Sunday, June 27, 2010

Wrigley costs the Cubs wins, Mr. Ricketts

Let me first note how gracious it was of Mr. Ricketts to respond personally to my letter. As Mr. Ricketts noted in his response, there are many demands on his time due to his position as owner of a Major League Baseball club.

My first point was to suggest a major renovation of Wrigley Field's main grandstand, which I believe has fallen into disrepair. Mr. Ricketts assured me it is perfectly safe. I'm sure he is right. But that solves barely half the problem. The Cubs currently charge top-tier prices (highest in the National League) for a third-rate fan experience. Any baseball fan fortunate enough to visit one of the 24 Major League ballparks built in the last 20 years notices significant differences right away: wide concourses, ample concessions and gift shoppes, clear sight-lines, and fan-friendly scoreboards and video boards. Also, from the owner's standpoint, Wrigley Field cannot produce revenue streams from luxury suites, club levels and VIP seating that other clubs enjoy. Wrigley looks and feels like a 96-year-old ballpark ill-equipped to handle large crowds 81 times a year. Only a major renovation with a rebuilt grandstand, I believe, will bring the Cubs to their rivals' level. Mr. Ricketts seems to think otherwise.

My second point is more serious and more pressing because I believe it affects the Cubs' on-field performance. I humbly suggested to Mr. Ricketts that he lobby the Cubs' alderman for more night games. Bigger crowds, higher television ratings, more television revenue, and fans being able to see games without leaving work early are all benefits of an expanded night-game schedule. The Cubs are also at a competitive disadvantage from playing 45 percent fewer home night games than their rivals. Whether it's five consecutive matinée starts (June 30 - July 4, 2010) or too many night games followed by day games, the players' rhythm is thrown off by their matinée-heavy home schedule. If the shortage of home night games costs the Cubs five wins a year, that's too many. I think it's a lot more. The new ownership group should be doing everything within its power to bring a World Series championship to Wrigley Field. I understand Mr. Ricketts wants to be a "good neighbor," as he put it. But that should not be his first priority. His first priority should be a World Series championship.

Furthermore, it seems the alderman and Hizzoner Da Mare have raised the community concerns regarding night games to mythological levels. Is the whole community against night games? Or is it the Little Old Lady at Addison and Southport? I would love to see a poll of the community; the Cubs might be pleasantly surprised. I attended a community meeting in November, 2003 regarding a proposed increase in night games. Despite the opposition's strong organization--by then it had been functioning for more than 20 years--attendees were overwhelmingly in favor of more night games. "Why stop at 30?" one man asked to resounding cheers. The Cubs have been in the neighborhood since 1916 and have hosted night games since 1988. A whole generation of children--the usual reason given for night-game restrictions--has grown up with night baseball in Lakeview. The Cubs' owners in the 1980's made a grave mistake agreeing to night game limits, and that is now restraining the Cubs' ability to win games.

Forcing fans, especially season ticket-holders, to miss work to attend games is elitist. The White Sox play three games during the business day this season (other than Opening Day, a traditional matinée). The Cubs play 27. Would a fan making a game-day decision prefer a game in the afternoon heat or an evening start with a breeze blowing in off the lake? Through 27 home dates (June 12), the Chicago Tribune reports Cubs' attendance is down 1233 fans from 2009, which the Tribune estimates is a $1.2 million hit to the Cubs' bottom line. That's serious cash, especially when one considers the Cubs are holding the three worst contracts in Major League Baseball: Carlos Zambrano, Aramis Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano. The Cubs cannot afford to wait for the current 30 night-game agreement to expire after the 2018 season. Despite Mr. Ricketts' desire to be "good neighbors," the Cubs need to act sooner rather than later. The one constant difference between the Cubs and the 26 teams that have won pennants since 1945 is night baseball. Yes, the Cubs' ownership was cheap and negligent for decades. Yes, the Cubs have had terrible luck. But the Cubs always play with a significant disadvantage because when other teams were busy installing lights and moving to a majority night-game schedule, the Wrigleys stuck it out. Cubs fans are still paying for that 65-year-old mistake.

