Cubs should call Wrigleyville’s bluff and leave

The Wrigley Rooftops.
The Wrigley Rooftops. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Chicago Cubs should leave Wrigley Field.

It is something I never thought I would say, much less believe. I remember my first Cubs game as a kid in the midsummer of 1986. Growing up more than an hour from the ballpark, I spent summer afternoons watching them on Channel 9. I was so used to how it looked on TV, that I was surprised just how small it looked; I actually asked my cousin if “this was their practice field.” I still remember Manny Trillo running the bases after hitting the ninth-inning home run that beat the New York Mets 4-2.

Nearly three decades later, I have watched hundreds of games in that same small park–some good, most bad. A handful in person. I watched as they tried newfangled things like night games and winning a playoff series (2003). But it was always in Wrigley, so much so that I often looked forward to taking my own children there someday. And now, within a year or two of it actually happening, I am advocating that they leave? What the hell happened?

To be honest, you could see the storm clouds gather as the rooftops across Waveland and Sheffield looked less and less like rooftops and more like upper decks, complete with paid admission. While that was happening, other clubs were building new stadiums, larger scoreboards trimmed with advertising. Their players enjoyed modern facilities.

Enter the Ricketts, who bought the team with the knowledge that Wrigley was literally falling apart and needed at least $200 million in repairs. Brother Tom waxed nostalgic in his introductory press conference about meeting his wife in the bleachers. The team clearly wasn’t moving, and that was part of the reason a ham-handed attempt for public money failed. Instead of threatening to move, a threat used quite often by franchise owners across the sports world, the Ricketts came up with a plan to pony up their own money and make $500 in improvements to the area, with $300 million of that going toward the stadium.

So they put up their own money, fix up their own facility, and they all lived happily ever after, right? Wrong. The Ricketts also wanted the city to cut them some slack on city ordinances that restrict the number of night games and night events they can host at the ballpark, and to relax the ones dealing with the park’s landmark status. It also includes advertising and structures that would hamper the view of the rooftops behind them. The owners have a vested interest in preventing this, and when they have a vested interest in something, 44th Ward Alderman Tom Tunney has a vested interest in something. The situation has devolved from there.

And now a Ricketts-imposed deadline has passed, and still no deal. What now? Say hello to Brad Stevens, mayor of O’Hare-adjacent Rosemont. Stevens is all but begging the Cubs to come to a 25-acre area near the Tri-State Tollway, complete with an L-stop and Metra station.

At this stage in the game, I’m on board. True, the rooftops and the Cubs have had a revenue-sharing contract since 2004, but unless that contract prevents the Cubs from moving to a new ballpark, at some point the rooftop owners need to realize who is the dog and who is the tail.  In fact, to hear the neighborhood talk at times, you would think that the Cubs are more trouble than they are worth.

I had to park when attending games, and yes, it’s a pain. Obviously the neighbors who have to put up with thousands of people like me dozens of times a year probably aren’t looking forward to it happening more often at night. However, what happens to property values if the Cubs leave? What happens to restaurants and bars when they don’t have a market brought to them 83 or 84 times a year?

Where else in the major leagues do the city and neighborhood business owners have this much regular control over when their team can play? Look at the Baltimore Orioles, who told the NFL to pound sand when the league wanted them to reschedule a regular season game hosting the White Sox so the league could instead kick off their season with their defending champs, the Ravens. Not one year earlier, the NFL had to reschedule the opener because the President of the United States would not have an audience for his nomination speech at the Democratic National Convention, and now they were forced to look elsewhere over regular season parking?

Rick Reilly speculates that the neighborhood is costing the Cubs $73 million a year.

I don’t relish the Cubs leaving. Deep down, in my heart of meatball hearts, I will instantly miss the whole “Wrigley atmosphere.” But that’s not going to stop me from taking my kids to games, from watching them on TV. I’ll get over it. The question is, will Wrigleyville? If they are not careful, Ald. Tunney may not have to worry about clarifying the difference between Wrigleyville and Lakeview in the near future.