The Cubs released more renderings of what they would like Wrigley to look like after the renovations they've been planning for four years are complete. There was nothing earth-shattering. We already knew what a jumbo video board would theoretically look like thanks to amateur fans with Photoshop skills. This version had lights on the top of it. Neat.
Of course, Tom Ricketts spoke optimistically that these plans would eventually come to fruition. He expressed confidence in the work they had already done with Tom Tunney and Rahm Emanuel to hash out the outlines of a plan that could get final approval from the next 800 layers of Chicago government bureaucracy. This presentation was barely any more interesting than any of the other renovation presentations the Cubs have subjected us to over the last four years.
Except for one little Ricketts quote, per the Chicago Tribune:
"I'm not sure how anyone is going to stop the signs in the outfield, but if it comes to the point that we don't have the ability to do what we need to do in our outfield then we're going to have to consider moving. It's as simple as that."
And that is pretty much all anyone has taken from the whole shebang.
The Tribune headline:
Ricketts threatens to move Cubs without OK for Wrigley upgrades
Tom Ricketts threatens to take Cubs and go elsewhere
The Daily Herald:
Cubs chairman threatens to move team from Wrigley Field
ESPN Chicago actually played it cooler:
Cubs may ponder Wrigley exit
But then I saw the URL that indicated a much stronger headline from earlier in the day: http://espn.go.com/chicago/mlb/story/_/id/9230531/tom-ricketts-chicago-cubs-threatens-leave-wrigley-field-outfield-signage-not-approved
OH MY GOD!! RICKETTS IS A MONSTER!!!
At least, that is the sense most fans are given when, at some point in the day, every single major media outlet covering the Cubs screamed a variation of the word "threaten" to describe Tom Ricketts' quote as they strove to drive traffic to their sites.
But is it really a "threat?" The media seems to want to have you believe it is. And they also seem to think it is an empty one. The collective clucking of the tongues at Tom Ricketts' perceived impudence is almost deafening.
If you're up early Thursday, check me out on CBS This Morning with Charlie Rose and Gayle King talking Cubs and empty threats.
— Gordon Wittenmyer (@GDubCub) May 2, 2013
Threatening to leave Wrigley Field nothing new. Tribune Co. did it all the time trying to get lights.trib.in/ZASyfI
— Paul Sullivan (@PWSullivan) May 2, 2013
Once again, Ricketts overplays his hand. He'll move Cubs the same day he extends Soriano's contract.
— Gene Wojciechowski (@GenoEspn) May 2, 2013
Nothing sillier than threat 2 abandon $ cow, undermine value of franchise & real estate just b/c can't get everything Goldilocks-style #Cubs
— Christina Kahrl (@ChristinaKahrl) May 2, 2013
Tack on about a billion similar tweets from riled-up fans, and the consensus is that the Earth will plunge into the sun before the Cubs would EVER leave Wrigley.
The problem is that Wrigley won't exist forever. There is a time coming when Wrigley will eventually start falling apart again and fans will be in physical danger if they set foot in the place. It's almost a certainty. Those nets aren't hanging there as some reminder of the Golden Age of Baseball where all the stadiums had nets to protect fans from falling concrete. As I said in the comments the other day, the place is LITERALLY falling apart. Not figuratively. Actual concrete is actually crumbling. This is not a condition that tends to fix itself over time. Something must be done or somebody will end up getting hurt. And soon.
It is clear the Cubs will not get government funding like many other sports teams have received over the years. You can argue whether that is right or wrong, but no matter your opinion, it isn't an option for the Cubs. Period.
The new plan involves the Cubs paying for it themselves, but then being allowed to run their business like a normal business without a billion roadblocks in their way intended to benefit everyone in the neighborhood but the Cubs. They want a few extra night games and the ability to charge corporations for placing some signs in their ballpark. You know, LIKE EVERY OTHER MAJOR LEAGUE TEAM THAT HAS EVER EXISTED. But nothing about that plan is certain. The rooftops have been talking about suing and you can bank on someone that needs to give approval will hold this up for their own agenda. This is Chicago, afterall, lest we forget.
So Ricketts is confident, but Ricketts is a Cubs fan. He knows what it is like to be five outs away from the World Series with a three-run lead and your ace on the mound and have everything go to hell. So what happens if it does?
What options are left? They can't get government funding and they won't be allowed to do it themselves (and let's not pretend that any owner anywhere would do this deal without having increased revenue streams to make it worth their whiles).
The options left on the table would then be: 1) Stay at Wrigley as is or 2) Move somewhere else.
They can only stay at Wrigley for so long. Meanwhile it will continue to be a dump for their players (a point that will be even more blatant when they start training in their state-of-the-art facility in Mesa, Arizona during the Spring) and they'll continue to be handcuffed by shitty advertising and TV revenues because nothing will have changed from the way it is today. Hooray. What a lovely option.
