Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to sit down at length with new Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts and team president Crane Kenney to discuss just about anything that has to do with the future of our favorite team.
If you've read this site for a while, you know that I've had the chance to interview Crane Kenney before. This was the first time I had met Tom Ricketts in person -- and I can tell you, that the way he has seemed in his public statements since taking over team ownership last October is exactly the way he is. He's a genuinely nice guy and a true diehard fan just like all of us. There's nothing he wants more than exactly what we want -- a World Series championship on the north side of Chicago, and I believe he'll do whatever it takes to help bring that to all of us.
Many thanks to Tom and Crane for their time and candid answers to my questions. Crane Kenney met with the news media yesterday in Arizona and spoke about some of the same things you'll read after the jump. Also, this Sun-Times article has some comments from Kenney, particularly regarding the spring training complex.
One final note before you dive in: the discussion lasted almost an hour and was wide-ranging. There are almost 8,000 words after the jump. Take your time and take it all in.
BCB:I’ve been doing an occasional series on the new spring training complex. I’ve talked to Scott Smith, the mayor of Mesa, a couple of times, and through our Diamondbacks blogger I got a chance to talk to their team president Derrick Hall. So now I’d like to hear from you guys about where you stand and where it’s going to go next. There seems to be great opposition to what some people are now calling the "Cubs Tax".
CK: I didn’t know we had the power to tax people.
TR: I think that the key is a question about financing. We want to stay in Mesa and get good facilities built there. It’s truly a question of trying to find the right way to get the facilities built and there’s a lot of challenges to that. There’s a lot of different thoughts on that. But right now I’m just going to let the guys in Arizona kind of think it through, talk to each other and try to come up with something that works for everybody.
BCB: Are you confident that you’re going to get some kind of deal eventually?
TR: I am confident. I think everyone’s talking now, so I think we’ll get there.
CK: The need for the facility is clearly there. No one debates the need for it. You know the rain we’ve had, we lost three half days of practice because we didn’t have enough covered cages, covered mounds…
BCB: So you could have had an indoor facility where everyone could hit and throw?
CK: Our competitors have it and they didn’t lose any practice time. That’s a small part of it. The other part of I it is, which we’ve talked about in our years of going through this, you know we added a second Dominican team, a couple of years ago we talked about that. We’ve added 25 percent more players in the system today than we did probably than the first time we talked. All these players are coming from various locations around the world, they need language training, culture training, they don’t know what to shop for in the grocery store. They don’t know what to say when they get asked a question in a restaurant. How do they eat the right food? How do they go to the right places? So all that classroom space, we don’t have that. So the complex itself is outdated. And then you have the facilities issue. So, nobody debates the need and now it’s just a question of how to finance it and we’ve been generally leaving that to the folks in Arizona who remain confident from the bill’s sponsor on down that they will get something that satisfies Major League Baseball and everyone else.
BCB: What’s the timeframe for construction and opening the place?
CK: Well, we’re still aiming for 2013. We’d be pushing hard to get to 2012, so there’s time here for all this to play out. Our MOU with Arizona gives them basically through the middle of the summer to get the financing put in place. Then there’s the referendum in Mesa that has to happen. The state piece, there’s two pieces of financing, there’s the city of Mesa who will step up for a piece of it and then the state of Arizona that’s got this car rental tax and then their idea their user tax on a small ticket charge. Whether it’s just in our ballpark or all ballparks. One of the things they were trying to with this Cactus League tax was take care of the future needs. The A’s come up in 2012; the Brewers are in line next after them. And what the legislator told us, the one who put the bill together, he looked up, he said we have had a number of clubs that have come to us – initially it’s the Cubs, but there are a number of teams right behind them, let’s create enough of a margin that will take care of everyone. The 8% on all the league, on all the games, would supply more than enough for us. This would supply the A’s and the Brewers and the other teams that are coming.
BCB: The existing work that’s going on here at the ballpark is just the beginning on what you want to do. Can you talk a little bit about what’s going on now, what people will see on Opening Day and then what the plans are for the future? And I'll ask separately about the ballpark and then I’m going to ask you later about the Triangle Building.