Remember that banner some Cubs fans paraded through Wrigley Field in 1984? "39 Years of Suffering is Over," it said, referring to the pennant drought.

No, it isn't. And now it's 65 years. 102 years if one is counting championships.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Mr. Ricketts writes back

On Feb. 12, I wrote a letter to Tom Ricketts, the new owner of the Chicago Cubs. In this letter, I suggested the Cubs need a complete ballpark renovation and a full night-game schedule to compete on even terms with their rivals. On June 7, Mr. Ricketts wrote back. Here is his letter:

As you can imagine, the past year has been a busy one for the Ricketts Family. Words cannot describe how excited we all are to finally be a part of this great franchise. Because of all the activities involved with taking ownership of the Cubs, I have been unable to answer my personal mail as quickly as I would have liked. Now that the season is well under way, replying to this mail has become my next priority.

I read with great interest your suggestions on improving Wrigley Field. After meeting with various structural engineers, we have been assured that Wrigley has 'good bones.' It is our goal to reinvest the profits back into the stadium to preserve the Wrigley experience for the next generation. We have already begun some of these upgrades such as improved restrooms, a batting tunnel arcade, a new and expanded weight room, kitchen and nutrition center as well as a players' lounge. But, because it is a 100-year-old park, it will take time to implement all the changes that are desired.

At the current time, there are no plans to add more night games to our schedule. We want to be good neighbors and part of the community so we need to be respectful of the neighborhood we 'live' in. However, we have not ruled out possibly adding more night games in the future.

Thank you so much for taking the time to write. It is always a pleasure to hear from a fellow Cub fan.


[signed: Tom]

Tom Ricketts

Can mikvah use save the world?

A group of Jews in Borough Park and Petak-Tivka are spreading the message that the answer to our problems is for Jewish men and women to use the mikvah ritual immersion pool on a regular basis. They add that a Jewish family should spend on mikvah outreach the amount it spends annually on its own mikvah use. Mikva-Tikva estimates this to be $250-$500, which is probably accurate. (A woman who is neither pregnant nor nursing might spend $250 for the year; her husband's annual pass would probably cost the same.) The organization also advises against: using non-Hebrew names; smoking in public; and buying foreign cars.

When these men came on a fundraising visit to a shul where I was davening shacharis, one member used the term "silver bullet." He's probably right. Mikvah use can be very inspiring and fulfilling for men and women. It's a step in the right direction. But it won't solve all our problems.

One minor note: automobiles with Big Three nameplates have so many foreign-made parts; and so many foreign automakers produce vehicles in the U.S.--that the difference between a domestic and foreign automobile is no longer so clear. A Chrysler can have a German engine, and a Honda can be shipped all the way from Kentucky.

They're right about smoking. Limiting smoking in any way--not on shabbos, not with others, not indoors--reduces usage. And that is a critical step to a healthier, smoke-free lifestyle.

4 years in captivity for Gilad Shalit

Hamas terrorists captured Cpl. Gilad Shalit on June 25, 2006. Hamas released a one-minute video of Shalit last year proving he is still alive. He has had no contact with the outside world--no visits by neutral parties, the Red Cross, or medical attention. Besides being a violation of the Geneva Convention, as Stand With Us points out, it is outrageous and disgusting that a human being is being subjected to being held hostage by a terrorist group simply because he was an Israeli soldier.

The demands by Stand With Us are legitimate. One conversation. One doctor. One Red Cross visit. The continuing hostage crisis is not tenable. Hamas has no interest in giving up Shalit other than possibly exchanging him for hundreds of terrorist prisoners being held by Israel, most with blood on their hands. This would merely encourage the terrorists to repeat the kidnapping. Shalit does not deserve to be the Terry Anderson of this decade. (Anderson was held by Hezbollah for six years in Lebanon in the 1980's.) Besides the clear existential threat Iran presents, the Israeli government and military should turn their attention to bringing Shalit home. This would necessarily include aggressive military action against Hamas.

I realize this didn't work last time. But Israel's mistake was ending its operation without securing Shalit's freedom. Bring Gilad home, Israel. We're all counting on you.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Is registration safer?

