Monday, May 9, 2011

Wrigley Field: Is this how it ends?

The Chicago Cubs' ownership has taken to bribing fans to attend games. First, it was the Best Buy Family Pak: 4 tickets, hot dogs and sodas for $80 (April/May dates only). Now it's the Bud Light Bleacher Series: Free t-shirt Mondays, $3 beer Tuesdays and dollar dog Wednesdays. Naturally, outrageous ticket prices still apply. No games blacked out, strangely enough.

There are two driving factors at work here. First, the Cubs are miserable with few if any marketable stars. They are 15-18 this season. Yes, that's only four games behind the division leaders, whom they host this week. But there's no reason to believe they will improve to the point of contending for the division crown. That is several years away and unlikely with this group of nobodies, save Starlin Castro.

The second factor is obvious: Cubs fans are beginning to realize the few advantages of paying top dollar to sit in an aging, decrepit dump of a ballpark for 3½ hours. Depsite the ownership's plans for some semblance of renovation, the fan experience at Wrigley Field isn't going to improve without a complete razing and reconstruction of the seating areas. That just isn't going to happen.

As attendance figures continue to deteriorate and fans either save their money or pursue other entertainment options (White Sox? Brewers?), Wrigley Field's reliability as a profit center for ownership decreases. Perhaps this is what it will take. Losing? It's too early to tell how much losing seasons bother this ownership. Decades of losing certainly didn't phase the previous two ownership groups. Yes, we congratulate the Tribune Co. for adding lights in 1988. But the Tribune never fought for the full 55-game night schedule the Cubs desperately need. Now, stuck with too many day games and a ballpark that is no longer a cash cow, perhaps the Ricketts are finally spurred to action. The next step: a retractable-roof ballpark, either near United Center on the West Side or Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates. No night-game limits. No frozen bats. No offense-killing wind. Just championship baseball.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Please move out of Wrigley, Mr. Ricketts!

Mr. Tom Ricketts
Chairman, Chicago Cubs
1060 W Addison St
Chicago IL 60613-4397

Dear Mr. Ricketts:

I applaud your efforts to modernize Wrigley Field with a major renovation. Unfortunately, it’s lipstick on a pig if the ballpark’s two main impediments to winning are not addressed: the night game limit and the wind effect on fly balls. I suspect playing 30 night games per season instead of 55 costs the Cubs five to ten wins—a critical difference. As Steve Stone noted while discussing the wind in a USA Today article last year, the Cubs have won 50 home games only three times since 1945. The Cardinals have done it three times in the past decade. There’s a serious home-field disadvantage in Lakeview, and the wind’s unpredictability plays a major factor.

Assuming the night-game limit and wind effect remain unchanged, you have two choices. You could run the club much like the Tribune Co. did and make a lot of money. The Cubs would win 70-85 games per season in Wrigley Field and never win another pennant. Or you can build a 21st Century marvel—a Miller Park near United Center or Sears Centre—and bring a world championship home. As a lifelong Cubs fan like yourself, it pains me that the Cubs begin every season at a serious disadvantage due to the second-worst facility* in the majors for players and fans. Wrigley Field is pretty, but it’s worth noting the Cubs have never won a championship there. At first it was the wind’s fault. Now it’s night games too. Thank you for your June 7 reply to my letter last year. With regard to night games, you wrote you want the Cubs to be “good neighbors.” I concur. Good neighbors win championships.


*Oakland is worst.

Please help the Cubs, Mr. Selig

Mr. Allan H. “Bud” Selig
Major League Baseball
75 Ninth Ave, 5th Flr,
New York, NY 10011

Dear Mr. Selig:

During your remarkable tenure as baseball commissioner, you have persuaded nearly every home market to build a new ballpark for its team. Fans reap the benefits of modern amenities, comfortable seating areas and plentiful concessions. Players enjoy spacious locker rooms and indoor practice/workout facilities.

So why are the Cubs left behind?

Incredibly, the fourth-most popular team in baseball has the second-worst ballpark in baseball.* Due to its crippling limited night-game schedule and lack of premium seating areas, the Cubs don’t enjoy the revenue or exposure they deserve. Wrigley Field’s night-game shortage and devastating wind effect make a Cubs pennant almost impossible.

Imagine FOX’s World Series ratings if the Cubs were to participate. Every night would be like a Super Bowl. Sadly, the Cubs have almost no chance of reaching the Fall Classic so long as they remain in Wrigley Field. They need a Miller Park, near United Center (West Side) or Sears Centre (northwest suburbs), to compete fairly with their league rivals. With strong leadership from the commissioner’s office, the Cubs could leave Wrigley Field gracefully, allowing it to become the museum and shrine to baseball its neighbors and nostalgia fans desire. Meanwhile, the Cubs could turn to the business of winning championships.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.


Fold some teams!

Mr. Tom Ricketts
Chicago Cubs
1060 W Addison St
Chicago IL 60613-4305

Dear Mr. Ricketts:

It is in the Chicago Cubs’ best interest for MLB to contract some of its lowest-revenue, luxury-tax taking, money-losing ballclubs. With the leadership of the Yankees’ front office, the Cubs could help form a ballclub group that would include the Mets, Red Sox, Phillies and Dodgers. These ballclubs could strongly advocate for MLB to contract in the next collective bargaining agreement negotiations. Pittsburgh and Kansas City should obviously be folded or converted to AAA ballclubs. Tampa Bay, Toronto, Oakland and Phoenix should not be overlooked. Fewer teams and fewer inferior players would strengthen competition and improve the overall product. For the Cubs, eliminating home dates with Pittsburgh (and travel thereto) would be significant progress. If the Cubs could also convince MLB to send Houston to the AL West in the resultant division shuffle, the schedule would improve dramatically.

Foisting supbar competition on fans isn’t fair. Subsidizing these ballclubs’ operations in perpetuity isn’t fair, either. It’s time for the Cubs to help Major League Baseball return to being truly major league.