I headed down to the first of four Season Ticket Holder events that the Cubs are putting on today and tomorrow at the Bank of America Theatre downtown. I met up with Ivy Chat Chuck (who I hope will also write his perspective) and we bumped into Tom Ricketts before the show started. As I shook his hand, I realized I was wearing my Cubbie Facepalm hat and I'm 99% sure he noticed it. So the snowball's chance in hell I ever had of being employed by the Cubs one day just melted. He was very nice and it turned out he and Chuck had some common acquaintances so that saved me from potentially having an awkward conversation about copyright infringement and what constitutes parody.
As far as the event went, I kind of figured that we would be treated to some very tightly orchestrated talking points, since that has historically been one of the few things the Cubs do well, but I have to say that Crane and Theo brought their A Games.
I'll put it this way: If we had played a drinking game involving any variations of the following words – loyalty, patience, progress, or committed – I would probably be dead of alcohol poisoning before Crane Kenney even finished his part.
Crane did his best to come off warm and genial, but you can't ever really spend any amount of time near Crane without getting the distinct idea that he would rather be involved in a ripping game of squash or seeing his prize horse performing dressage than talking about the Cubs with the unwashed sea of humanity dressed in Cubs paraphernalia. Not that I completely blame him. I'd rather do almost anything than discuss the Cubs with the vast majority of people who claim to be the teams' best fans.
Crane came out swinging with lots of COMMITTED talk. COMMITTED to winning a World Series. COMMITTED to renovating and preserving Wrigley. COMMITTED to being better neighbors in the community. Things we have all heard from them many times before because, as season ticket holders, we are so LOYAL and PATIENT and our LOYALTY and PATIENCE will be rewarded eventually due to the PROGRESS the COMMITTED Cubs have made and they are thankful for our continuing PATIENCE and LOYALTY as the PROGRESS is made. COMMITTED!
He quickly brushed past mentioning the negatives to the PROGRESS like a hurricane in the Dominican, Chicago politics, litigious rooftop owners and losses on the field. He moved swiftly towards tangible signs of PROGRESS like Baez, Bryant, and Almora and how they are now ranked the 2nd best farm system by Baseball Prospectus.
He claims no team has spent more than the Cubs in the last 4 years (under the Ricketts) on the draft and international spending. Some quick dirty calculations in my head make that seem plausible, but someone can feel free to fact check that statement if they feel so inclined.
He said that since the Ricketts have owned the team, they have hired 69 people on the business operations side and 64 people on the baseball operations side. This truly is PROGRESS, in my opinion, as they did inherit what has widely been acknowledged as the smallest front office in the major leagues.
They interspersed the live talking points with some slick promotional videos. One of them was narrated by someone who either is the movie voiceover guy ("In a world where fans are PATIENT and LOYAL, the LOYALTY and PATIENCE leads to PROGRESS because of the Cubs' COMMITMENT… ") or someone who does a hell of an impression.
Another one was narrated by Gary Sinise. Spare no expense.
There was a nice montage that inexplicably showed Starlin Castro fielding and Darwin Barney hitting. There also appears to be only one highlight of Junior Lake because we saw the same footage of him connecting and watching an apparent homerun at least three times in the course of all the videos. PROGRESS!
Crane continued to pound home that PROGRESS can only continue if they remain COMMITTED to the renovation process that has been slower than they'd like, but stressed that PATIENCE is required and they were already so thankful for our LOYALTY through the process.
One point he made about the Cubs' competitive disadvantage while Wrigley is in the unrenovated state is that they start each year in a $40 million hole each year. I missed all the reasons he gave for that as I tried to get my notes on my phone, but the two big ones were maintenance costs to keep Wrigley from falling apart (my words) and lost revenue to the rooftops (Crane's). This last statement raised some eyebrows as Crane has apparently taken the gloves off when discussing the Cubs' rooftop "partners." LOYALTY!
That provided a nice segue to a video hosted by Len Kasper that highlighted the features of the renovated ballpark. It was a virtual tour around a model they've built. I'll say that if they ever get the damn renovations completed, Wrigley and the surrounding amenities will be pretty sweet. PATIENCE!
Crane then started talking up the exciting things they have planned for the 100 year anniversary season of Wrigley. They are calling it the Party of the Century and since Crane says he likely won't live to see the next 100 year anniversary, he's planning on having an extended celebration all season. My Crane-to-English decoder ring indicates to me that they plan to milk the ever-loving shit out of this anniversary. COMMITTED!
