Wednesday morning, in what appeared to be an offhand comment, Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts told an audience at the City Club of Chicago:
"I'm not sure how anyone is going to stop the signs in the outfield, but if it comes to the point that we don't have the ability to do what we need to do in our outfield, then we're going to have to consider moving," Ricketts replied. "It's as simple as that."
Naturally, those two words, "consider moving", provoked a firestorm of "CUBS THREATEN TO LEAVE WRIGLEY" screaming headlines and ridiculous attempts at "humor" like this, obscuring the point of the presentation and following news conference, which was to show some renderings of the Cubs' proposed video board, the hotel proposed for the corner of Clark and Addison, and plans for an office building and plaza on the triangle property adjacent to Wrigley Field.
Incidentally, if you didn't see Ricketts' speech Wednesday, here is the entire video, courtesy of the City Club (total running time approximately 30 minutes):
I meant what I wrote in the headline to this post. You know the Cubs have zero intention of leaving Wrigley Field, right? No matter how you feel personally about the ballpark, the fact is that building a new stadium almost anywhere in Chicago is a non-starter in these economic times. The Ricketts family is committing $500 million to the renovation/hotel project. A new stadium would cost somewhere in the $1 billion neighborhood. Who's going to pay for it? Where would it go? Realistically, there isn't any useful plot of available land anywhere in the city of Chicago that would be suitable for a baseball park -- and even if there were, upgrading the infrastructure for such a plot of land would cost money that neither the Ricketts nor the city nor Cook County nor the State of Illinois has.
Suburbs? Forget it. This bears repeating, and I've repeated it many times: building a "replica" of Wrigley Field surrounded by suburban parking lots misses the point that much of makes Wrigley Field what it is, is where it is. Further. as I have also previously written, every single major-league baseball stadium built in the stadium boom of the last 20 years (except one, Rangers Ballpark, which was built adjacent to the Rangers' old stadium) has been built in or near a central-city location. Why is this? Because a central location is best-suited for transportation options. Put a stadium in the suburbs and you risk becoming what's happened to the NHL's Phoenix Coyotes, who have an arena in the far western reaches of the metro area. People who live in the fast-growing east and southeast regions of Phoenix won't go, because it means sitting for two hours in rush-hour traffic getting to games. Take that concept and double the number of games and double the number of seats in the stadium, and you can see why no one in any sport is rushing to the suburbs. (Except for certain new NFL stadiums; that works in the suburbs because those teams play just once a week, primarily on Sundays when traffic is lighter.)
There appear to be three really contentious items regarding the renovation proposal made by the Cubs:
- The request for more night games
- The Jumbotron
- The kerfuffle with the rooftops
Let's take these in reverse order. The rooftop clubs -- which, yes, have a contract that runs through 2024 -- ought to stand down on their constant threats to take the Cubs to court and instead, play nice and try to work out a deal that could keep them in business past that year, because right now the Cubs have zero interest in extending that deal. The Cubs, in fact, appear to have gone out of their way to minimize the impact on the rooftops of any advertising sign or video board they put in the outfield. Why the rooftops won't take this as a good gesture instead of saber-rattling is beyond me.
I've said many times that the proposed Jumbotron is too large. You might disagree. I suspect the size of this board will be scaled down, in part because the current proposal would require the city to vacate part of Waveland Avenue, to allow outer bleacher walls to be expanded to provide support for this video board. Given the location of the fire station on Waveland, I can't see the city acquiescing to making Waveland permanently one-way.
Finally, it's my view that instead of focusing on the number of night games -- which should be increased to approximately 40 -- the Cubs should be lobbying hard to get permission to play two or three Friday night games a year coming off road trips. That would be better for the baseball side of the operation than simply increasing the number of night games. (And can we have fewer night games in April when it's cold, and more in the summer?)
Eventually, the Cubs and the city of Chicago and those in the 44th Ward and other areas surrounding Wrigley Field will hammer out a deal; not everyone involved will get everything they want, but they'll make an agreement they can all live with. This is called "compromise", a concept that seems foreign to some in this contentious age.
But the bottom line is: the Cubs aren't leaving Wrigley Field. Now, or ever.