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.

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