Seriously, the Cubs get pounded left and right for not acting like a "major market" team, but they aren't one. Not anymore. The scope of the game's economics has changed and selling 3 million tickets a year doesn't automatically put you in the "major market" class.
Don't get me wrong, the team will get better than what they're putting out there now. They almost have to be once they restock the farm system at all the levels, but what sold Ricketts and a large portion of fans on the rebuild was that the Cubs would rebuild a core "the right way" and then use their significant financial muscles to add on where other teams in the division won't be able to afford to. Except now, the Cubs' financial muscles will be flabby and they won't be able to lift a wallet much better than what the Cardinals can do. That's a nice step forward as an organization, but I personally want to beat the fucking Cardinals. Regularly.
And even if that is all doom and gloom, how many years do we think Wrigley has left in it? Like I said, it is already literally falling apart. I shudder to think what some of the support structures might look like in the places of the stadium we don't see. Wrigley has a finite amount of time left and I'm of the opinion that time period is a lot shorter than anybody really wants to admit. The reason the price tag on this renovation is $500 million is because they aren't just slapping a coat of paint on it and calling it renovated. They'll be replacing or stabilizing key parts of the structure as well as digging out entire new areas under existing structures that were built on the understanding that solid ground would be below. That's going to take additional reinforcement. That gets expensive.
The only other stadium besides Fenway I could think of that was in a similar situation to Wrigley was Tiger Stadium. It was a beloved stadium that many Tigers fans still sorely miss, but the Tigers moved instead of renovating. I got to wondering why. I found out through my Google machine that they had a couple of plans that would have been cheaper than the $300 million they ended up spending on Comerica Park.
One was the Cochrane Plan for an estimated $26 million:
The Tiger Stadium Fan Club, which claims 12,000 members, last year presented the lower-budget Cochrane Plan to the Tigers. The plan would:
- Leave the first and second decks unchanged, including view-obstructing posts in front of some seats.
- Build a third deck that would add 73 luxury suites.
- Expand clubhouse, concession, rest room and office space.
That doesn't seem to address many structural issues. It sounds like they were just going to tack on a third deck onto an almost 100-year old stadium, so that doesn't sound overly sound to me and probably would have ended up costing a lot more than the $26 million estimated price tag.
A second renovation plan, proposed by Ann Arbor contractor Joe O'Neal and Birmingham architect Gunnar Birkerts, would cost $70 million-$95 million. Without interrupting play at the ballpark, that plan over three to four years would:
- Remove all the support posts.
- Expand concessions and restrooms.
- Add a 400-seat stadium club and 200 luxury boxes.
This sounds closer to what the Cubs are planning, but it still doesn't involve changing the footprint of the stadium as the Cubs' does, nor does it involve digging under the existing structure and field.
At the end of the day, both plans seemed more or less like putting lipstick on a pig. They would be extending the use of the stadium for a few years through those changes, but eventually Tiger Stadium would fundamentally fail as old structures tend to do. Maybe that is why the Tigers ultimately didn't go that route. I'm sure the public funding of the new stadium, combined with the neighborhood around Tiger Stadium crumbling around it played into that decision as well.
But from what I'm seeing, it didn't look like there was a real viable long term plan to stay in Tiger Stadium even if the ownership and the city had been interested in doing so. Hence, they moved.
Likewise, if the Wrigleyville neighbors or greedy politicians submarine the latest plan to stay at Wrigley, I don't see any more long-term options for Wrigley Field. This is not Tom Ricketts necessarily saying he desires to take his ball and go home. He's saying that's what's left if this plan doesn't come together.
Everybody saying the Cubs moving would lose the loyalty of thousands of fans is correct. Finding a long-term viable solution to stay in Wrigley is the best solution for all the parties involved. But if that option is closed down, then what's left? Moving elsewhere. It's the only option that would be left on the table. It's not a threat. It's a fact.
Since writing most of this, the voice of the rooftops, Beth Murphy, has expressed optimism that maybe the Cubs and the rooftops can live happily ever after. Per Paul Sullivan:
“I think we’re at a point in the process where we’re just going to have to work out the details (of the plan),” Murphy said. “I no longer believe the Cubs want to block us. I wasn’t sure before, but I no longer believe that. I truly am optimistic they want to work this out.”
I don't know what Crane said or did to elicit that kind of quote from Murphy, but that right there may be the most productive thing he has ever done in his tenure with the Cubs. This is probably on par with if Alex Gonzalez had actually managed to turn that double play ball.
I'm not celebrating a done deal yet, but if she holds with this attitude (assuming the rest of the rooftops are also likewise impressed with Crane Kenny's… um… sincerity), this goes a long way to avoiding the doomsday scenario where the Cubs actually would have to start looking at other locations.