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Who Should Own The Cubs?

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With another couple of days to pass with no ballgames, I thought it was about time to start some discussion here of the next big event regarding the Cubs -- the upcoming sale by Tribune Company, or more correctly, by Sam Zell once he consummates the purchase of Tribune Company. Incidentally, just today we learn that this deal may be further delayed because:

Kevin J. Martin, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, is refusing to grant the necessary waivers that would allow the deal to circumvent FCC rules against cross-ownership of media properties.
So stay tuned.

I have been accused of being an apologist for Tribco. Nothing could be further from the truth. As many of you know, I wrote three paid articles for Vine Line and got paid $180 for them. I can't be bought for $180 -- that's ridiculous. In fact, all three articles were adapted from posts I originally made here. There have been times when I have defended Tribco, management, and Dusty Baker -- far longer than I should have, in the latter case. At this point, that's far beyond relevance -- I know, as do all of you, that it's time to move on, to get an owner of this ballclub that is committed in every way to winning. I do think Tribco management wanted to win; it simply wasn't willing to go the extra mile to do so. A very simple way of seeing this is the fact that the Cubs have the fewest full-time year-round baseball employees of any team in baseball. This obviously hurts scouting and player development. I have heard this is going to change this offseason, as Tribco apparently wants to go out on a good foot -- or maybe they have an understanding with all of the principal contenders for ownership that they can do so. This might also portend well for possible payroll increases or acquisitions this offseason.

I've digressed a bit, but the bottom line on current ownership is this: in twenty-six years they've had nine winning seasons, five playoff appearances and no championships. This, obviously, isn't acceptable. It is, however, better than the twenty-six (in fact, previous thirty-six) seasons of the previous ownership, the Wrigleys, who managed the Cubs with benign neglect after World War II, to a total of eight winning seasons and no postseason appearances at all between 1946 and 1981.

We, therefore, deserve better and we demand better. And I'm here to tell you who I believe will give the Cubs the best chance to do what we all want so badly -- a World Championship.

Last week, Gary Cohen of the Medill Report, an online review written by graduate journalism students at Northwestern, summed up who he sees as the four major contenders for possible ownership -- the John Canning group, Mark Cuban, Don Levin and a group led by former Chicagoan and former Diamondbacks owner Jerry Colangelo. I don't necessarily agree with the odds Cohen puts on each group, and I'm not going to discuss the Colangelo possible bid here. It doesn't seem as if he has a realistic shot, given the debt with which he saddled the Diamondbacks, something Bud Selig and the other owners undoubtedly remember. This will likely sour MLB owners, who have the right to reject any potential owner for any reason they want, and put any Colangelo bid as a non-starter.

So let's look at the other three.

So many of you want Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban to own the Cubs. And I keep asking myself, "Why? What is it about this guy that would make the Cubs a winner?" It's true that he's sunk a large amount of money into the Mavericks; they've become a perennial playoff team, although prone to early exits from those playoffs, too. What bothers me about Cuban, as I've written before, is his "It's all about me" attitude. When he was recently in Chicago he made a well-publicized trip to the bleachers, sitting there on September 17 when the Cubs made a stirring comeback and beat the Reds 7-6. And why was he doing this? To root for the Cubs? To show his loyalty? No, he was there sitting with his dance partner Kym Johnson to promote his appearance on "Dancing With The Stars".

I don't want this sort of forced loyalty, this "I'll bleed Cubs blue" (to coin a phrase) that Cuban's been quoted as saying he'll do IF he gets the team.

This, to me, is ownership by sports talk radio or reality show. He hasn't said one word about how he'd improve the team, who he'd hire and fire (and incidentally, any prospective owner would be crazy if he didn't retain the marketing team, and have a role for John McDonough. Say what you want about the performance on the field, there is absolutely no doubt that the Cubs' marketing department is among the best in baseball at what they do). All we've heard are some comments about what Mark Cuban would do. And check out the quotes from him in Rick Telander's Sun-Times column yesterday, taken from an article in Vibe magazine (couldn't find an online link):

The questioner said he knew a writer who had called Mavs forward Dirk Nowitzki "Dirk Noheartski," and what did Cuban think of that?

"Tell your guy if he were here, I would walk right up to his face, call him a f---ing idiot with no clue."

And when the interviewer said he noticed tears in Cuban's eyes after Dallas was ousted by the Golden State Warriors last season, Cuban replied, "You are on crack."

Well, that makes for interesting newspaper copy, and interesting talk show fodder. But it doesn't help my team win. No thanks.

