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Keeping Up With The Ricketts

The Ricketts family is on the offensive again.

You remember Joe Ricketts, the right wing billionaire and founder of the successful wealth-skimming operation TD Ameritrade who bought the Chicago Cubs a few years ago? The same Joe Ricketts who contributed tens of millions of dollars to his Ending Spending Action Fund to smear President Obama as a Rev. Wright in Kenyan-Muslim-Socialist clothing? The same Joe Ricketts whose political Super PAC threatened to run ads using an “extremely literate conservative African-American” who could better implicate The President as “a metro-sexual, black Abe Lincoln?”

Well, it turns out that in the case of his son, Tom Ricketts, CEO of the Chicago Cubs, as well as the CEO of  Incapital LLC, and Director of TD Ameritrade Holding Corporation– the rotten apple doesn’t fall far from the morally decrepit tree.

When the Ricketts bought the Chicago Cubs and their related assets for $900 million in 2009, they celebrated by wooing the city with handshakes on the street, sharing rides on the Metra, and promises that they would treat the franchise as they would a member of their own family. Tom Ricketts ran around telling his story of how his love for the Cubs began in 1984(not exactly a life-long die hard, especially since he grew up in Omaha, Nebraska), and how he and his brother Pete “lived over the ‘Sports Corner’” right across the street from Wrigley Field for a short time. He told the story of how he met his wife Cecelia in the left-field bleachers and everyone romanticized this whirlwind affair.

Finally! Someone who “gets” the Cubs. A fan/owner. A sort of Mr. Deeds Makes Good story that had Cub fans giddy with dreams of a World Series championship in their lifetimes. Someone who could ‘Reverse the Curse’ without sacrificing any goats and bring to an end 105 years of franchise futility.

But ever since the Ricketts took over the team, it’s been a top-down strategy, rather than bottom-up, typical in the corporate America mindset. They went out and got themselves a hot-shot Moneyball man in Theo Epstein to run the front office operations of the team, netting him one of the most lucrative payouts for a President of a team in baseball history.

Then they cut team payroll by $43 million– a move which demonstrates that spending money on the product on the field isn’t a top priority. In other words, if the Cubs are going to win a World Series, they’re going to do it on the cheap. This is the most profitable franchise in baseball(not to be confused with the “most valuable”).

So, earlier this month, in an attempt to distract from the diminished quality of personnel on the field and the club’s dwindling fortunes, Tom Ricketts made his proposal to the city to renovate the park and a huge chunk of the surrounding area. Now, I don’t necessarily have an issue with the proposal in general, but Tom Ricketts claimed that they need these aesthetic changes in and around Wrigley Field to win a World Series, stating that: ”If this plan is approved, we will win the World Series for our fans and our city. We need this project in order to bring our fans a winner.”

This is coming from the owner who cut team payroll by $43 million.

But that’s not even the most bizarre assertion. Because Tom Ricketts claims that if they get their approval from the city for a $500 million renovation, including a 6000 ft. Jumbotron in left field, this will bring ultimate victory.

And he’s serious. In statements to the press earlier this month, Tom Ricketts actually threatened to move the team to Rosemont, IL if his demands are not met and does not get approval for the new scoreboard and new ad signage, stating, “The fact is that if we don’t have the ability to generate revenue in our own outfield, we’ll have to take a look at moving — no question.”

This is like leaving your Grandpa at the cemetery and driving off for a better Grampy-Gramps. So much for loyalty.

But it got me to thinking, what could possibly be the reason for this hostility? A Jumbotron? Ad signage?

And then it hit me:

Dad's Very Own Ad Space

Dad’s Very Own Ad Space

  • Douglas Jones

    Wow, the Ricketts have really prepared the ground to gain public financing of a Wrigley renovation by executing a set of savvy PR moves, haven’t they? Jumbotron? Clods.
    It’s very amusing to contemplate the moment Epstein signed his contract. Wasn’t there a voice itching away in the back of his mind, whispering “Sure, you’ll be rich, but your reputation as a genius baseball executive is about to turn into runny shit?”
    Well, perhaps it should have.