In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, Mayor Richard M. Daley seems resigned to his favorite law's fate. Chicago's 28-year-old handgun ban, enacted with the hope of reducing violent crime, will most likely be overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court before it adjourns for the summer. In the interview, Hizzoner Da Mare indicated he will require handgun registration. This is necessary, he says, to protect emergency response teams who need to know if a home is armed.

In another report, the same newspaper estimated there are 100,000 illegal handguns in homes all over Chicago. Obviously, most of these are not registered because it is currently impossible to register a new handgun legally in Chicago. (Handguns owned before the ban went into effect are legal.) Let's say there are one million households in Chicago. Maybe ten percent of these have guns. Once the ban is overturned and a registration law goes into effect, how many of these gun owners will bother to register them? Registration fee, licensing fee, fingerprinting fee--for a right that the Supreme Court says is really none of the city's business?

Mayor Daley can blather all he wants about the need for registration to protect cops and firefighters. When one considers that only a percentage (small percentage?) of handguns in the city will be registered, his pronouncements make about as much sense as his certainty that the handgun ban reduces crime.

Is it time for Ron Santo to go?

I had planned on questioning Ron Santo's intelligence on this page after reading that he said "rock scientist" instead of rocket scientist and "slime flu" instead of swine flu. If he really isn't familiar with the common American phrase "rocket scientist" and didn't peruse 2009's top news stories to learn what swine flu is, maybe he shouldn't be broadcasting Cubs games. On the other hand, this has been his job for 20 years. He turned 70 years old this year.

In a June 21 story, Chicago Tribune Sports reporter Dave Van Dyck wrote that Ron Santo will be cutting back on his travel schedule in 2011. He will most likely keep to a 300-mile travel radius, working Cubs games in Milwaukee, Cincinnati and St. Louis in addition to home games. The Tribune also printed two online postings from readers urging Santo to retire. Whether to keep him on or push him out was a topic on at least two different sports radio shows on June 21.

What is the issue? I was about to say that due to poor health, old age or low intelligence, Santo's contributions to the radio broadcast rarely rise above simple cheering good news for the Cubs or loudly lamenting the Cubs' woes. Apparently his delivery hasn't changed much in 20 years, so I'm afraid it's the latter. Most announcers, play-by-play and color, prepare for each game (or at least each series) by studying the opponent. There is no evidence Santo takes the time to do this. Most color commentators provide intelligence and wisdom to the game and valuable insight from their on-field experiences. Santo played Major League Baseball for about 15 years, but it's difficult to tell from listening to him during Cubs games.

I would suggest the Cubs move Santo to a weekly radio show in which he talks about the Cubs. But that would require intelligent thought and discussion on his part. So such a show is most likely over his head.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Self-defense in the city

Back when I was young, ignorant and naïve, I supported a national handgun ban. It sounds good in theory; guns kill people, so if there are no more guns, violence drops sharply. This theory works perfectly in Mayor Richard M. Daley's dream cloud.

In practice, there are 250 million guns in the U.S. About one-third of American households are armed. No one proposes sending the National Guard to conduct house-to-house search-and-confiscate missions, so those legally-owned guns are here to stay. Local handgun bans prove fruitless as legal weapons in the next town are portable.

During a period of living in the city unarmed, defenseless and dependent upon public transit, I realized weapons neutralize the thugs' physical superiority. Inside one's home, a gun-owners' advantage is even more pronounced. A home invader, desperate as he is for valuables and cash, isn't interested in a gunfight he may lose.

Two final notes.

I have never seen gun-ban advocates suggest that police be disarmed. So they understand intuitively that to keep the citizenry safe, someone needs to pack heat. Since the police can only respond to a violent crime in progress, that someone might as well be us law-abiding citizens.

There were two recent incidents in which Chicago residents defended themselves with weapons they owned illegally. One, an 80-year-old African-American war veteran, shot an intruder who shot out a window to enter his home. The other, a 27-year-old resident of South Austin, shot someone fleeing police who broke into his home. In both cases, Chicago Police did not charge the men with possession of illegal firearms. Why not? Because a citation or arrest--for men using firearms to protect their homes--would create a media sensation and embarrass the Office of the Mayor.

