The overwhelming impression I have as the 24th Cubs Convention (and where did those 24 years go, anyway?) winds down is: this event has outgrown its location.
I'm not sure exactly how many passes/tickets/whatever you want to call them they sell -- and the prices of these have gone up faster than game tickets; they were $20 until just a few years ago, and are now $60 for individuals who don't stay at the hotel -- I had heard years ago that it's about 15,000, but it could be somewhat more or less than that.
The problem is that the Chicago Hilton & Towers isn't really designed to hold this many people roaming around its halls, many of them somewhat aimlessly, for an entire weekend. The Hilton probably loves the business -- as a downtown hotel in a major city, it's probably fairly dead on the weekends unless there's a major event -- but it's a hotel, not a convention space, even though they do have exhibit space and meeting rooms.
The results are: overcrowded rooms for the more popular sessions, while the less-crowded ones get shunted off into corners (a conditioning clinic hosted by strength and conditioning coordinator Tim Buss got shoehorned into half of a ballroom that also had kids' play slides). There aren't enough places to eat, even if it were just hotel guests; there's a buffet/restaurant at one end of the building and Kitty O'Shea's bar at the other end. And that's it. That results in long lines to get anything to eat, and your other alternatives are either closed at 7 pm (ballpark food in the exhibit area) or a pizza stand next to the elevators, which also has long lines.
In the interview I did with Crane Kenney last month, he suggested that he may agree with me:
CK: My goals are, when you look at the Wrigley campus and you look at the opportunities to build a baseball marketplace that has assets outside of the ballpark itself, that is one big part of our future and it provides amenities for the fans, facilities for the players, a number of opportunities for us on the business development side that don’t exist today. Imagine convention space where some of our sponsors and business clients could hold a meeting, have a restaurant, parking that works and then take in a game.
BCB: Would you consider having the Cubs Convention at a place like that rather than downtown?
And so, sometime in the future after new ownership takes over and the triangle building west of the park is constructed, you might see the convention actually moved to Wrigley Field. In the meantime, the Cubs could consider having it at the Rosemont Convention Center, which is near a number of hotels and has much larger space.
Kenney's comments there mirror some of the comments he made in the session this morning about planning for the future. Many of the things he's said are long term plans, particularly for the future of the ballpark, and it may very well be that whoever the new owner is might keep Kenney as team president. That'd be fine with me -- since Kenney took over after Andy MacPhail was forced out, the team has spent where necessary, made moves to improve both on and off the field, and Kenney has said several times he wants to emulate the Red Sox' success.
I think we'd all take two World Series titles in four years.
During the morning session, Kenney apologized for the "priest in the dugout" incident, and took full responsibility. He said it originated from the priest, who emailed him, and he agreed to do it, never realizing the media coverage it would get. I don't think we'll see him doing anything like that again. Kenney also repeated the annoucement yesterday that he expects a new owner in place by Opening Day, that Bud Selig has assured him that the owners' Executive Committee has already started the process of vetting the three remaining groups, so that things can be expedited and those long-term plans can be put into place.
He also noted that the economy is affecting almost every team, even the Yankees. This surprised me and most in the room, but he explained that the Yankees had been having trouble selling some of their suites (even hiring a real-estate firm to help) and so thought they needed to make a splash with all the signings they made, in order to drum up desire for those suites after they missed the playoffs. Other teams have been affected, as teams like the Diamondbacks have had layoffs.
About Sam Zell, Kenney said Zell has been a "great" owner, never hesitating to approve many of Kenney's requests even when they weren't specifically related to performance, as when Kenney asked for $2 million to re-do the field before 2008. He did say Zell expects results and expects people who work for him to be available when he needs them; he related a story where Zell called him once while Kenney was at the airport baggage claim in Phoenix and couldn't really talk, and Zell demanded to know why he wasn't available, with some "colorful" language. That brought laughter.
Lou Piniella wasn't at the session; he's been ill and apparently wanted to rest, so many of the questions intended for Lou went to Jim Hendry (and some to assistant GM Randy Bush). I decided to ask the Rich Hill question that was posted in yesterday's thread, and Hendry was pretty blunt, actually, pretty much stating that Hill had not shown good stuff all year, nor in winter ball, compared that to some of his struggles in the earlier part of his career, and while he didn't say so specifically, I got the clear impression that Hendry will be trying hard to move Hill before spring training begins.
Both Hendry and Kenney spoke about Milton Bradley; Hendry expects Bradley to be ready to play 130-135 games, but hopes he can play 150. Kenney said Bradley chose the Cubs, they didn't chose him, Bradley was the pursuer and didn't really want to play anywhere else, and left "more" money on the table from other teams. For his part, Bradley has acknowledged his past mistakes and says he has "matured". I hope that's the truth, because there is no question that when he is healthy and focused, Bradley is one of the top hitters in the game. I look forward to seeing that -- regardless of what you may think I think about him, he's a Cub now and I'm rooting for him to succeed.
About Jake Peavy, Hendry wouldn't address that specifically, citing MLB's tampering rules, and that was wise of him. He did repeat the oft-quoted mantra that "we're keeping an eye on pitching to possibly acquire someone", but that could be Peavy, or someone minor. We just don't know, and for those of you who try to read the tea leaves every time you see Peavy's name mentioned in an online post from the traditional media, that's really nothing more than guessing.
Thanks to Jessica, who was the very last questioner, for asking Hendry to clarify what happened with Kerry Wood. Hendry repeated how much he respects and loves Wood -- said they started with the organization the same year, 1995 -- and that Wood's agent came and asked for a three-year deal; Hendry said that he didn't want to do so because "he's missed 62% of the games the last four years", and even so, Hendry always brought him back, until now. He said a one-year deal was never discussed.
That said, Hendry also said Wood is always welcome back. He didn't say whether that would be as a player after his Cleveland deal expires, or after his career is over. I'll miss Wood and I still feel the Cubs may have been a better baseball team with Carlos Marmol setting up Wood than with Kevin Gregg setting up Marmol, but we will see. I hope for the best for Gregg; Hendry said the Cubs love his arm (that's standard for Hendry, who's a "tools" guy), and they felt that Jose Ceda was "a ways away" from being able to help a major league team, that the Cubs are, as they have been the last two years, in "win now" mode, and that's why they made that deal.
Assistant GM Randy Bush was asked who he's most excited about in the system. Hesitant at first, he cited Mitch Atkins, who would probably be the first man recalled from Iowa to start in case of injury, and also Welington Castillo and Darwin Barney. When asked if Jeff Samardzija would start, he demurred, saying "Lou and Larry will decide."
Bush also made some interesting comments about Carlos Zambrano, when asked who the "shutdown" pitcher in the playoffs would be (as Cole Hamels was for the Phillies last year, as Josh Beckett was for the Red Sox the year before and for the Marlins in 2003). He said Z could be that kind of pitcher, but needs to step up. He acknowledged that you do need that kind of guy in the postseason and that Z "needs to embrace that challenge". That would have normally been a question for Lou, but Bush seems qualified to respond, since he played for two World Series winners in Minnesota. However, Jim Hendry added that you "can't build a team differently for the postseason", reminding everyone that you can go 0-for-9 in midseason and no one really notices because you can get 600 AB to make up for it, but if you do so in October, it all gets magnified. They simply want to go in better prepared and "better balanced", as he put it, to "keep building and getting better by tweaking; there's no need to overhaul".
And, he did mention that after they lost the first game, they may have wanted to win so badly that they "tried too hard" to fix it in game two. I think you could see that by the defensive lapses, made by players who rarely do those sorts of things.
The one thing I was a bit disappointed in during the baseball management session was that there were two hosts, WGN radio's Dave Eanet and John Williams. This meant, since two radio guys were there and both wanted to talk, that fewer fans got to ask questions. There were still several people waiting in line when they cut off questions. Frankly, there was no real reason for John Williams to be there at all -- he's got no real connection to the Cubs except that they're both on WGN radio. Dave Eanet, the sports guy, would have been enough.
I also sat in on a session discussing new media, in which, among other things, Jeff Samardzija spoke about his own blog, and the challenges in keeping it updated. They also mentioned Vine Line's blog, the Cubs' in-house effort at blogging. That's also where I ran into Jim McArdle, whose book "Living The Dream" will be out sometime before Opening Day. (You're welcome for the plug, Jim.)
I did take some photos but forgot to bring the cable that connects the camera to my laptop. So for those, you will have to wait till tomorrow. (And if anyone here will be attending the Business Management session at 9 am Sunday, feel free to post details, as I have to be at work at that hour.)