We've heard Tom Ricketts stomp his feet & tell everyone to get out of his way. Ald. Tunney has given the familiar refrain about parking & security, (surprised he didn't throw in "better schools" for good measure). We've heard (too much) from the rooftop owners. Springfield - still sour about the New Comiskey fiasco – won’t even look in this direction. M-Rahm just wants this mess to go away. Crane Kenney continues to embarrass himself & insult our intelligence by insisting this is a "historic restoration." And we've read management-approved, canned quotes from players about "bringing Wrigley into the modern era." But in all that noise, why haven’t we heard a word from the fans?
Ricketts has done one thing successfully - creating the most apathetic, uninvolved & undemanding fan base possible. Over the past few years, the third-generation die-hards have quietly been turning in their season tickets. The knowledgeable, fun, loud, (and sometimes offensive,) regulars that used to pack the park & make game day such a raucously enjoyable experience have disappeared. In their place, we've found a ballpark full of expense account-toting managers in their striped button-downs, teenage girls posting self-portraits on Facebook, and a few drunken college bros who are confused by the ramp system. And let's not forget the legions of first-timers still traveling to Wrigley from out-of-state, a bit thrown-off by the lethargic atmosphere they encounter. But don't worry about them - they'll stop coming soon, too.
At what point did we just stop caring? At what point did us fans decide that it didn't matter anymore, that we would just let the billionaire's son turn our neighborhood park into his personal ATM machine? Following Tom Ricketts' proposal to turn Wrigley Field into a flashing, baseball-themed amusement park, the most common response from Cubs fans has been simply one of resignation. Just a few years ago such short-sighted, insensitive additions to Wrigley would've been met with arms linked & Clubs raised. The ubiquitous "No Lights!" signs of the 1980s would've reappeared across the neighborhood. Tribune editorialists would've elbowed each other out of the way over who could be the most outraged. Fans in modern ballparks like Milwaukee would've snickered into their beer cups saying "wait, you want to be more like us?" But now, Cub fans just don't have the energy to fight back. "It could be worse," we say, moving on to other concerns. Ricketts has trained us into having no expectations for our team, and an even lower standard for its owners.
Tom Ricketts loves to repeat his line that he "just wants to be able to run his business like a business," because he "bought a private business, not a museum." Spare us the lies. When you purchased a community institution like the Chicago Cubs, you were never naïve enough to think you were buying an Al's Beef franchise. The Cubs have thrived for so many generations because of the passionate support of their fans. Professional sports is a give-and-take relationship - Ricketts can't expect to get whatever he wants without repercussions, simply because he bangs his spoon on the table loud enough. Does Wrigley need a bit of a face-lift? Definitely. But the proposed alterations to Wrigley go beyond what is necessary or even tolerable. They cover up the very exact atmosphere & charm that the Cubs spend so much time promoting. The renovations gut the very soul of a stadium that has survived so long because of its character, not in spite of it.
Wrigley Field is an incredible asset for the future, not some impediment from the past. For an organization with such a unique home, we sure haven't heard much in the way of independent thinking. Everything from the Front Office is about imitating other stadiums, rather than enhancing the one-of-a-kind ballpark we already have. When it comes to putting fans (& dollar signs) in the seats, Wrigley gives the Cubs a natural competitive advantage over every stadium in America that other teams would kill for. Despite all the talk of a need for a jumbotron & "modern amenities" to keep up with other stadiums, fans travel across the country to Wrigley precisely because it doesn't include all these modern additions. For nearly a century now Wrigley has (successfully) operated on the radical premise that fans might come out to a game on a nice afternoon to actually watch baseball, without the contrived distractions & cheap side shows.
The most reliable formula for increasing revenue is quite simple - put a winning product on the field. Hiring Theo was a step in the right direction - now let him start building a winning lineup. Stop trying to fool us with the notion that Wrigley needs to produce even more revenue, because more revenue will mean more wins. Remember 2010? Our $146 million payroll (3rd highest,) earned us a whopping 75 wins, good for 5th place. Story wasn't much different the year before, or the year after. Dollar signs don't equal wins, Tom.
If Ricketts wants to keep shouting unimaginative threats of moving the team to Rosemont or Schaumburg, let him. Run off to Memphis for all we care. He’s spitting in the face of the dedicated fans who have kept this hapless team afloat for years, and not for the first time. There's a healthy fan base right here on the North Side - pockets stuffed with ticket & beer money - just waiting for an organization worth caring about again. Waiting for an owner who realizes that in the long run a good shortstop is far more valuable than a "branding opportunity," (or 41,000 square feet of them).
Hopefully Ricketts will remember those younger days in the bleachers he loves to tell us stories about. Hopefully he’ll recognize what an irreplaceable ballpark he has, before there's nothing left of it.