TR: Sure. In the short run, we, obviously we closed in October, sat down with Crane and his team and we said what can we get done before Opening Day? What are the needs and what are some of the things that people will appreciate the most? We did a bunch of things; I’ll let Crane list them all. But when people come back on April 12th, they’re going to find that there are better and more restroom facilities that, because we took out some of the decorative exposed concrete, we’re going to have a more open and sunny kind of concourse. We worked on some of the ramps. We replaced some concrete. We improved some of the executive suite options. Just a lot of stuff. And the players, too. They’re going to come back to a dramatically nicer clubhouse with a bigger weight room and a little room to kind of eat in and get a little privacy in. And so the idea was just try to get something for everybody before Opening Day. And in the short run I think we’ve accomplished that. The long run, it’s still open. Obviously we want to figure out strategies that have this park in great condition for the next 50 or 100 years, and that’s going to be challenging. We don’t have the answer for that today.
BCB: At the Convention you took a poll about a Jumbotron and it was about 50-50. What’s your official thinking about that at this point?
TR: My initial thinking is one day at a time. I don’t know where we’d put it. I’m not sure how it would work. There are going to be people that want it, people that don’t want it. I think the one thing that fans have to keep in mind is that when we pass on those kind of opportunities we’re passing on the economics of those opportunities. And if you ask someone would you like to see a Jumbotron someday at Wrigley maybe it’s 50-50. But if you say what if that Jumbotron delivered an extra $10 million a year to player budgets, they’d say that’s a no brainer. Anyway, we don’t have any plans right now to do it. Maybe down the line. We’ll take it one step at a time and work with people to make sure it’s something that IF we do, it won’t ruin the experience.
CK: Let me give you a little spin on it. You and I have talked about the revenue we’ve been trying, and I think your site as well as any has been a great forum for debate. One time years ago you said, "I wonder if he reads this." I do read it. And actually I read the question and should have sent back something to say I do. So it’s interesting, my focus groups, I do this during the season, but reading your open blog forums and the dialogue that goes on it’s really instructive for us, so we do read it. We did a number of things over the years that were really a nice revenue projects for us. Rebuilding the bleachers, no brainer. Great payback. Adding the premium seats behind home plate, great payback on those. The Captain Morgan Club. So while Tribune owned the club they did free up some capital to some projects where I could prove great return for them. And they let us keep some of that and that’s how the payroll went from $80 million to $140 million. What’s been great with the Ricketts family is that all the projects that we’re talking about here haven’t really created any new revenue. So bigger, wider restrooms, more fixtures for men and women. We’re not going to make any more money as a result of that. A new weight room for the players. A new kitchen for the players. A new lounge for the players. Maybe they’ll play a little better as a result. Maybe that’ll help us win more. Taking the concrete panels off and exposing more of the building to some light and air. All of these projects that we’ve stored up but could never justify with Tribune to get the financing to do them, the family has said if they’re good projects and they have a good basis for doing them, then do them, even if you can’t necessarily tell us the exact return on them. What you’re seeing now are these fan amenities. These are all fan improvements or player improvements that I couldn’t justify to anyone were going to put another dollar in the cash register, so that’s been a great thing. And the other real positive has been that the family has committed that all of the revenue that we do create, the new revenue, will go back into the club. Every penny. So, as we do look to new revenue sources, and you’ll see some of that with some new marketing in the ballpark, the fans can trust and know that every single penny is going to either help save Wrigley Field or improve the club.
BCB: Talking about amenities, one of the things that would go on something like a Jumbotron or something like that would be more scoreboard information that you can get in other ballparks. Are there any plans or ways that you could get more information about the game that you could get into the fan’s hands that are in the ballpark?
CK: Well, there are some solutions beyond a Jumbotron, there’s some really interesting stuff being done in some other leagues with handhelds. And so we’re looking at that. There is a question out there of whether technology will move to a place where a Jumbotron is not necessary. Where everyone who walks in with some sort of handheld and you create a universe or a hot spot in the ballpark to get the same type of information to the various handhelds that people are holding. Kind of an agnostic device or carrier. So is there a solution it doesn’t matter if you walk in with a Blackberry or an iPhone, no matter what service you subscribe to, because you are in the zone, you could pull up information.
