Years from now, maybe we can say that "next year" arrived on October 30, 2009.
Tom Ricketts is the new chairman of the Cubs, and with his two brothers and sister, will comprise the board of directors of the team. But it's more than just a few names you've heard of -- the Ricketts really are a large extended family; their parents Joe and Marlene and quite a number of small children were in attendance at today's press conference. Even more so than the Wrigley "family" ownership (which was really just one person at a time, William Wrigley Jr., then P.K. Wrigley after his father's death, and then William Wrigley III for the last few years), this team really is owned by a family, not just one person.
And during today's news conference, they not only emphasized their own family, but the Cubs family -- a family you and I are part of as Cubs fans. For lack of a better term, they "bleed Cubbie blue" just as all of us do. Each one of them told the story of having come to Chicago from Omaha for college and, at various times, falling in love with the city, the Wrigleyville area (where several of them lived) and the Cubs. The story you've heard about Tom meeting his wife in the bleachers -- true, corroborated with smiles from all three siblings, who were there on that day. They used to sleep out for bleacher tickets in the early 80's, went to nearly all the weekend games, and said that being a Cubs fan is "a special feeling", and that "we know owning the Cubs is an honor, and we intend to respect it".
Tom's sister Laura perhaps put it best: "The Cubs are bigger than us as owners, bigger than Wrigley itself. It's a matter of family pride for us."
But that's not what you guys want to know about. You want to know what these new owners are going to do to make our team -- their team, and I truly believe that they are "one of us" -- a winner.
The most important thing Tom Ricketts said, I believe, about his philosophy of ownership is this:
We're going to hire people we trust, give them the opportunity to succeed, and hold them accountable.
Now isn't that refreshing? Isn't that what we've wanted to hear? No Steinbrennerian overlord tactics from Tom Ricketts (although when asked whether he would be an "active owner", the response was, "Todd will coach first base and I'll coach third". Wow -- a sense of humor!). He -- and Crane Kenney, who has the new title of team president -- will bring in the best people and let them do their jobs. If they don't, they'll be replaced. For the short term, that means leaving Jim Hendry and Lou Piniella in their place. Tom Ricketts said that he thinks Lou is one of the best managers in baseball and the right guy for 2010. From my standpoint, I hope Lou gets some rest this winter and returns in March re-energized, because as we all know, Lou seemed oddly disinterested at times in 2009.
I didn't get a chance to ask any questions -- but that's because nearly all of the questions you posted here yesterday eventually did get answered. (Well, everything except the blue jersey question. I figured that could wait till later.)
Ricketts first thanked fans for sending emails and letters of support for their effort to acquire the team and then gave this three-pronged message:
First, to strive to be the best in baseball every single year and to win the World Series. To accomplish that, invest in world-class facilities and the best personnel, and (as noted above) hold them to a high standard of accountability.
Second, they love Wrigley Field and will do everything they can to improve the Wrigley Field experience for future generations.
Third, they love Chicago and intend to be good neighbors, giving back to the city and neighborhood.
The key to winning the World Series, Ricketts said, is to "make the playoffs every year", and thus to build an organization that's "playoff worthy every single year". He called that "very doable".
For lack of a better term, I'd say Tom Ricketts "gets it".
For the short term, Ricketts said there may be "slight" ticket price increases in 2010. Personally, if he asked me, in this economy and coming off the tough year the Cubs had, I'd advise him to hold the line for one year. He also said payroll would be "slightly" increased, but didn't name a specific figure. Other things that he said he'd look at right away would be improvements in the Wrigley Field concourse, restrooms, and food options. He made it clear that the Triangle Building is a top priority, "the key to bringing Wrigley to modern standards", and I believe he meant this not only for the fan amenities it might contain, but for the new and upgraded player facilities (workout rooms, batting cages, etc.) it is likely to have.
Ricketts was asked why he was going to succeed where other owners have failed. His response, again, had three parts:
First, there are no multiple agendas. The only agenda is to win.
Second, they are going to reinvest in the team, the stadium, and the organization.
Third, there are no "quarterly results", they're in it for the long term: "Our shareholders are our fans."
They mentioned, as has been stated by Kenney before, that they look to the Red Sox as a model of how a team both renovated an old ballpark to be a thriving new stadium (and added that the Red Sox did this without ever moving out, and there has never been any discussion about moving out when renovations begin. There have also been "no discussions" about selling naming rights and he "hasn't considered it". When asked what the timetable was for getting to the World Series, he said (not unexpectedly) that he thought this team could make it next year, but made no promises, and said it would be up to Jim Hendry to make the team better; he wouldn't answer a specific question about eating salary.
Only one player -- Ryan Dempster, who is living here in Chicago all winter -- attended the news conference. For his part, Dempster seemed impressed with Ricketts and his commitment to Chicago, the team and the ballpark. Dempster himself -- one of the few Cubs in recent years to live year-round in Chicago -- also "gets it". If you're looking for a clubhouse leader for 2010, Dempster might just be the guy.
There's a lot more -- and I will post the entire transcript of the news conference here early next week -- but the bottom line is this: after 28 years of ownership that was on occasion good (getting the Cubs twice to within a few outs of the World Series), on occasion bad (seven 90+ loss seasons), and often frustrating, cheaping out for bottom-line corporate reasons when divisions were there for the taking and getting rid of people (Dallas Green, for one) who could have led us to the promised land, we at last have an owner who lives and dies with this team just like we do. We haven't had such an owner since 1932, when William Wrigley Jr., the first of the Wrigleys to own the team, died. Incidentally, there will be a half-hour special with the four siblings on CSN Chicago tonight at 11 pm CDT.
Go get 'em, Tom. Build us a winner, and you'll celebrate along with the rest of us. There will be much rejoicing. I, for one, can't wait.