Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Cubs aren’t playing on the south-side in 2013…but they should in 2014

As I mentioned in my post earlier today, the rumors about the Cubs potentially playing their home game at U.S. Cellular Field in 2013 are completely baseless and just a flat out fabrication.

It’s unbelievable that a responsible news agency like this (no, I’m not posting a link to the story) could post whispers that probably were overheard at a bar in Wrigleyville.

If the Cubs were going to play outside of Wrigley Field, in 2013, a number of things would have had to happen by now. 

First off, finalized blueprints would have been released and we would have had some updated renderings.  Remember, if this were true, major work on the ballpark would be starting in about 8 months in either October or November.  Site preparation would probably already be going on.

Second, the Cubs would have felt obligated to inform season ticket holders of the potential change coming for the 2013 season…and even more importantly, the would have informed people who have been given the opportunity to purchase season tickets for the first time that they will only be at Wrigley for one season before spending a year at the Cell.  It would be smart for the Cubs to offer these people a delay in the decision until after the renovations keeping them at the top season ticket waiting list queue. 

Third, the Cubs still don’t have financing in place to pay for these renovations and no signs that significant progress has been made to secure that financing.

Fourth, the Ricketts family has not made even the slightest indication that this drastic option is on the table right now.  Of everything that Ricketts have been asked about, the idea of movie the team out of Wrigley for a year has been turned down by the Ricketts as strongly as the idea of tearing down the ballpark and building a new one somewhere else. 

Finally, the city would need to approve this renovation, and when the time comes for the major rehab to happen, you can bet it will take months of wrangling before everyone in the Wrigleyville neighborhood and the city in general will be happy with the plans to update the stadium. This quite frankly can't get done before work were to begin at the end of the 2012 season.

So with that all said, lets start getting to some hypotheticals here.  Should the Cubs consider moving out of Wrigley for a year?  Possibly in 2014?  It’s not going to happen, but I think they should consider it and actually do it.

(Warning:  Doc is going into one of his semi-annual "Wrigley Field is a dump" rants.)

Wrigley Field is a dump.  I know a number of people can’t stand it when I say that, but it’s the truth.  I’ve heard this from many people now: you can go to just about any other ballpark now and sit in the worst seats at those ballparks and those seats will still be better than the best seats at Wrigley.  It’s cramped.  It smells.  The food sucks.  And for the players, it doesn’t have the amenities that most AAA minor league parks now have. 

The idea of a patchwork approach to renovations where some larger changes happen during the off-season while minor fixes occur while the Cubs are on road trips just doesn’t seem like it would be enough. 

One plan has the Cubs have thrown out there involves digging out deep underneath the stadium to build the new clubhouse facilities.  Someone has to explain to me how that can be done in a single offseason…especially considering that it will require the Cubs to replace the field again…a task that took a number of months back after the 2007 season.  You can’t re-sod the entire field a few weeks before the season starts in a climate like Chicago. This just doesn't seem plausible right now.

Piecemeal renovations will give us updates more similar to the clubhouse renovation in 1982, the pressbox/skybox addition in 1988-1989 or the bleacher expansion in 2006.  Doing something like this is simply not big enough.  The main grandstand needs to go through a major restructuring.  In fact, some consideration should be put in to completely rebuild the upper deck, which currently contains the oldest concrete in the entire ballpark. 

Now I’m not an architect or in the construction business, so maybe there is a way to do these major renovations I'm suggesting without closing the park down for an entire year.  The Marlins played at ProPlayer/Dolphin/JoeRobbie Stadium during major renovations, as did the Royals when Kaufman when under its facelift.   The Royals and Marlins, though, never had to deal with crowds of 40,000 on a daily basis.  In fact, the Royals closed off parts of their ballpark during the season. The Cubs probably couldn't do the same.  

Of course the Red Sox played at Fenway during its decade long makeover, most almost all that work was done during the off-season.  I was at Fenway before it underwent its renovation (1996)…and I knew it was in desperate need for some work.  For most of the ‘00s, Fenway underwent a series of minor fix-ups and expansions that have now kept that ballpark viable for the foreseeable future.  Even with all this work, all the Red Sox did was make Fenway "viable".  Fenway is still cramped and missing some more modern amenities.  It's also likely to need renovations again in 10 years.  

I'd like to see the Cubs do better.  Make Wrigley comfortable for 40,000 people just like any new ballpark.   While Wrigley can "seat" 40,000, it wasn't designed to comfortably hold 40,000 on a daily basis.  Add more aisles, expand the concourses, widen the seats, add leg room and add more bathrooms.  I'd like to see it made into one of the best ballparks in baseball, in every respect, not just making it a viable Major League park.  I don't want the Cubs to have to consider having to do more massive renovations again just ten years after these renovations are complete.

It would seem to me that most of this cannot be done with a series of minor renovations.  It requires the ripping out of much of the concrete  and redesigning the overall structure of the grandstand.  Will this help the Cubs win games?  Not directly...but if last season taught us anything, it's that Cubs fans will not blindly go to Wrigley anymore.  Make the place comfortable and fan friendly for fans whether or not the team is good and whether or not the weather is cold like in April.  That adds to revenues.

Last season the Brewers out drew the Cubs while in the smallest market in baseball.  The amount that they outdrew the Cubs was only 50,000 or so...but if Major League Baseball actually published the number of people that actually came into the ballpark, the Brewers vastly outdrew the Cubs last year.  The no-shows at Wrigley last year were possibly the greatest they've ever been in the history of the franchise.  While the Cubs still get money from the ticket sales, no shows represent a loss of revenue.  Surely a team in Chicago should out do Milwaukee in both ticket sales and actual attendance almost every year regardless of performance on the field.  A major renovation of Wrigley could help achieve that.

Ideally, the Cubs would keep the bleachers and center field scoreboard, and completely gut and rebuild the rest of the ballpark.  The reality is, the main grandstand isn't what makes Wrigley the ballpark that everyone loves.  It's the ivy, the scoreboard, the brick walls, the bleachers, and perhaps the goofy neon red sign at the corner of Clark and Addison.  The rest of the ballpark could be replaced and it wouldn't make any difference.

To go to this extreme, the team would need to move out for a year...plain and simple.

As I said...this is all hypothetical.  The Ricketts family isn't interested in doing something to this extreme.  It's been said that the Tribune actually was considering doing this when they tried to sell the ballpark to the state back in 2007 and 2008.

I know this is an old argument...you can go through the CDE archives and see numerous posts where I bitch about Wrigley Field.  I can only hope that the renovations that are being planned are more massive and have a more drastic effect than I suspect they will.