BCB: I just downloaded the MLB At Bat app, so you’re talking about having something like that at the ballpark.
CK: Yeah. So we’re examining a number of things beyond, people keep jumping on the Jumbotron because it’s a lightning rod, but there are ways to get more information in the ballpark. So we’re kind of, we’re weighing all of those.
BCB: Let’s move on to the Triangle Building; it's been almost 10 years that we’ve been talking about this. What kind of things do you envision being in there? Are you still floating around different ideas and changes and what’s the timeframe?
TR: One of the biggest things that we have to do this year is we have to flesh that out. There’s a lot of ideas, a lot of obvious things. You want to have a nice Stadium Club and you want to have things for the fans, particularly things for kids. You want to have a gift shop. You want to have a Cubs museum. You want to do all those things. The question is, what do you do with the rest of the space. We’ve got a lot of it programmed in our heads. The question is, let’s be creative about what else we can do there. What kind of things can we build in for the community, what kind of things can we build in there other businesses that might be more year-round type of businesses. So, we don’t have all that locked down, we don’t have all the answers. We just know that this is the year where we’ve got to start putting some real meat on the bones with respect to that.
BCB: Your timeframe is still the 100th anniversary in 2014 to have everything completed or mostly completed?
TR: That’s our goal, yeah.
BCB: And in conjunction with that, is there any update on trying to get the All-Star Game in 2014?
TR: We’ll ask. We’re having lunch with the Commissioner on Saturday so I can bring it up again. I think what we have to do is get all of our ducks in a row and go back with something that makes a lot of sense. And if it makes sense we can have that, if we can get that All-Star Game to coincide with the rebirth of Wrigley I think that would be fabulous. If it doesn’t happen, there will be other opportunities to bring the nation to see Wrigley Field – like a World Series.
BCB: Let’s move on to things like the people who work here. Let’s talk about the baseball side first. I’m interested in what your plans are to withstand, I know the Cubs year-round staff is fairly small. What are your plans to add to and enhance the staff? I know you’ve already done some of that in the marketing area. What about the baseball area like scouting and player development?
TR: Well, obviously you’ve seen a lot of time devoted to the new coaches we’ve brought in, and the fact is if there were other opportunities to bring in other people, all Jim has to do really is come to us and make the case. If we could, if we need more scouting people, if we need more development people, I don’t know about it.. No one’s asked me for that. I think they feel like they have a pretty good team. I feel like they think they’re being productive, so if we saw an opportunity to meaningfully add to that team through a couple of extra people, we’d be open minded to that.
BCB: You’re happy with the job Hendry’s doing and you intend to keep him here through the end of his contract?
TR: I’ll tell you, going into this the thought was that the team, despite a disappointing ’09, the team has generally been where it should be the last few years. We’ve gotten into the playoffs a handful of times, we haven’t quite had the luck in the playoffs that we hoped, but in a pretty good place. A place in the top of the division and doing well. After getting in here – so we went in saying we have a proven track record here that despite a weak showing last year, we’re going to keep going with the guys we have. Since we’ve gotten in, I spent a week in the team meetings and spent a week down in the Dominican, spent time with not only Jim but all of his staff. I’ve been very impressed and I think that they have, that Jim has a very good organization, and you probably know better than anyone that they’re some of the best in the business. And I’ve also been sitting in on the organizational meetings where you see the coaches and the scouts discuss players, which on some teams doesn’t happen. And I think Jim runs a good organization, I really do. And I was very impressed with the Dominican organization. Oneri down there with those guys that cover that market, I think they’re doing a good job. So we knew from a production side that things had kind of come around a bit and then actually getting in and seeing the organization at work, it’s a good one. And hopefully some of these younger guys that we’ve drafted the past few years are going to start to produce and that, I’m sure that makes all the difference in the world to keeping the team successful and consistent. I think so far, so good. I’ve been impressed.