  • Jay Henderson

    As a Cubs fan, you don’t know what you’re talking on the $43 million. They had a bloated payroll (third highest behind NY and Boston) because the previous president bought a lot of “talent” to try to buy a world series. Epstein is building from the ground up and rebuilding the crapped out minor league system.

    As far as the “threat” to move to Rosemont, it’s posturing just for negotiations. The Ricketts have put a lot of money into Wrigley and the renovations they’re doing are mostly focused on restoring it to a more original look. As far as needing more revenue to win the world series, well he’s not exactly lying. The more revenue you generate the more you can put back into the system. Maybe he just wants more money, maybe he’s a terrible guy, but your comments are pretty far off.

    They are also still negotiating on the Jumbotron, 6000 is the upper end. It’s not like he’s going to start with a lowball offer. That’s just business.

    • mrbrink

      Ha. Theo Epstein coming in and getting to work cutting team payroll and firing the traveling press secretary was a bold move.

      I never said I disagreed with the proposal. They bought that prime piece of land that McDonalds currently occupies. That Taco Bell and under achieving parking lot they’re sitting on across from there is another great waste of space. That whole corner is a goldmine. But architecturally speaking, this whole old-is-new, red-brick-clock-tower urban development planning is a little corny and faux nostalgic. Suburban gated community in the heart of the city. It’s impractical and manipulatively dated. Putting Hotels on Park Place is all fun and games, though. They have this crazy idea that if you build a ballpark that looks just like Wrigley Field, they will come, and no one will care. Someone tried to do it in Schaumburg and they ended up auctioning off the Flyers.

      I care about this stuff. I was born in now-demolished Ravenswood hospital, a block away from Chicago Northside Church. My father and his father are buried at Graceland cemetery. I’m from the area and I care about this stuff.

      And yes, they weren’t able to muscle the city out of its taxpayer bonds, they tried and were rejected. So they’re offering to foot the bill, but your mistake is thinking that they demand nothing in return.

      They’re demanding land. Land. A real estate gimmie. Expansion: up, up and out.

      A veritable Rickettsville takeover of Wrigleyville.

      And that’s fine, too. It’s not unprecedented, obviously. But they are demanding land for their very profitable white people problems in turning the surrounding area into a place where a Cubs fan, or anyone else can go to give their money to Joe and Tom and Pete for their $10 million dollar political ad buys and triumphant runs for office while a baby faced farm team with no bona fide MVP, or Cy Young winner takes the field and loses 95 games every year. Cutting payroll and loading up the executives and vice chairmanships and turning an historic landmark outfield into ass is about par for the course in corporate America.

      But where I come from, threatening to move the Cubs from 1060 W. Addison is nothing short of bloody sacrilege. I don’t care who you talk to.

      • Jay Henderson

        Not sure what you mean about the press secretary. A lot of the payroll was cut by trading overpriced under-performing vets (Marlon Byrd etc.) They’ve spent a ton in the minor league system since they have maybe one or two prospects left. They signed Soler from Cuba for something like $30 million. They signed Rizzo and Castro to long term deals. My point was that just because they cut payroll doesn’t mean they’re trying to be cheap. We had a lot of dead money on the roster (with Sori and Marmol leaving at the end of the year it’ll come down even more).

        They’re building a new spring training facility (partially funded by the city of Mesa), they’re building new camps and training facilities in the Dominican. They’re spending a LOT of money because the previous owners didn’t.

        My understanding was that they already owned the land and they just wanted permission to build it. And Wrigley is falling to pieces, it needs $500 million (at least). The plans to build in that area existed before Ricketts bought the team.

