CHICAGO -- While the Chicago Cubs’ recent losing streak ended at 12 games, Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts’ streak of not talking to Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel is at 14 and counting.
Ricketts tried getting in touch with Emanuel immediately after The New York Times published a story about his father Joe Ricketts’ political activities targeting President Obama, Emanuel’s friend and former boss. Emanuel, also the co-chair of the President’s re-election campaign, rebuffed initial calls, according to media reports. Emanuel has since made public statements saying he will still work with the Ricketts family on funding part of a $300 million upgrade of Wrigley Field, but nothing has coalesced yet.
Ricketts and the Cubs have been publicly asking the city and state for some derivation of public funds to help renovate Wrigley Field since the fall of 2010. The Cubs could start a portion of the rebuild, which will take several years, this offseason but they need to get that public portion of the planned public-private funding guaranteed to start work. That money could come from the amusement tax the Cubs tack on to tickets or from the relaxation of landmark status on the park, allowing more advertising and a possible video scoreboard.
The Cubs chairman spoke about this issue, the state of Wrigley Field and his baseball president Theo Epstein in a moderated Q&A session Wednesday afternoon at the InterSport Activation Summit, of which the Cubs were a sponsor. He was asked if he’s talked the mayor. It’s a question he’s answered several times over the past two weeks.
“You know I haven’t,” he said. “But there’s a lot going on in the city right now and there’s really no timetable for this.”
That’s true, in a sense, but the Cubs want to figure out when they can start planning a rebuild of the park, which will surely be controversial among preservationists and fans. The 100-year anniversary of the Cubs playing Wrigley is in 2016, but the park was built in 1914.
Ricketts has to play both sides of this debate, praising Wrigley’s beauty, which is the main reason it draws 3 million fans a year, while also decrying the limited infrastructure away from the field.
“The number one thing you take away is some genius architect in 1914 laid out this park and it’s still the best place to watch baseball,” he said. “We’re not going to fix what isn’t broken. When someone gets to Wrigley Field and they get in their seat and they look out the field, and the ivy, and the scoreboard, they’re in their happy place. This is where they want to be. This is where they want to watch baseball.”
While the Cubs managed to convince Mesa, Ariz., to fork over public money to build a new spring training complex, the Chicago deal has been more complicated. Now his father’s political activities forced Ricketts to go into damage control public relations. He has talked to several handpicked radio stations in a brief media blitz, but declined to go on the record with ESPNChicago at the InterSport event.
Ricketts was asked by the moderator about The New York Times story, which said his father is looking to spend $10 million on ads targeting the President through his Super PAC. The crux of the original story was about a proposal to use the words of Pres. Obama’s controversial former pastor against him. After the story was published, Joe, Tom and Laura Ricketts all disavowed the plan, but the story has lingered. Joe Ricketts' super PAC is called Ending Spending Fund, because he rails against overzealous spending in the federal government.
“Obviously my father’s passion is politics, specifically national fiscal politics,” Tom Ricketts said. “My passion is baseball, specifically city of Chicago baseball, specifically Cubs baseball.
“Obviously there was an article that portrayed some of their efforts in a really unfair and unflattering light, and our first goal was to get out there and make sure people don’t misunderstand what they read,” he said. “And our second goal was just to keep on keeping on.”
After Wednesday's win against the Padres, the Cubs had the second-worst winning percentage in baseball. Most of the baseball operations' effort has gone into the amateur draft, which starts June 4.