see that.

    1. Robert
      1. calicubsfan007

        Great video. (=. Maybe Theo acquired him because of his fighting skills!! (=

        1. joe

          haha Pat Listach

        2. Wilbur

          Might be, his fighting potential seems greater at this moment than his pitching.

          Best baseball batter/pitcher encounter I can recall was when Kyle Farnsworth “racky tacked” (Stoney’s description) Paul Wilson of the Reds in 2005.

          http://www.collegehumor.com/video/3451561/kyle-farnsworth-takes-down-paul-wilson

          1. calicubsfan007

            Yeah, I was watching that vid when I thought about the Brawler list. Farnsworth is the poster child of being a bada– brawler.

  8. jayburd2020

    Brett– Very enjoyable read. I agree that it is best to avoid introducing partisan politics into sports blogs like this. But two small “editing” nits. 1.) You admonished us “to not talk about politics here.” I believe you must mean partisan politics or presidential election politics, because the subject of public funding for renovating a billionaire’s privately owned venue is an inherently local political issue — no getting around that. So without a qualifier or two, the very subject of your column violates your own admonishment. But I know that is not what you meant.

    2.) You also wrote, “President Obama, who hails most recently from Chicago…” I think this was probably an uncareful choice of words, but some could mis-read this as a partisan back-hand at Barack or an even more subtle Birther Movement reference. The facts are Barack spent nearly his entire adulthood after college in Chicago. He moved to Chicago in 1985 at age 24, worked in Chicago during each of his summers off from Harvard Law, and returned to Chicago after graduating Harvard. He also represented a Chicago Senate district for 7 years and was an Illinois U.S. Senator for 4 years. So except for travel and getting his law degree, he was a Chicagoan for the 23 years until he moved into the White House. Shouldn’t all this merit being considered a “Chicagoan” without qualification? Or should everyone who moved to Chicago after college like Obama be considered a “qualified Chicagoans” because they weren’t born here? That is a strange distinction to make in any context, and risks contradicting you admonishment about avoiding making political comments. Hopefully these are helpful editing suggestions for future articles. Enjoy reading your columns.

  9. Dante Hicks

    In response to Dave H and others…interesting points. I have no trouble believing that Rahm would be behind the leaks (this isn’t politics per se, is it Brett?)…the guy is a legend at behind the scenes dealing–and scary at times. His brother Ari was the inspiration for Ari on “Entourage.” So, a leak/leverage thing? Heck yeah.

    Now, I wonder honestly, what would happen if the Cubs moved? Just found a new place? Would the world end? I love the team and baseball far more than Wrigley. Anyone else? I’m really curious.

    1. hardtop

      “I love the team and baseball far more than Wrigley. Anyone else? I’m really curious.”

      yeah, but it wouldnt be the same.  wrigley is part of their history and their history is what distinguishes them from say, the marlins.   if they moved to des plaines or whatever, id probably pay a lot more attention to the rockies than i do know (i live in devner).

      1. Mrp

        Meh, a World Series title elsewhere would make me forget about Wrigley pretty quickly. You could turn it into a museum at that point. The team is bigger than the stadium, at least for me.

        1. Mrp

          Just to clarify though, I certainly would prefer renovating Wrigley over anything else. I love it and a part of me would die if the Cubs moved, but like I said the team winning is the most important aspect to me.

    2. calicubsfan007

      For me, the world would end. It just would be weird to not have the Cubs in Wrigley. I imagine it would feel the same level as when the Baltimore Colts and the Brooklyn Dodgers left their respective cities. I remember the faces of their fans… as if a loved one died. But maybe they might let fans take parts from the stadium? (=. Don’t worrry, I am just kidding!!

  10. hardtop

    politics aside: why would the taxpayers in the city of chicago front any part of the bill for a team that cant even win as many games as it loses?  when ricketts puts an average team on the field (yeah, not even a good team, just an average team) than maybe he can think about asking for help to pay for renovations to his income property.

    btw, i need a new fence.   even though i have plenty of money to pay for it, and my fence generates millions for me each year,  i expect my friends, family, and neighbors to pay for it with their tax dollars.  then, when my new fence is complete, i will charge those same friends and neighbors copious amounts of money to look at it.  its a sweet deal.

    1. Boogens

      “why would the taxpayers in the city of chicago front any part of the bill for a team that cant even win as many games as it loses?”

      It doesn’t really have anything to do with wins & losses. It has everything to do with the fact that the city benefits greatly from the team that generates millions of dollars of revenue for them.

  11. Sully

    This is off topic Brett but by chance will you be at Wrigley Saturday, June 30th against the Astros? That will be the first game of the season for me. I’ll be in the left field bleachers. I know you sit in right but if you’re gonna be there maybe we could have a brew. Thanks for your all of your great work and dedication here.

  12. K Rock

    @hardtop

    Renovating Wrigley will help bring in A LOT of money (Advertising, Scoreboard, Attendance, etc…). This is nothing new to anyone in baseball, everyone knows how bad Wrigley Field needs a makeover. The players you need to go after and get, or keep from leaving, don’t want to play in a run down stadium with horrible player facilities and clubhouses. Making the changes necessary to Wrigley will generate revenue, which helps put better players on the field, and people in the stands.

    1. hardtop

      i understand the cycle of revenue.  the limit for spending on the roster is self imposed so i am not sympathetic.   they could pay for their own renovations, and generate the same new revenue and attract the same fancy players.  as for sales, the product on the field is all that matters.  the cubs sell a lot of tickets despite historically shitty teams… people keep coming no matter how big of a “dump” wrigley is (btw, i think its nicer than ever)

      i disagree that its impossible to field a competitive team because the clubhouse isn’t fancy.  ive talked to several players about the clubhouse argument, both cubs and players from other teams who have played at wrigley…they say its bullshit.

  13. aCubsFan

    While I don’t believe the Cubs should be treated any differently then the Bears, White Sox, Bulls or Blackhawks when it comes to public funding of new stadiums or renovations, clearly the Ricketts shot themselves in the foot. Yes, it emboldens RahmFather to get a better deal but at the same time it will cause the Governor to stand resolute that the state should not be involved in any funding to the Cubs renovations while the state is in such dire straits with the state’s budget.

    Like many in the media I believe the whole Kerry Wood retirement was a ruse and an attempt at crisis management. Which also blew up in the Ricketts’ face because the organization was ill-prepared for the rapidly departure. And, how is it that Wood who claims he couldn’t barely throw a pitch, miraculously was able to find the strength to pitch in the 8th inning of a close game.

    Clearly there is still more to the whole story of Wood signing a contract in January and not being able to pitch when spring training started. I get the impression that there was always the Kerry Wood feel-good retirement story behind the signing that could be used to take away the pain of a terrible team at any time. It just so happened the Joe Ricketts’ article came out at a bad bad time.

  14. Kevin

    I want the Cubs to win more than anybody does. Right now the Cubs, are at best, considered a rebuilding ball club. We are far from winning and a lot of us get upset and voice our negative opinions.

  15. Michael Caldwell

    Brett, could it be the Ricketts just got caught playing both sides of the fence? The city and the state are flat broke, because of their socialist policies, even if the commissars in City Hall and their lackeys Springfield won’t publicly admit it. So any corporate welfare coming the Cubs way is likely going to have to be stolen from the nation at large, which will require either Dear Leader Chairman Maobama or Herr Romney to sign the check.

    Poppa Joe doesn’t technically own the Cubs. He supports Herr Romney to curry favor in case the fascist wins. This gives Tom and his siblings cover through plausible deniability. Laura is an avid supporter of the Dear Leader and curries favor that way in case the communist wins.

    There is also another angle no one has thought of. They had to know Poppa Joe’s support would go public. Maybe they wanted it to. As far as I know, the offer by East Chicago to give the Cubs land to build a new stadium was never rescinded, and Indiana, thanks to a libertarian leaning Mitch Daniels, is a hell of a lot more business friendly than the People’s Republic of Illinois or Chicagograd. Unlike the socialist utopia of Illinois and it’s real capital, Indiana has a balanced budget and a nice surplus to boot. It also has lower taxes.

    Indiana could do for the Cubs, as part of the East Chicago renovation, what it did for the Colts with Lucas Oil stadium. The state didn’t give the Colts anything but a good interest rate, and profits from the new stadium will pay the taxpayers back in full. The only thing the Cubs would be given would be the land.

    Moving the Cubs to East Chicago from Wrigleyville wouldn’t be like moving the Dodgers to LA, especially if the new stadium were simply a more modern and up to date version of Wrigley Field. The fan base would still be there, and the Ricketts would be able to say the city and the state were being petty over Joe expressing his Constitutional rights.

    1. Bric

      East Chicago, Indiana? WTF are you talking about. From all the political name calling and other inane nonsense I’m guessing you’re just a troll that’s not going to stick around to read this but seriously- Indiana.They may as well move to Dayton. At least Brett would be able to go to more games.

      1. Michael Caldwell

        Somehow, I doubt you’ve ever had an original thought in your entire life. Try some Ayn Rand, it might actually do you some good.

        1. Bric

          Never read any vampire books but at least you hung around long enough to respond. Don’t you have a billion other political sites to expound about your thoughts on the purposed new South East Siders where you can name call all you want?

          1. Michael Caldwell

            Well, this is a political subject by its very nature? Which part do you disagree with. Do you think Obama is not a communist, or do you think Romney is not a fascist? Or is it just the idea of the Cubs not playing in Wrigley? What part of the state and city are flat broke do you disagree with, and just how do think the state and city got that way? That giant sucking sound you hear is businesses leaving Illinois to go to places where they don’t have to deal with corrupt politicians and union bosses, over-regulation or high taxes.