BCB: Any thoughts about Lou Piniella about how long he’s going to stay or are you going to leave that up to Jim?
TR: I love Lou, I think he’s one of the best managers in baseball, but it’s up to Jim.
BCB: I wanted to ask now about people who work here at the ballpark. I’ve received a number of comments from people who have said that security and ushers often are not friendly, not nice. They’ve seen some of the older ushers chase kids away from the wall before the games start. I know you’ve hired a Hospitality Officer. Is that somebody who’s going to deal with this and what would you say in terms of just in general getting everyone who works here to be more friendly to the fans?
CK: I’ll start this one because I’ve been here and I’ve seen this. I think by and large our ushers do a pretty good job. I think that there are instances where probably we could have a softer touch and it’s one of the things you have in a small confined ballpark with not a lot of space, and let’s face it ticket prices that are toward the upper end of ticket pricing in the league. So we have no empty seats and we know people pay a lot to be in those seats. Some of them appreciate kids coming down, standing in front of them asking for autographs and they remember when they did that and they enjoyed it, and some who think that’s obscuring their view of the field that they paid to have. And so both of them come to the ushers at some time and say why don’t you let more kids come down there and the next guy says I don’t want any kids down there. It’s not always an easy job to mediate who’s right and who’s wrong. This off season we did decide we wanted to do something more - a proactive outreach to our fans and so all the changes you will see, which are coming, are all directed at the fans. And Jahaan Blake, who we hired from the Dodgers who happened to work for the Red Sox before that, has come in as our Chief Hospitality Officer, trying to improve everything we do in the ballpark from a fan’s perspective. She’ll have a team of what we’re calling Ambassadors will work for her. They will be riding the remote bus from DeVry. They’ll be riding the El from downtown. They’ll be secret shopping our food seeing whether is the hot dog warm, is the beer cold. They’ll be monitoring the restrooms. They’ll be basically touching every point where a fan comes into contact with our ballpark even including the remote parking lot. How is the bus traffic from DeVry to the ballpark? Are the bus routes appropriate on game days where it’s a day game versus a night game, day game weekend, week day. Have we done everything we possibly can to make the bike corral work well? To help the pedestrians get from the El platform to the ballpark. And once they get into our universe, is it as friendly as it can be for kids, versus our seniors. We have very different needs for a day game that attracts a lot of seniors and the weekends that attract a lot of kids. So we’re going to offer for the first time organized autograph sessions for kids. We’re going to do for the first time "Kids Run the Bases", a program the Ricketts family is sponsoring. It's a family program where for each Sunday in April and May, if you buy four tickets, your kid gets to run the bases if they’re 15 or under, we’re trying to keep it at real children. That program started last Monday. So again, try to do more for the children, which is an emphasis that we all should have and kind of touching on the issue which you’ve raised, which is how do you balance between having good security that gets everyone what they paid for and still having it be friendly.
TR: Throughout the year, you’re close to it. Let us know. We work for you. And you come back and tell us if you think someone’s not treating customers the right way, we’ll look into it.
CK: We’ve got something else coming that you’ll like. When I was out at Six Flags last year with my kids, I took them out there in the summer and they had these misters, which were interesting. They were like a stainless steel column that you can walk up to and they sense your presence and they mist.
BCB: Is it like a misting station?
CK: Yes. We’re going to have them under the bleachers.
BCB: These hospitality people - I assume they’ll have very visible uniforms.
CK: They’re going to have jerseys that are different from everybody else. And I think where we want you to see them, you’ll see them. But where they’re secret shopping the food or doing something else where we don’t want you to see them, they’ll blend in.
BCB: Regarding tickets - a number of us noticed the ticket sales seem to be down. At least the single game sale the first day seemed to be lower this year than in any recent year. I know you also sold some new season tickets both in the bleachers and elsewhere in the park, they must have sold pretty well. At least the people on my site were very happy to have moved up on the waiting list or who were high on the list got tickets. I also noticed last week you had a discount sale for some of the April games. Are you concerned in the current economy that ticket sales may be down a little bit?
CK: You know if you watch what is happening and if you watch, you monitor what’s happening in Arizona, it’s very similar. I think there was a thought that attendance was down in Arizona, but actually we’re up the same number of games year after year. Business is breaking late. Our sponsorship business is breaking late and so is our ticket buying. We had a smaller up front sale on day one but it’s been a good steady business since. I think what happened in prior years was it all came in one big gulp on the first day. We’d basically sell out on the opening day of sales. What happened this year there were a number of events leading up to and including the MasterCard presale, a number of other season ticket sales and our first big gulp on opening day of sales it was smaller than in prior years – slightly smaller, but what’ happened is the following day’s business was larger. So I think what’s interesting is there are more good tickets still available but they’re moving at a faster rate, and I think by Opening Day, kind of like Opening Day in Spring Training, we’ll be right back to where we were normally. But business is breaking a little later.
BCB: You're still projecting about 3 to 3.1 million?
CK: Yeah. Somewhere around 3.2.
BCB: Even with the increased prices. I know some tickets went up more than others. Is there a particular reason why the tax was split out in the ticket price this year?
CK: Yeah, because we wanted to show people, the amusement tax has been going up at a dramatic pace, it went up another 1 percent for this year and I look at it and say people are going to look at it and say Cubs tickets are going up another 1 percent, but in reality we don’t keep that money. So I said let’s break it out so we can show people what portion of their ticket price actually comes to us and what portion really goes to the city and the county. So we broke it out so going forward, if it keeps going up, the amusement tax, people will know the Cubs price will come out X, the extra 1 or 2 percent was really because of the city or the county.
BCB: There was some confusion because it’s different. I looked back at some of my tickets from as long as 10 years ago, and it was always printed out separately on the ticket itself.
CK: But then we stopped doing that.
BCB: It was on last year, at least on the season ticket.
CK: Well, maybe on the seasons, not on the single game tickets.
BCB: That may be why people …
CK: We started breaking it out.
TR: Let’s think about that for next year.
BCB: Still on the ticket issue, how many new season tickets were sold in the bleachers or were made available?
CK: There were several hundred new season tickets made available.
BCB: That is season tickets, not season ticket holders.
CK: Season tickets.
BCB: Were they sold out?
BCB: They were.
CK: One of the things that was going to happen, and this was really the family’s interest, we were trying to do something for everyone. There’s a long list of people on the waiting list that have been waiting forever and one of the things that happened when Tribune sold the business was we took back a lot of season tickets from Tribune. So the question is, what do you do with those? Well, first, we offer those to existing season ticket holders to improve their locations. So we have a massive, if you can imagine a relocation program of 25,000 season ticket holders where you said hey do you want to go from Point A to Point B and they had to decide whether that’s an improvement over what they had today. So that, Frank Maloney, his department worked, it’s like moving day in October in Chicago. Everybody switches apartments. So people had to decided whether they were going to relocate. And then after that all shook out and all the existing season ticket holders had a chance to relocate and what was left were put into a new pool for people on the waiting list. But we also took a group of seats in the bleachers and said we ought to get some bleacher inventory and put some bleacher inventory in there as well. So we created a pool for new season tickets and those are all sold out. So we helped a lot of folks on the waiting list.
BCB: You mentioned the Kids Run the Bases thing and the reason I ask you is I know you’re planning another Road to Wrigley game this year. Is that scheduled already?
CK: We’re working on a schedule.
BCB: Is it going to be Iowa?
CK: No, I think we may be going back to Peoria.
BCB: That was very popular. That almost sold the place out.
CK: It’s a great day for kids. You know we can do things during those games that we can’t do during a regular game – the mascots, the fun with the umpires, kids run the bases, although we’re going to do that now during the regular season. So for us it’s a day to kind of have fun with the game. For our young players, we like that aspect of it as much as we like having the game which is you give the young players something to shoot for, and expose them, they’re all working for the same thing. They want to play at Wrigley Field.
TR: It also gives the true fans a little glimpse at some of the young guys coming up. A guy whose name is on a piece of paper until they come to town unless you actually go to Peoria.
BCB: And a chance to go to Wrigley for a lot lower price, too.
