Chicago Cubs owner and chairman Tom Ricketts addressed the team today in Mesa, Arizona, and then spoke with the media. You can catch a great deal of his comments on Twitter, and Jesse Rogers also grabbed some audio.
Some of the informative highlights:
- On the continuing rooftop battle, there was nothing new to report. Ricketts said that the two sides are talking on an “ongoing basis,” but he didn’t want to get into any specifics on the few outstanding issues to be resolved, presumably because it’s a negotiation situation (and commenting on specifics can only hurt). Ricketts did say he was “still pretty optimistic that we’ll get to the finish line.” The Cubs want to be in a position to start work after the season.
- Ricketts said it’s not a matter of just making a couple final concessions to the rooftops, because “you have to have control of your own outfield. We can’t live for the next 100 years with this kind of situation. We have to know it’s going to be over if we’re going to invest in the park.”
- Ricketts’ comments make you wonder whether the last piece to be hammered out, rather than the precise locations of the outfield signs or the modification of any current terms in the rooftop agreement, is the parties’ relationship after 2023, when the rooftop contract expires. Crane Kenney mentioned it at the Convention as one of the issues to work out, and I’ll confess ignorance: I still don’t quite understand what is going to be holding up the Cubs from doing whatever they want with the outfield once the contract is up. The Landmarks Commission has already approved a master sign program that would allow the Cubs to expand their outfield signage, but the Mayor has indicated that the Cubs have agreed to a 10-year moratorium on additional outfield signs (beyond the two at issue currently). So, if the Cubs don’t add any new view-blocking signs until 2024, I don’t see how the rooftops would have any standing to challenge that Landmarks Commission decision (since 10 years will have passed), and they wouldn’t have a contract to rely on anymore, either.
- Ricketts said it is the Cubs’ intention to have the right field Budweiser sign (the 350-foot see-through one) up by Opening Day. That suggests either that the Cubs are calling the rooftops’ bluff about suing over that sign, or the sides have come to an understanding that the sign is OK.
- On a question that essentially prodded Ricketts to agree that if he’d just threatened to leave Wrigley Field a few years ago, the renovation would be done by now, Ricketts said that, because of the unique nature of Wrigley – paraphrase: it’s not just some 20-year-old ballpark out in a suburb somewhere that nobody cares about – it wasn’t realistic to just take a page out of another teams’ playbook, so to speak. In other words, the way I’m hearing it, Ricketts agrees that the threat wouldn’t have been taking seriously at the time, and thus wouldn’t have helped.
- … however, Ricketts says, “if we can’t grind out these last few steps, I don’t know what’s going to happen.” I think that’s fair to say, even if some will say that’s just Ricketts making another hollow threat.
- Ricketts was pushed on the drops in payroll over the past few years, but there was nothing new offered. There are certain financial restrictions because of the structure of the Tribune sale (which Ricketts implied will eventually go away, though he didn’t quite say so explicitly), and baseball ops money is being spent in other places than just payroll. When asked if the owners were engaging in “profit-taking,” Ricketts answered with an almost offended, “Profit-taking? I don’t even know what that means. Of course not. Absolutely not. That’s ridiculous.” Obviously fans can choose to believe Ricketts or not, but he has been consistent for a very long time that whatever money comes in the door is put right back into the organization in some way.
- Ricketts was asked the obligatory question about the Cubs’ chances in 2014, and he gave the obligatory answer for an owner: he likes the Cubs’ chances to surprise and be a playoff contender. And before you rip him for being foolish on that, stop and think for a moment how you’d react if the owner of the damn team said, “Yeah, I think we’re probably going to be terrible this year, but maybe we can stay out of the cellar in the NL Central. Er, um, come celebrate Wrigley’s anniversary!” His answer, like the question, is meaningless. Ignore it.