So the secret is out. Chicagoans need not fear prosecution for using handguns in self-defense--which is the reason law-abiding citizens purchase them.

The ash bin of history

There is a t-shirt that lists all the countries that tried to wipe out the Jews. Ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome, and more, up to the "previous German government," as I like to call it. It's a long list. And all those countries, incredibly, lie on the ash bin of history. Once great civilizations, some of the most advanced of their time, exist today only in history books.

It's a startling record for countries for which antisemitism played a major role in shaping domestic policy. One would think this list would also serve as a guide for countries in our era that make decisions regarding policies toward Jews. Sadly, too many countries, motivated by religious hatred, ignore the lessons of the past. They continue to treat their native Jewish population horribly (Iran) and/or arm Israel's enemies (Iran, Syria). Will their antisemitic efforts seal their fate?

Existence vs. co-existence

When debating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in writing or in person, any number of issues are available for debate: borders, Jerusalem, the two-state solution, the status of West Bank settlements.

These topics are worth discussing among individuals who support the existence of a state of Israel in its current location, with final borders to be determined. Unfortunately, there are far too many partisans who claim to be Palestinian rights or human rights activists who advocate for Israel's destruction.

There are several explanations for this deep-seated anti-Israel, antisemitic sentiment. For some (millions?), it is purely religious. They believe Jews have no right to live in the Middle East, much less run a country on some of the most sacred land on earth. Anti-religion leftists and socialists cannot accept a country that has so successfully wedded religion, democracy and a thriving capitalist economy. And the Jewish anti-Zionists are deeply ashamed, rather than proud, of the beacon of hope and democracy that Israel, the Jewish state, represents.

Just as it is difficult or impossible for a Zionist to have a civil debate with someone who advocates Israel's destruction, one wonders how Israel is expected (demanded?) to negotiate peace with groups that declare her destruction as their solemn reason for being.

Chicago shows its love

The Chicago Blackhawks know how it feels to play in front of SRO crowds of 22,000 fans for every home game, all season long. They could read the ratings reports of how many thousands more were watching the Stanley Cup Playoffs and Finals on tv. I don't think they were at all prepared for the spectacular reception they received during their June 11 victory parade. No one, least of all the players themselves, expected two million people, many dressed just like them, to line the parade route, welcoming the returning heroes. The players were pleasantly surprised if not overwhelmed.

The Stanley Cup championship banner will be a permanent addition to the United Center rafters. The Blackhawks players' and coaches' names will be etched in silver to the Stanley Cup. To a team left for dead three seasons ago, with crowds resembling those of college basketball in Chicago (sad), the Blackhawks' turnaround and resurgence is stunning and refreshing for young and old fans alike. Congratulations to the players, coaches and management for making this dream come true for millions of Blackhawks fans.

Where was the ref?

It took four seconds for the on-ice officials to stop the clock June 9 and whistle play dead after Patrick Kane scored his game-winning, series-ending goal at 4:06 of overtime. This was in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals. The Flyers scored at 15:59 of the third period and were ecstatic about having tied the game. They had momentum going into overtime, and there was a sense in the Wachovia Center that they would score quickly and carry that momentum to Game 7 in Chicago.

Kaner had other ideas. Why did the ref fail to point toward the net, indicating a goal had been scored? When the puck moves into the net out of the neutral zone, a referee positions himself directly behind the goal or just off to one side so he has a clear view of any goal scored. So when Kane scored, was the ref out of position?

No, he wasn't. He was opposite Kane, to the right of the net. He should have been in great position to witness and verify Kane's unbelievable shot from an impossible angle. But right when Kane let it fly, a Flyers player skated straight toward the referee. He moved out of the way and checked the dasherboard behind him, making sure he wasn't in for a collision. Taking his eyes off the puck and the net, the referee didn't see Kane's goal. Thus the goal indicator light stayed dark, and the clock continued to run.

Tell it like it is, Helen

The late sportscaster Howard Cosell was famous for his no-holds-barred, "telling it like it is" style, which often cost him.