TR: Yeah. You get people in the field.
CK: Did you go to both games?
BCB: Yes. They were both good games.
CK: In terms of the quality of the opposition.
BCB: Yeah, it really was. It was good baseball. You’re also planning some concerts this summer. Any definitive word on when or who yet?
CK: We’re still working on the artists and the dates but are confident we’ll have a series here this summer.
BCB: Two or three or ...
CK: Two to three.
BCB: Among people who read BCB, there are many who don’t live in Chicago. In fact, some there have never lived in Chicago who became fans because of WGN and of course there are fewer games on WGN these days if they can get them. You and I have talked about this many times, about the blackouts. What’s your thought about eventually getting the blackouts and the possibility that you might someday start a Cubs network like the Yankees YES network.
TR: Well, taking the second question first, we have pretty long term media contracts in place. Actually that’s something that was in place when we bought the team, so a Cubs Network we would like a lot, but it’s a few years before it can be really seriously considered. We have contracts. With respect to the blackout issue, I really don’t know much about it. Crane knows, Crane gave me at one point a little rundown of some of the TV issues and he threw it out there as something that exists.
CK: We are the direct beneficiary of all these WGN viewers. In some ways the Cubs phenomenon is much more a part of WGN than it is the play of the team or anything else. It’s certainly no great design that anyone had; it just was great fortune that WGN was taking us out to millions of homes outside of Chicago and created this national brand. We’re the beneficiaries. So, expanding our territory and ending blackouts is a good thing for us. We will support, we will work with the league and the folks, our broadcasters and everyone else to try and solve. And I know Al, that’s one of your issues and you’re not the only one. We hear that from plenty of people.
BCB: It obviously doesn’t affect me because I live in Chicago and I can watch all the games. I feel for these people who live in, especially Iowa, which is where the Triple A team is, you’ve got tons and tons of fans in Iowa and a lot of them can’t watch the game, or certain games they can’t watch.
TR: Is it all of Iowa?
BCB: I would have to ask people who live there, but I hear from people who live in Des Moines all the time.
TR: There’s a blackout in Des Moines?
BCB: Yeah, where the Triple A team is. It’s because of all these territories that were carved out in the 1970s when various teams broadcast, had broadcast signals that went into these areas and they wanted to protect their broadcast signals. Well they don’t do broadcast anymore, it’s all cable, but the territories are still there. The Twins and the Royals are the main teams that are claiming these territories and they won’t let the Cubs broadcast.
CK: And the Brewers in the northwest. It’s a legitimate issue and I think, for instance, to play the Road to Wrigley game, we need to get Jerry Reinsdorf’s approval because we’re invading Kane County’s territory for the minor league game. So there’s a lot of jurisdictional issue. Jerry’s always said fine, have your Road to Wrigley, it’s a minor league game. As you start to talk about major league signals, people start to feel very protective of their territory.
BCB: It’s crazy. I hear from, not Cubs fans necessarily, but people in Las Vegas, who are fans of the Giants, they can’t watch... it’s crazy. So now that you have all of these various ways of watching games, whether it be MLB Extra Innings or MLB TV or now we have apps on the portable devices, my feeling is if you’re willing to pay to watch a game, you should be able to watch it and it doesn’t matter where. On a related topic, FOX blocks out their three hour block on Saturday afternoons they regionalize these games There shouldn’t be any reason why, for example, if you had an MLB subscription, they could feed you the FOX game for whatever market you are and send you the local commercials from the FOX station. That’s the issue. They’re trying to protect the local FOX commercials.
CK: This unfortunately, is an agreement between the league and the national contracts in terms of what they can do. Our national broadcast partners, ESPN and FOX, they’re great partners, right, that help this league as much as anyone. They want to protect that territory during that window. I get that now. It causes havoc with our lives. In fact, your lives, because we can’t tell you certain Sundays what time the game’s going to start. We don’t know if the game is going to be selected by ESPN or not, so we’re constantly playing that information game where we’re trying to post it on the website. You do a great job on your website by letting people know hey this game got picked up it’s now a 7:00 game. But it’s pretty complicated, you’re now starting to talk about the national agreements.
