Usually Peter Gammons is the smartest guy in the room when it comes to baseball, but comments he made about Wrigley Field being a “dump” and Cubs owner Tom Ricketts not knowing the true renovation price of the ballpark are ridiculous — and are generating lots of heat in the Windy City.
Gammons, now an analyst for MLB Network, appeared on “The Mully and Hanley Show” on WSCR-AM 670 Friday morning and threw down the gauntlet, defending Ricketts against his many critics: “The problem that (Ricketts) has, and the Ricketts family has a serious issue, is they’re going to have to understand it’s not only rebuilding personnel. They got to make that ballpark livable, it’s a dump, Wrigley Field. They’re going to have to spent $200-and-something million on re-renovating Wrigley Field, do what the Boston owners did with Fenway Park. And the investment is far greater than, I think, maybe they realize. That the amount of work that Wrigley Field needs is, there’s a ton of money that has to go into rebuilding that place.”
Now, on the one hand, it’s certainly true Wrigley Field needs some TLC: most buildings approaching a century in age have issues of some sort. And previous owners of the Cubs certainly acknowledged this with the original Wrigley 2014 plan, a renovation plan from HOK Sport/Populous that would address the ballpark’s structural issues, widen the concourses, install a heavily revamped suite level and move team offices out of the ballpark to a triangle building next door, which would also feature parking and a green roof. The Cubs went public with the plan in 2009, but it had been in the works for at least two years (we saw a preview of it in 2007 or so). The price tag back then was in the $200 million range and was designed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of Wrigley Field in 2014.
The Tribune Co. was never in a financial position to implement the plan; profits from the Cubs were diverted to corporate coffers to cover losses incurred by newspaper and media operations. But the plan was continually updated; the triangle building lost its green roof in favor of group areas and parking, and other parts of the plan, including the addition of a dining spot behind the iconic center-field scoreboard, were implemented. When Tom Ricketts was negotiating to buy the Cubs — negotiations that took over than a year to complete — the Wrigley 2014 plan certainly was discussed. In fact, the team had already agreed to ballpark improvements as a condition of adding 1,800 seats to the Wrigley Field bleachers. And when Ricketts was announced as owner of the team, he referred to implementation of the specifics of the Wrigley 2014 project as a goal for the team.
So for Peter Gammons to insinuate that Ricketts came into ownership of the Cubs without a knowledge of what it would take to fix up Wrigley Field is simply ridiculous: Ricketts knew every step of the way about everything in the ballpark requiring attention. Indeed, the issue isn’t Wrigley: it’s the fact that Ricketts appears to be in over his head as owner of the Cubs. Fans expected a return to family ownership — i.e., committed ownership that didn’t see the historic franchise as simply a line item in an annual report — but instead they’ve seen a constant stream of requests for public money, whether it’s been tax dollars to fix up Wrigley Field or city funding of a new spring-training complex. Supposedly deep pockets have proven to be suspiciously thin, and the Cubs are reportedly one of nine MLB teams to be in violation of MLB’s debt rules. Declining attendance surely doesn’t help matters, either. The Cubs are a national treasure and a proven money mill, but by focusing so much on public assistance without much of a plan to improve the team’s on-field performance, Ricketts has already managed to mess up what had become automatic sellouts at the Friendly Confines while alienating fans who really do care about the team and its historic home.
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