After the 1897 season, the Chicago National League club’s great player and manager Adrian “Cap” Anson was released.
This was in a time before official team nicknames became a thing in baseball. The club had been known as “White Stockings” and “Colts” during Anson’s time, but upon his departure they were referred to in the press as “Orphans” or “Remnants.”
The “Remnants” had a few bad seasons, but by 1903 they were again a winner, and you know the rest, four NL pennants and two World Series titles in the five years from 1906-10.
What does this have to do with the Chicago Cubs of 2021? Well, you could most certainly call the collection of athletes wearing Chicago Cubs uniforms during baseball games right now “Remnants,” after 11 players who were on the 2021 Opening Day roster were traded away in what we might call Jed Hoyer’s Great Purge.
While all the current Chicago Cubs have baseball talent, it is clear that talent isn’t close to its competitors. Basically, we are watching an expansion-level ballclub, with a handful of good MLB players, a few rookies trying to prove themselves, and a collection of waiver-wire guys. It has been noted by commenters here that this might be the worst active Cubs roster in history. I didn’t want to concur at first, but after having watched them in person for a week’s time at Wrigley Field, there’s almost no doubt that’s true. There are 45 games remaining on the Chicago Cubs schedule. Of those, I would say 20 are against clubs whose talent level is about the same as this Cubs 26-man roster (three vs. Marlins, Royals, Rockies; four vs. Twins, and seven vs. Pirates). This Cubs roster might be able to win half of those, and maybe sneak a win or two against a better team. So we’re looking at a win total for 2021 of around 62-65.
Obviously, after the Great Purge that doesn’t matter. Hoyer made the correct (in my view) decision that the 2016 World Series core players (and those added) weren’t getting it done, and ripped the band-aid off and essentially said, “We’re starting over.”
Some have said it could take three or four years for the Cubs to return to contention. I disagree. My point here is to explain four reasons why I think the Cubs will put together a team that can at least contend for a division title in 2022 — because they have to.
Why? Here are the four primary reasons.
The Ricketts family’s Wrigleyville real estate investments
Some don’t care for the Hotel Zachary and other real estate plays the Ricketts family has made in the area around Wrigley Field. Personally, I’m perfectly fine with what they’ve done.
This is a trend in baseball, teams building these sorts of things near their stadium to get ancillary revenue. Another example is the Ballpark Village that’s been built near Busch Stadium in St. Louis. Other teams have either already done this or are looking into it.
But having done this, the Ricketts family needs full houses at Wrigley Field to make these investments worthwhile. Here’s a list of the major real-estate projects the Ricketts family has built near the ballpark. If Wrigley is empty — and just wait till September to see how empty it can be — there won’t be people spending money at those places.
Marquee Sports Network
Setting aside, for now, some of the things Marquee has been criticized for, there is no doubt that TV ratings for Cubs games are likely cratering now that the team has had its selloff. This Forbes article, in fact, notes that Cubs ratings were down even before all the deadline deals.
If there’s no competitive Cubs team in 2022 with no good, star players to promote, ad rates and TV ratings will plummet.
The Cubs made a major play here by starting their own TV network. Even before the pandemic, in late 2019, former Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein noted that the network’s revenue wasn’t going to be the “wheelbarrows” of cash that were originally hoped for:
Epstein reiterated this week that the Marquee Sports Network isn’t going to affect the Cubs’ baseball operations budget next year.
“The new TV deal, at least for the first few years, basically means the exact same thing for us as the old deal,” Epstein said Wednesday in Pittsburgh. “The first few years will basically replicate the old deal, and then with potential for real growth.”
We’re in those “first few years” now. The Cubs need to at least “replicate the old deal.” Without marketable players and/or a contending team, that’s not going to happen.
Season ticket holders
I have been a Cubs season-ticket holder since 1993 and my loyalty to the team goes back 30 years before that. I’m going to renew my season tickets. I understand the reasons for the selloff.
But I know a lot of STH who are angry about what happened, that their popular heroes were traded off, who don’t understand it. In my view the anger is misplaced — but there is no doubt it exists.
And there are others who, thanks to the pandemic, have begun to think, “I can do other things with my money.” Just Thursday at Wrigley, I was speaking to a fellow STH, who’s been one for 20 years and who used to attend 40-50 games a year, who told me they have indeed done that. I’ve seen this person at the ballpark only three or four times this season and might not again this year as they get busy with work and other projects.
These are the sorts of people the Cubs can’t afford to lose. Beyond that, there are the bandwagon-jumpers who bought season tickets over the last five seasons and have likely taken a huge financial hit on their investment.
If the Cubs don’t spend money to at least try to put a contending team on the field in 2022, in my view there will be a mass exodus of STH. Further, if you’re on the STH waiting list — why would you buy now?
Lastly on this point — the Cubs are almost going to have to give at least some sort of token price cut on season tickets. Season-ticket prices have essentially been flat since the World Series win brought a 20 percent increase in 2017. Without any such cut, the exodus from season tickets could get even larger.
The White Sox
Yes, the Sox. Let me explain. There was a time — and it’s in my lifetime and that of quite a few others here — when the White Sox were the No. 1 team in Chicago. From 1951-67 the Sox were contenders every year, won one AL pennant and had seven 90-win seasons. Meanwhile, in that time frame the Cubs were mostly awful. From 1947-66 they had one winning season (1963), two 100-loss seasons and basically were marketing Ernie Banks and “beautiful Wrigley Field.”
This could have been sustained by the White Sox, except for two things:
1) The Cubs got good right then, and the Sox fell off a cliff, losing 95 games in 1968, 94 in 1969 and a franchise-record 106 games 1970, and
2) The Sox decided they didn’t want to split TV time with the Cubs on WGN and moved their TV games to WFLD, then a UHF channel that some people didn’t even have the equipment to watch.
It got so bad that in 1971 the Sox couldn’t get a single major Chicago radio station to carry their games. They had to cobble together a “network” of three suburban stations just so the games could be heard in the entire metro area.
Beyond that, you know what happened. Though the popular 1969-era Cubs never won anything, their exposure on WGN brought them several generations of fans, both locally and nationally once WGN began to be widely distributed on cable and satellite in the 1980s, with the consummate salesman Harry Caray switching sides of town in 1982.
The Cubs have reaped the rewards of this for nearly half a century, becoming the No. 1 baseball team in Chicago, with the Sox relegated to “little brother” status.
The Cubs are the “Remnants” again, and the Sox have a very good team that has a lot of good and popular players. I watch their games often on TV. They’re fun to watch and they have a very real chance to win the World Series this year.
If that happens and the Cubs don’t spend? Then casual baseball fans will flock to the South Side and the Cubs might be consigned to second-banana. Just because things have been Cubs-centric in Chicago since the late 1960s, do not assume it will always be that way.
The Cubs HAVE to spend money, and they have to spend it this offseason, and at least try to win in 2022. If they don’t, that is at their own peril. They should have at least $100 million in payroll room for next year. I’ve already made some suggestions on who they might sign this offseason; I’ll certainly have more as baseball’s free-agent season begins in November.
As always, we await developments.
SITE NOTE: In Thursday’s recap I had promised a look at Jake Arrieta’s Cubs career today. Instead, that will run tomorrow.