I thought of Cosell when I watched Helen Thomas' nasty antisemitic outburst and read her phony apology a few days later. (She did not apologize for her deep-seated antisemitic rant; she actually apologized for being so honest.) I laud Thomas for her honesty and integrity. She did not hide behind a genteel mask of objectivity. As a long-standing member of Washington's elite, it's quite possible that Thomas could truthfully claim, "Some of my best friends are Jews." But she didn't. Instead, she implied the anti-Israel canard that Israel's Jewish citizens are invaders, colonists and illegal squatters. They should "go back" to Germany and Poland, those lands where six million Jews were murdered barely 65 years ago. Thomas is making a huge assumption that Germany and Poland would welcome Israel's five million Jews.

Lost in the brouhaha is that Thomas' sentiments are echoed by millions of anti-Israel partisans worldwide: that the Jews should "get the hell out." No one screaming in front of the Israeli embassies and consulates last week held signs demanding a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The protesters' message was best expressed by what anti-Israel speaker Abdel Malik Ali told a UCI student who had just invited the imam to shabbos dinner with his family in Israel: "There will be peace when you are gone."

Good for you, Helen. And good riddance, too.

Chillax, AIPAC!

The race for the U.S. House in Illinois' 9th District between six-term Rep. Jan Schakowsky and Joel Pollack is heating up. Many pro-Israel voters in the District are planning to vote for Pollack, disappointed in what they perceive as the Congresswoman not being pro-Israel enough.

According to a friend, AIPAC has weighed in. AIPAC, the strong-pro-Israel lobby in Washington, has put the word out to its supporters in the District: Don't vote out a Member with a 100 percent AIPAC voting record. AIPAC uses a plus/minus grading system to evaluate members of Congress as to how each Member votes for a bill relating to Israel. According to AIPAC, Schakowsky's voting record is perfect.

News flash to AIPAC: national elections are really none of your business. AIPAC is a lobby, not a PAC (political action committee). It can evaluate, but not endorse, criticize or financially support, Members of Congress. The voters of the Ninth District in Illinois elect a Representative for a host of reasons. For many of Rep. Schakowsky's most loyal supporters, her pro-Israel record is a pretty low priority.

So AIPAC, please: work on lobbying Members of Congress, and we'll work on electing them.

Tax the parking contractor

A friend came up with a solution to Chicago's parking contract problem. Besides numerous complaints about egregious rate hikes and meter boxes in what had been free zones, the real problem is the contracts' chief benefit is almost gone. The 75-year contract provided the city with billions in upfront cash in exchange for relinquishing meter revenue, with regularly scheduled rate hikes, for the next 75 years. While there was an understanding that some of the upfront cash would be spent right away to balance the city's budget, there was also an expectation that the city would bank the remainder for a "rainy day fund." Instead, Hizzoner Da Mare Richard M. Daley is thinking exactly the opposite: that future boom times will be needed to refill the coffers of the parking contract account. (By the way, how many tax cuts did the city allow in the boom 1990's? That's what I thought. And the mayor appears unopposed for re-election in a mere eight months.)

So my friend suggests passing a state law that levies an annual fee of $100 million on parking contractors for cities of more than one million people. There is only one such city in Illinois. I told him that if such legislation passed, LAZ Parking, the contractor, would sue. My friend, an attorney, believes the legislation would withstand a legal challenge. Whether it would withstand vigorous, vehement opposition from the mayor is another matter. If it passed, LAZ would likely be forced to abandon its control of Chicago's parking meters, ceding meter revenue back to the city. While this would be a revenue bonanza for the city, it would seriously undercut the mayor's ability to make deals with other contractors. The contractors would hesitate, fearing an unpopular deal would be made prohibitively expensive by the clowns in Springfield.

Some conspiracy theorists, including The Parking Ticket Geek, believe that forcing out LAZ was the city's plan all along--to make a sucker deal look like a dream deal. I find that hard to believe. But the Illinois Statehouse could end LAZ's meter box reign--and return meter cash receipts to the cash-starved city.