        And they never were serious about moving the team. That was just a bluff because of one alderman who was blocking progress for the proposals. A certain alderman that gets lots of campaign donations from the rooftop club owners. Nothing wrong with a bluff like that if it gets the fans what they want over the rooftop drunks.

        Really my whole point was this: Just because you don’t like someone’s politics doesn’t mean you should jump into what they’re doing in their business. Bob doesn’t know anything about the cubs or Wrigleyville (just a guess). He probably doesn’t know Marlon Byrd from Anthony Rizzo, he doesn’t know about the Soler signing, etc etc. He just went off on a pissy little rant. I like the stuff I read here and I agree with Bob pretty much all the time. But this was just a bad piece of writing and general get off my damn lawn crankiness.

        • mrbrink

          Marlon Byrd just threw out Darwin Barney at the plate last week in a Cubs loss against the Mets. Just saying.

          And they signed Soler to a $30 million deal to win a world series for AAA Iowa? Soler recently chased the opposing team with a baseball bat. That guy has anger issues. A huge red flag. A dubious investment at best and wasting space in the minors at the very least.

          These guys, the Ricketts, Epstein, Hoyer, etc.– are not people-persons, Jay. They are number crunchers, and poor ones at that. What was Boston’s payroll when they won the World Series with Theo, Jay? They were second. They had the second highest payroll in baseball at the time(s) they won in 04′ and 07′. They weren’t trying to win on the cheap.

          You said: And Wrigley is falling to pieces, it needs $500 million (at least).

          And their response to this ‘falling apart of Wrigley’ is a 6000 sq. ft. Jumbotron?

          The men in the Cubs organization are not hiding their politics, so they have forfeited their grace period. Joe Ricketts is the head of household and he sought to squander millions down the rat hole of negative political ad buys. Not exactly a savvy business move. And Pete wants to be a Republican Senator. And Tom is threatening to move an historic franchise if we don’t give him what he demands, which is, land rights. Threats are no way to run a business, Jay, and no way to respond to the people of the city you claim to call your community. The Ricketts men have used threats as a means to negotiate on several occasions. They’ve grabbed the bat and are chasing down their opposition.

          And lastly, Bob didn’t write this, so his not knowing about why Marmol, who throws one of the best sliders in the game was misused as a closer, or why signing an unproven Rizzo is a gamble, or why Soriano’s contract is just an excuse to go cheaper– doesn’t matter. I know about this stuff.

          My whole point is that just because you don’t care about someone’s politics doesn’t mean you should ignore their questionable methods and terrible, contemptible politics.

          I relish the discussion, Jay. Much obliged.

  • muselet

    Tom Ricketts gives the game away with this: “…if we don’t have the ability to generate revenue in our own outfield …”

    It’s all about maximizing the cashflow. Most profitable franchise in baseball and a payroll reduced by $43M? Bigger broadcast deals and a super-sized, programmable billboard nobody can ignore coming soon? Won’t be enough. It’s never enough.

    “Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the home opener for your Baton Rouge Cubs!”


  • D_C_Wilson

    “to distract from the diminished quality of personnel on the field”

    Well, in fairness, it is the Cubs, so most people probably didn’t notice any decline in quality from their usual terrible playing.

    So, how much of that $500 million in renovations will the Ricketts be paying out of their own pockets and how much will they be expecting the taxpayers to fork over?

  • trgahan

    Funny how these guys buy their way into profitable franchises (Jerry Jones and Daniel Snyder are good NFL examples) with loyal fan bases then fleece the hell out of them using the “I’ll move them!” trump card anytime someone tries to stand up to them. Great example of the self-perpetuating cycle of our “free market” system that lets the already wealthly continually rig the game.

    • Christopher Foxx

      Only because we let them. The correct answer to “I’ll move them!” is “Go ahead!”

  • Bob Rutledge

    A 6000′ Jumbotron?

    • Jay Henderson

      square feet :)

      • Bob Rutledge

        Well, that makes much more sense. :)