BCB: It’s funny because I tell people this, especially people younger than me, you’re talking about eight or nine Saturdays a year that FOX has these games and if you live in New York and they’re carrying the Yankees you’re not going to see the Cubs. I go back to the era when I was a kid, we just got home games. WGN just televised home games of both Chicago teams. You didn’t get road games. And then when the White Sox split off to another station and WGN picked up the whole schedule you still missed about 20 games a year. So, be able to have the luxury to see every game on television is a fairly recent phenomenon. So I think to have some historical perspective is important, too.
CK: Like your kids and mine, everything’s at their disposal. They can’t understand why there’s any delays.
BCB: Are you open to expanding the payroll a little if there’s an acquisition, let’s say, the middle of this season that might help get the Cubs over the top into the playoffs? Jim Hendry comes and says I’d like to get this guy it’ll cost $8 million, are you...
TR: I’m not sure .. probably not an $8 million mid season addition, but what we’re always talking about and what Jim likes to do … we’re going to play out the first half of the season we’ll see what we need I think it’s good I think he has a philosophy to bring in a fresh guy or two at the trade deadline to help push the team forward the last couple months. We’ll be open minded to that stuff.
CK: Remember Al, when you talk about an $8 million acquisition, you’re talking about the remaining portion of the season. So that would be a $16 million…
BCB: That was just a number I threw out off the top of my head.
CK: My first year was ’03 and that was the year we added Ramirez, Grudzielanek, Karros, you look at what the ticket was to add all that, which we were happy to do. Same thing in ’07, same thing in ’08, you can add a lot of value and return for someone with minimal contract. The other thing you have to have is you have to have a trading partner who values your system. If you look back at when we cleaned house on ’06 and you look at what the system looks like today, we have two forms of currency, right? We have cash, which is a great thing to have, but we also have the system that creates trading partners. So if you don’t have a system with players that are coveted elsewhere, people don’t want to trade with you. If you think of that valuable left hand bat, there may be six teams that want that left hand bat. So the question is do you have something in your system that moves you to the top of the order to get that person. In some cases not only do they want to give you the player you want, they want you to pay some of the freight to give you that player. So, that’s why the system’s just as important as the dollars. We now have the system and I think clearly they have the right guy in there in the Scouting Director’s job, and if you just keep moving down the road and you match a system with the dollars at the deadline you can get a lot of worth for less than the $8 million you mentioned.
BCB: Sometimes we get into arguments at BCB. People say, well, why doesn’t Jim Hendry go and do this? Why isn’t he talking to people. And I think they don’t understand that he is talking to people every single day. I know he’s got that cell phone almost glued to his ear. And just because a deal doesn’t get made I don’t think means he wasn’t trying. I’m sure he is trying.
TR: In the November, December window, there wasn’t a trade that happened where we didn’t say okay, let’s see if there’s a piece of this for us. We’re always looking and Jim is always hustling, as you know.
BCB: So some of those names that were thrown out, you did probably actually look at them and then make a decision?
TR: Yeah, well, there’s some good players that were traded, just a couple of them, but yeah. If there’s a way to work it out so we can have one of these guys, well cool.
CK: Like the Curtis Granderson discussion before we got Marlon Byrd. Like everyone is saying, "They should get Granderson." Well, if you look at what the Tigers said, "We have to get back a center fielder." Our system didn’t match up with them.
TR: But if we had a center fielder then we wouldn’t need yours.
CK: So then Jim involves a third team. So it’s not, you don’t accept that you don’t have the players, so you get creative and you involve a third team and well they have a center fielder do they match up with us? It’s sort of like three-dimensional. You work with more and more teams and Jim looked at that equation to see what would work for us. And ultimately we decided that giving something directly for Marlon was our answer. It doesn’t mean people say why didn’t they try? We looked and a fit makeup really wasn’t there.
BCB: Here's a question that's a little more personal. The story about you being in the bleachers and meeting your wife there is well known.
TR: It’s all true.