            Take a step back from your limited perspective. I know it’s hard because of the indoctrination that we all got K-12 and some of us got in college, but try turning off the Communist News Network or the Fascist News Channel for just a moment and take a look around. Do you have a clue the hoops that will have to be jumped through to renovate Wrigley or how much it will cost to get through those hoops?

            The very idea behind the historical landmark designation of the park was to make sure the owners couldn’t do an end run around the politicians and the unions. The bribes and kickbacks are part of what makes Crook County so expensive to build anything in. They probably could build a new ballpark elsewhere for not much more and be way better off.

            1. Cubmig

              I say build a new ballpark for the Cubs, but my reasons for doing that are different than yours. And….I don’t think the place you recommend (East Chicago) is “the” place for a new Cubs field. Also, if you think there won’t be political back-scratching or that the “free land” is not a political lure with politicians at the end of the pole, I have a bridge to nowhere to sell you. People are imperfect beings who struggle to do the right thing, BUT bribes, kickbacks, corruption and misrepresenting the truth are very much a part of what navigating toward a good and fair resolution is all about.

              I am against plans that renovate Wrigley Field into an arena of visual pollution where money is the bottom line. There is enough of that. I would rather the integrity of the physical and human esthetic components be dealt with holistically, upfront, in the architectural planning of ideas. That, imo, would be more a comprehensive strategy and solution to engage than that we are currently seeing in the patchwork fashion today’s piecemeal approach is revealing.

  16. Chris

    Let me start by saying wrigley is a beautiful ball park. The problem is its old small and cost a hell of alot of money to be competitive with the modern stadiums in baseball. The thing almost has to be taken apart and completely put back together. I just wanna know why 100+ years of loosing in this place isnt enough. Turn it into a museum and build a new park. I know I probably just pissed a bunch of people off but what matters more the team or the building. I love the cubs and want them to win. So in my opinion I want them in the best stadium to get them ready day to day. And if you care more about the stadium then the lack of amenities for the players then I suggest ya take up architecture instead of baseball.

    1. Michael Caldwell

      I agree 100%. Build a new park some place that doesn’t have the hassles of being in the middle of Wrigleyville, and turn the old park into a museum.

      1. Jon

        Getting to Wrigleyville isn’t even close to being a hassle

      2. Ralph

        Turn Wrigley into a homeless shelter would be wonderful – camp fires in the outfiield. The city without the millions they receive in ticket taxes – maybe they could collect taxes from the homeless.

  17. die hard

    The mayor is perfectly in his right to paraphrase that time worn line from the Godfather when he tells the Ricketts family “its not political, its strictly business’ before he puts a bullett squarely in the eyes of this plan to use tax dollars to renovate Wrigley…and he should because its bad business to do so…

  18. Kevin

    Chris – I agree with you 100%

  19. Kevin

    New ballparks have so much more comfort than Wrigley Field. The Cubs are prisoners intheir own ball park with so many limitations including, but not limited to, Parking, not enough night games, proper facilities for players and fans. Build a new ballpark and let the Iowa Cubs play at Wrigley.

  20. Kevin
  21. Big Joe

    I don’t ever want to see the team leave Chicago. With that said, I live in north central Indiana. Indiana is a fine state. If the Cubs ever moved, they could do much, much worse than Indiana. Ask the Colts or Pacers. Those teams have two beautiful new buildings.

    1. Bric

      With respect to the area you live in, I don’t see it as a viable option. I don’t honestly see (or want) them to leave the city either. But if they seriously considered it, I would imagine Shaumburg, Arlington Hts. or some other northwest suburb (maybe even Evanston or Liberytville) would be looked at before the Cubs decided to move the team out of the state further south than the Sox. I’m sure Indiana is a fine state and they could do worse. I just don’t see it happening.

  22. Paul

    the cubs need a new ballpark I love going to Miller Park for cubs games anything that will help the cubs win

  23. Gary Twardzik

    I like it when people talk about obsolete club house facilities. These guys are multi millionaires, quit your whining. A response to this, of course, will be ‘the good players will go elsewhere.’ I have no pity for them, they’re getting paid tons to play a kid’s game. Wrigley is cool, love it just as it is. Been other places? They just don’t compare. For reference, check out that dump on the south side.

  24. Ralph

    I apologize for the following observation if some believe it is political rather than a question about journalistic integrity. The New York Times reports a story without a credible source, which was denied by those involved with the story, but is then quoted by other so called news organizations as a fact. It wouldn’t be the first time that the NYT reported a false story for political gain. Maybe we should give the Ricketts the benefit of the doubt here absent any evidence to the contrary.