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Cubs For Sale?

Many of you have wondered when I'd weigh in on the possibility of Tribune Co. selling the Cubs, since there have been literally dozens of different rumors over the last few weeks and months about such a sale, during the ongoing drama of whether Tribco is going to be broken up, sold whole, or taken private, among many possibilities.

Why am I doing this now? you may ask. Part of it is because of articles in this morning's Tribune and Sun-Times detailing efforts by local groups to buy the team IF they are put up for sale, which appears to be an open question at this time.

Before I tell you more, a little story. In 1981 I was working part-time at WXRT as a stringer for Bruce Wolf, who was then the fulltime sportscaster for that station (you longtime 'XRT listeners will no doubt remember his "Athletes' Feats" segments on Terri Hemmert's morning show). I got wind of a group, very similar to the groups desiring to buy the Cubs now, that was about to make an offer, and I interviewed the investment banker representing that group.

Those people never had a chance once the team was actually put on the market by the Wrigleys; the sweetheart relationship that the Wrigleys and WGN radio and TV had had for more than thirty years trumped any chance that any "outside" buyer would have had.

Things are more complicated today, obviously, with the Cubs part of a corporate structure. Here's the most interesting part of that Tribune article:

A source close to Tribune said the company is focused on offers for the whole company and is concerned that putting the Cubs up for sale separately would distract management from bigger issues.

Jim Anixter, the scion of a wealthy Chicago-area family, said he also approached Tribune Co. about buying the Cubs and has been rebuffed.

Anixter, president of A-Z Industries in Northbrook, has drafted a letter he intends to send to Eli Broad and Ron Burkle, the Los Angeles billionaires who have said they are interested in acquiring Tribune Co.

Anixter, 62, said his message is simple: "If you are successful in buying Tribune, we'd like you to spin off the Cubs to us."

That's a possibility, I suppose, but my feeling is that if Broad and Burkle do buy the entire company -- which they want primarily to restore the LA Times to LA-area ownership -- they'd keep the Cubs as a trophy property, perhaps installing a local, Chicago-area person as team president and CEO.

That'd be fine with me. There are those who have said I am a shill or an "employee" of Tribune Co. and that somehow, my "position" (whatever that is) would be threatened with a team sale. That's ridiculous, but some people have trouble with the truth. If the team is sold -- great. If it's not, and current management is willing to do what it takes to put a winner on the field -- that's great too.

Finally, one of the groups rumored to buy the team is headed, or fronted, by Playboy founder Hugh Hefner's daughter Christie, leading to certain types of inevitable junior-high jokes. That's all well and good, but actually, Christie Hefner is a savvy businesswoman who took her dad's floundering business and turned it around in short order. If her group did buy the team, and she were installed as managing general partner (something MLB would probably love, as there are very few women involved in baseball management), I think it'd be a positive development for the city and the team. Remember, you don't have to have billions to buy a sports franchise -- you only have to have the ability to raise multi-millions of dollars. Jerry Reinsdorf isn't the majority owner of the White Sox -- he's only the managing general partner of a syndicate involving thirteen different men (whose names you can see at the top of that linked page, and many of whom are the same people who are in the ownership group of the Chicago Bulls -- link opens .pdf file, scroll to page 7).

We await developments.