BCB: When was the time when you first, in all your time living here and being a Cubs fan thought, I could own this team? Maybe not even the first time you thought you could, but when you first had the thought that you wanted to own them, like every kid here.
TR: You know, it’s kind of funny. Last fall I was going through some papers on my desk and I found my business school application and it was an essay written in 1990, and I wrote in there, they asked one of the questions, "What’s your dream job?" and I wrote I’d like to own the Chicago Cubs or a baseball team and I thought oh, I really said that? But I do remember I was living at the corner, I was living above the Sports Corner bar that year when I was filling out my applications so it showed that I was interested, but maybe it just shows that I was lazy that day and looked outside and said maybe one of those. It’s always been a dream. Not for a long time but… I was a trader on the floor from ’87-’94. I was doing fantasy baseball leagues at that time. I read everything Bill James wrote during that time, and it’s funny, it’s kind of like that new spin on baseball, kind of a more thoughtful spin on baseball. It brought a lot of people in. It made people think a little harder and it, it gave baseball more texture than it had in the past, at least for me. And of course, obviously living right up here and going to so many games. I love business, I love baseball, being able to do both at once is terrific. And then to combine it with the family is just, that’s another game. You know the money for buying the team came from my dad. I have a very, very successful investment banking firm, but that’s not what’s paying for this team. It’s my dad and what he did to start AmeriTrade. And based on that we had some money set in a trust it was just sitting there and none of us cared about diversification or portfolios or, you know, it just wasn’t exciting to us. So just a few years ago I thought, you know the Tribune’s going to have to sell that team because the Trib was going to sell to an equity firm? So we just kind of threw our hat in the ring and spent three years to get it done, but it’s been in my head for a long time.
BCB: You mentioned reading the Bill James books. Are you looking towards, are either one of you looking towards bring more statistical analysis people in here to help out the baseball people in their evaluations?
TR: In some fashion. I think if we can find someone who would be value added to Jim and his team, we would take a look at that. But nothing hard core right now and there isn’t anybody selected or anything like that. And to work with, not try to come in from some completely different field and not ambush anybody just bring him in and put that extra glove in our bag, because I think there are teams doing more than we are and we should look at that.
CK: This is something about having all the additional resources. You saw all the extra trainers we have and the staff to do some of these things. Like the Ambassador program makes a lot of sense something about bodies and bodies in the space and you can’t really put a dollar return on those people so how do we justify? Well we brought in a group called CSL last summer -- maybe you were here, they were polling people. So you saw them. They were asking a lot of questions, where did you come from, how long did it take you to get here, where did you park, if you didn’t park did you ride the El, how long did that take you, how long do you expect to be in Chicago. They asked a million questions about your day here and from that information last summer that we got the idea for the Ambassadors. We started, this is what the fans are saying about their day. How do we react to that? So we said either you get a firm to come in to handle that or you hire somebody to see how to serve you better. The goal is: we are a hospitality business really on the other side of the wall. We’re a baseball business on the field, but after it’s about entertainment, it’s about hospitality, it’s about service, quality of our restrooms, etc. etc. So we now brought that function in house. Similar with the Theriot arbitration. We used all the statistical information to determine where we should fall in the line and had to go prosecute the case. You can bring that in house and now you know the relative value of your players to help you make decisions at arbitration . It’s just a smart thing to do whether you are a Bill James, you believe in the whole Billy Beane theory or you’re not, it’s just a great tool to have in house and now we have the room to do it.
TR: And some of the new stuff coming out, I want to make sure we don’t fall behind.
BCB: We hope you being here will bring us to a place where it is like the Red Sox or Yankees that make the playoffs every year, or 95 percent of the time. And if we can pop out some championships every decade or so...
CK: That’s obviously the goal.
TR: Well, if you look at how it’s done.. that first round of playoffs is a coin flip. Not to say that we don’t want to be the better team, we don’t want to have all that stuff going on, but the fact is, let’s get to the playoffs. And for us, we can do it every year. We have the payroll. We have the larger market, we have some good competitors, but we should, if we develop our own talent and be consistent, just bring up guys and be smart, there’s no reason why we can’t be at the top of the division every year.