No thanks on the John Canning group, either. While there's no doubt they do have money, there are hints that they wouldn't spend it. It'd be like having Tribco own the team, only by a single owner. It's not really clear whether Canning would be the "owner", either; the group he's putting together is likely very much like the group that owns the White Sox. Jerry Reinsdorf isn't the majority owner of the Sox; he's the "managing general partner", meaning the other owners in the partnership that owns the team made him the public face, the leader of the group. Canning's group, if they were to get the team, would probably do the same, and given the public criticism of his tight connection with Bud Selig, might choose someone with a well-known Chicago public face to be that "managing general partner". Who that would be -- I have no idea at this time. But reading some articles about how Canning's influence helped cut Brewers payroll in the years just before they were sold -- and the fact that he didn't seem interested in owning the team when they were put up for sale -- leads me, after careful consideration, to the same conclusion many of you have come to about Canning and his group. They'd be in it for money and money only, despite the fact that Canning grew up in Chicago and purports to be a Cubs fan. He's the wrong guy, and despite his close connections with Selig (and, presumably, Reinsdorf), I hope Bud and his minions will look at the bid from the guy I'm going to tell you about next, the man who'd be my selection, hands down, to be the next Cub owner if the choice were up to me.

That man is Don Levin, owner of the American Hockey League's Chicago Wolves.

He's everything we could want -- a local guy. Grew up a Cubs fan. Has owned a local sports team that's been a multiple-year champion and perennial contender (and yes, I am aware that they are an affiliate of a major league team, the Atlanta Thrashers; however, Levin also owned the Wolves when they were an IHL team and more independent, and produced winners there, too).

He was one of the first to express interest in buying the Cubs right after the Tribco sale was announced in April; from that article:

Levin's Wolves have won three championships since their inception in 1994, and he remains a passionate Cubs fan.

"I'm realistic enough to know that I might not get it," he said, "but I certainly hope that whoever gets it is local and that they have the passion to want to win, not just to play.

"My dream in life is to be involved in a World Series. Personally, I'd like to do it against [White Sox Chairman] Jerry Reinsdorf. He's the only other guy who likes to win as much as I do."

Well, that sounds good already, right? But wait! There's more! Levin's a fan and fan-friendly owner:
Levin, 59, frequently connects with fans face-to-face, making himself available to chat during games at Allstate Arena. Why?

"Without fans, you don't have anything," he said.

His customers appreciate this refreshing attitude.

"He's just a fan himself," season-ticket holder Jim Smalley said. "That's why he's so down-to-earth. You can walk up to him and talk, and he definitely is willing to listen if you have something to say about the team. He makes you feel like you're part of the team."

Perfect. A fan-owner who listens, rather than a potential fan-owner (Cuban) who blares on and on about where HE will sit if he owns the team. Last November Mike Downey wrote a column in the Tribune (which is no longer available online, or I'd give a link) about Levin, who had expressed interest in buying the Cubs back then, before any announcement of a sale was even made official. In it, Downey wrote:
Levin, a wealthy businessman and lifelong Chicagoan, is eager to make a bid on the baseball team he has been rooting for his entire life.

"I would never do this for the money," said Levin, who owns Chicago's popular minor-league hockey franchise, the Wolves. "I'd do it to be the guy who after 98 years could help make a winner of the Cubs."

As I've written before: LOUD, SUSTAINED APPLAUSE! That's exactly the guy we want owning the team -- a lifelong fan who's committed to winning. And he says he'd "never do this for the money" -- which I take to mean he wouldn't be in it to squeeze the bottom line, but to do whatever it took to win, and that's further evidenced by this, also from Downey's column of November 2006:
"If they want to sell it, I want to buy it," he said Friday over lunch at Harry Caray's Restaurant. "If I can keep the team as it is, I will. If I can keep it on [WGN], I will. The only thing I want to change about the Cubs is their record."

Estimates have placed the value of the Cubs from $500 million to as high as $650 million. Levin is unfazed.

"I could do it on my own," he said. "If they would be willing to sell it to me, I could close it in 90 days."

Downey quotes Levin as being a passionate Cubs fan since he was a kid:
"As a kid, what I did was go to Cubs games. My dad would be there at Wrigley every day. He was born in 1914, the same year Harry Caray was and the same year the ballpark was. He passed away in 1994 without ever seeing them win a World Series, which is something I want to see in my lifetime."
Money, apparently, is no object. He wants to win and already operates a well-liked, fan-friendly franchise in town. Rescues puppies in his spare time. (No, really. Read the link.) What's not to like?

I won't flatter myself that the words I write here might have any influence over who eventually becomes Cubs owner. And it won't, as we all know, necessarily be the guy or group who bids one cent more than the others -- there are other factors involved.

But Sam Zell, if you're reading this: Don Levin is the perfect guy to be the next Chicago Cubs owner. And as you see above, he can pay you cash. Choose him, as soon as it's possible for you to do so (and with the delays in finishing the Tribco deal, it might take till after the 2008 season to complete a Cub sale). He's my choice. Go Cubs.

UPDATE [2007-10-22 15:55:46 by Al]: If you read through the comments to this post earlier today, you saw some photos posted, which I found immature and offensive and irrelevant to the post. I've allowed picture posting here and I don't want to take that privilege away, because many of the photos posted are terrific (game photos, in particular, taken by BCB readers), and so is the W flag posted on game threads after wins. But stuff like this is unnecessary and, to me, takes away from the intelligent discussion of this major issue involving the Cubs. This is simply to note that I reserve the right to delete any such future photos without warning. Thanks for understanding.