They'll have regular bobblehead giveaway Fridays as well as Throwback Sundays where they'll wear uniforms from various periods in Cubs history and go so far as to have themed food from the specific periods they represent. So I think that means that when they pay homage to the 1940s uniforms, they'll serve hot dogs that were manufactured in the 1940s. I'm not sure. I could be wrong about that. PROGRESS?
Crane wrapped up his bit by announcing that as a thank you for our LOYALTY and PATIENCE, everyone in attendance will receive a free hat with the Wrigley 100th Anniversary logo. FREE HAT! COMMITTED!
Then it was time for Theo. Thank God.
Theo opened by saying that when he first took the job, a friend told him, "It takes great courage to be PATIENT." He then told us how true that has turned out to be and that we are the ones who are truly courageous for sitting through the last two years and he thanked us for our LOYALTY and PATIENCE. He went on to say that we inspire him and his team to "work day and night to put a team on the field worthy of your support." COMMITTED!
Now, I don't know what it is, but when Theo says stuff like that, there is an air of believability that Crane simply doesn't have. Maybe it's because we know Crane was a part of the old bullshit they used to feed us about being only "a few good moves away from contention." Maybe it's just because I WANT to believe Theo. I don't know, but that's how it comes off. PROGRESS!
He talked about the recent World Series and said that 35 of the 50 guys on the final World Series rosters were either developed by the team or acquired in trades involving guys who were homegrown. He praised both teams, but then cut it short because he
loved it "took an oath to Tom Ricketts to hate the Cardinals." Theo knows how to play to this audience. COMMITTED!
He then talked about how he thought the Cubs of the 60s were so beloved because so many of that "core" came up together and grew together and won (sort of) together. He wants to have that same situation happen soon where fans can start seeing the young core play together and begin to win together over many seasons. LOYALTY!
So far, I wasn't getting a real big vibe that they're going to make any big name free agent signings. He went on to explain the importance of homegrown talent from a different angle when he said that the average peak of a player is around 27 years old. He said the average age of a free agent is 32 years old, so obtaining impact talent at or near the peak of production is extremely rare. PATIENCE!
He also said that from 2002 to 2011, the Cubs are dead last in major league production from those drafts, which segued him into why they have traded so many veterans in the first 2 years as they try to gather younger, cost controlled talent. At this point, they have traded 8 veterans with 4 years of control combined for 14 players with 78 years of control. PROGRESS!
He conceded that there is a cost to their methods in reference to losses on the field in August and September. So, he concluded, "[The strategy] better serve a higher purpose and it better work." COMMITTED!
There was a video highlighting the young potential future stars Bryant, Baez, Almora, Soler, and CJ Edwards (who Theo called the centerpiece of the Garza trade, rather than Olt, who never got mentioned in this session). I have to say, the video did a good job of building up the hopes and dreams of seeing those guys punish baseballs and strike out opponents at Wrigley. PATIENCE!
There was also, what I can only assume was a very hastily produced video introducing Rick Renteria to fans as the new manager where he discussed what a positive person he is and how he looks for teaching opportunities when players make errors or lose focus or whatever. He seemed like a person who would be very good at working with young players and someone who will not satisfy the meatballs who will want him to scream and curse and threaten to murder Starlin Castro when he commits the grave sin of dropping a ground ball. PROGRESS!
He also talked about how he had not done a good job in providing an atmosphere at the major league level for players to continue to develop into winners, and that was the key reason for the managerial change. PATIENCE!
There were then some questions from Dave Kaplan and the fans themselves who, despite's Kap's repeated pleas to keep questions "concise," the fans still managed to tell rambling stories before eventually getting around to asking a question.
My phone was dying by that point, so I don't have further notes, but I can assure you that the answers given by both Crane and Theo almost universally pivoted back to at least one of the major themes: LOYALTY! PATIENCE! PROGRESS! COMMITTED!
It was a good show and I don't know how it is going to play with the general group of season ticket holders, but they were COMMITTED to pounding the message of LOYALTY and PROGRESS into their brains. By the way, the 10% deposit for season ticket accounts is due in a week. Somehow I have a feeling they won't show quite as much PATIENCE if that deadline is missed.
Other coverage of the event: