Friday, June 3, 2011

It was not a very good off day for the Cubs.

Tom Ricketts had better hope the Cubs don’t have another off day for the rest of the season…because this is what happens…

I’ve done it.

Most of the other bloggers have done it.

Most of the fans are doing it.

Even the broadcasters have hinted at it.

And now surprising sources of criticism are showing up.

The Ricketts family has owned the Cubs for only 1 ½ years. It seems like 100 years. The honeymoon is long over. As early as last year I knew they had a problem when, at Billy Williams’s statue unveiling, when Tom Ricketts was introduced to the crowd, there was an uneasy murmur in the crowd. That was quite different from just a few months earlier when just the sound of the family name made Cubs fans hopeful resulting in loud applause.

Yesterday, Bruce Miles, who is one of the best beat reporters in town, in a bit of an editorial piece (which is quite out of character for him) announced that maybe it was time for Jim Hendry to go. This story didn’t really directly criticize the Ricketts family, but pointing out that this is currently the 3rd rebuilding effort the Hendry has overseen actually does point a finger at the Rickettses. GMs get two chances. Very rarely do they get more and if they do, it is because of significant success. Hendry is an old school GM as well while just about every other team in baseball has brought in a GM the uses modern analysis and techniques to build a ball team. Hendry has shown no ability promote a team philosophy throughout the farm system, and the Cubs still lack the ability to develop players on a consistent basis. Hendry’s legacy is entirely made from a run in October of 2003 which, when you examine it, was more due to luck than of talent.

Miles’s article basically, without actually saying it, that all the “right things” that Tom Ricketts said on initial press conference after his family bought the team were in fact a lie. Yes, it was a lie that can be exemplified in one action…keeping Jim Hendry as general manager.

Picard is unhappy to hear that Hendry is still GM in the 24th century.

So, that’s one story.

Steve Rosenbloom, who is an absolute idiot, actually also started to pile it on the Rickettses and wrote something I agreed with yesterday. The article is titled “Ricketts plays Cubs Fans for Stupid”. While Rosenbloom stated nothing new and nothing that nobody didn’t already know (just look at the attendance on Memerial Day this year), he was dead accurate in saying the Ricketts, the fan, just walked into this assuming people would always love this team. WRONG! Ricketts, the fan, went into this without doing his research. In the end, he thought all Cubs fans were like him. They’re not. He went into this with a mind-set that was completely skewed because of his fandom. In reality, the biggest baseball fans in the world might not be the best guys to make sound baseball decisions. Ricketts has even shown some serious ego issues. That’s why there is nothing wrong with this team.

Oh…and those aren’t really empty seats at Wrigley, people are just waiting in line to go to the bathroom and that’s why he need’s $200 million for Wrigley renovations.

The Gulls don't count for the attendance figures.

Next up…Barry Rozner who wrote an article titled “No, the Cubs are not going young.” Rozner correctly points out that while the Cubs are currently playing a ton of recently minor league players, the players that have been called up are nothing more than bench players or career minor leaguers. On top of that, the acquisitions this past off-season pretty much go contrary to the idea of “going young”. The Carlos Pena signing was inexplicable especially now with Tyler Colvin only getting playing time because Alfonso Soriano doesn’t know how to stretch before the game. Tom Ricketts said it when he first bought the team and he has repeated it in the 19 months since that the Cubs were going to be going younger. One problem with that, you have to have the talent in your farm system to do that. That means when you actually do have the talent, you don’t trade half of it away for a fly ball pitcher with emotional control issues.

So, yes, the media had its chance to pile on the Ricketts family during the off day yesterday. That off day was quite convenient for the reporters who got a day to digest the stupidest comment made by an owner in some time when before Wednesday’s game Tom Ricketts answered the question What’s wrong with this team with “Nothing. Just a lot of injuries.”

Wrong. There is plenty of wrong with this team and it starts with the fact the Crane Kenney is still the team president.

So why not have the Major League Baseball front office just pile on as well? Well, guess what. They have. The Tribune reported today that the Cubs are in violation of the MLB’s debt rules. I don’t know what that entirely means. I’m not a financial whiz by any stretch, but I do know that in an bad economy, were your sources of revenue are suffering significantly (the fans), the product you are putting on the field is bad and your facilities are falling apart, having a $450 million debt that is due to be payed in relatively short order is probably not a good thing. The Cubs have been lumped into the same class as teams like the Mets and Dodgers who we all know are in serious financial trouble. That’s kinda scary.

As the article states, unlike some teams, like the Mets, the Cubs financial issues actually are not payroll (believe it or not) or facilities related, but most likely due to the enormous amount of financing that was required by TribCo in the sale of the team. The financing was required by Sam Zell to help alleviate some of capital gains tax that the Tribune would have to pay as a result of the sale of the team. That meant the Ricketts family had to borrow a ton of money during a time when borrowing money was virtually impossible. This was the primary reason that Mark Cuban removed himself from contention for the team. Borrowing money to by the Cubs was extremely expensive. And now, the team’s value is probably far below that sale amount of $850 million.

So, there you have it. The Cubs are a mess. I know it. The bloggers know it. The reporters know it. The fans know it. Major League Baseball knows it.

Unfortunately, it appears Tom Ricketts doesn’t know it.

This isn't helping anything, Tom.

What’s even worse is that the fans just don’t seem to care anymore. The Bulls, Bears and Blackhawks have been able to satisfy the Chicago sports fan over the last few years and the need to go to Wrigley to sit in cramped seats, pay $7 for beer and watch Koyie Hill ground out weakly to third base is just not there right now.

The Ricketts family has done a wonderful job at pretending to listen to everyone. In the end, they need to get the hell out of the way and hire someone to listen to the right people and, more importantly, follow through and get this organization headed in the right direction again.

The first thing to do is to fire Crane Kenney and bring in a real baseball man to run this team from top to bottom. It is absolutely inexplicable that Crane Kenney still has a job with this team.

That new team president then needs to bring in a GM who has some idea of how to build a modern roster and set up an organizational philosophy throughout the farm system and then learn to draft players who meet that philosophy.

Then, that president probably needs to bring in a new marketing guy for this team. Things have not been the same for the Cubs since John McDonough left. Has anyone noticed the significant drop in promotional giveaways at Wrigley the last two years? I guess it would be difficult to market anything about this team, but a smart marketing guy like McDonough can still get the job done. That sounds a little contrary to my philosophy of focusing on the baseball on the field, but marketing goes far beyond finding people to sing the 7th inning stretch. Marketing is revenue generation.

Once that is done, Tom Ricketts should only worry about signing checks, raising money to fix the stadium and figuring out some way to get this team out of its significant debt.

When all that happens, the fans will show up again.