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updated: 4/16/2013 8:18 AM

Rebuild Wrigley and 'we will win the World Series'

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  • People walk outside Wrigley Field in Chicago before the Chicago Cubs season home opening baseball game against the Milwaukee Brewers.

      People walk outside Wrigley Field in Chicago before the Chicago Cubs season home opening baseball game against the Milwaukee Brewers.
    Associated Press

  • The Chicago Cubs and the city have agreed on details of a $500 million facelift for Wrigley Field, including an electronic video screen that is nearly three times as large as the one currently atop the center field bleachers of the 99-year-old ballpark.

      The Chicago Cubs and the city have agreed on details of a $500 million facelift for Wrigley Field, including an electronic video screen that is nearly three times as large as the one currently atop the center field bleachers of the 99-year-old ballpark.
    Associated Press

  • Chicago Cubs owner Tom Ricketts

      Chicago Cubs owner Tom Ricketts
    Associated Press

 
 

Back in October 2006, then-Cubs president John McDonough sat in an extremely cramped "interview room" at Wrigley Field and proclaimed it the team's goal to win the World Series.

The Cubs made the playoffs in 2007 and 2008, but didn't win a postseason game.

On Monday, team chairman Tom Ricketts stood in a dark, dank concourse and said if he can sink $300 million of his family's own money into Wrigley Field over the next five years, the Cubs will win the World Series.

An agreement with the mayor's office to renovate the nearly 100-year-old ballpark has been reached. However, before construction can begin on a project they say will take five years, the Chicago City Council must approve the plan. With various neighborhood groups not fully on board, Ricketts and Cubs officials said public meetings will begin soon.

Fans want a winner

Aside from the hardball off the field, fans care most about the Cubs putting a winning team on the field. The team has not been to the World Series since 1945 and has not won it since 1908.

Although Ricketts said the renovations would generate revenue to be used in the baseball operations, he did not say how long before baseball president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer would reap the financial benefits.

"We anticipate it will be helpful to get financial flexibility to the baseball team before the end of the five-year term and process," Ricketts said. "We will see that sooner I am sure.

"This massive investment will help us generate the resources we need for our baseball operations to develop championship-caliber players. If this plan is approved, we will win the World Series for our fans and our city."

All part of the plan

Following a disastrous 2006 season on the field, the former owner of the Cubs, the Tribune Co., ramped up spending on major-league player payroll and on Opening Day 2007, the company announced the team was up for sale.

According to published reports, player payrolls grew from $94 million in 2006 to $118.4 million by 2008 to $144.36 million by 2010. The Ricketts family bought the team in late 2009, and beginning in 2011, major-league player payrolls began falling in 2011 to $134 million and then to $109 million by 2012 and $106.8 million this season. Ricketts has called the Trib-era payrolls "unsustainable."

The Cubs, under former general manager Jim Hendry, increased spending for amateur players for the 2011 draft. New major-league rules now have placed restrictions on how much teams can spend in the draft.

Ricketts call "untrue" an assertion in one recent published report that there was tension between the business and baseball sides because Cubs funds were not flowing as freely to the baseball side.

Ricketts outlined a two-pronged plan.

"The first element obviously is to preserve and improve Wrigley, its feel, a lot of steel, a lot of concrete, a lot of electric just to make sure the park is here for the next 50 years," he said.

"The second element is to make it more economically efficient, to make it more financially efficient so that we can take those dollars and put them back to work on the field. It's a significant amount of dollars that can be generated. Hopefully, over the next few years, some of those will start to bring some of those in sooner rather than later.

"It absolutely increases Theo's ability to put dollars to work on the field and substantially (so)."

Messing with tradition

There are other elements to the plan that affect both player and fan comforts.

At the home opener on April 8, Ricketts said the home clubhouse is a high priority. The Cubs have the smallest home locker facilities for their players, and their weight room is makeshift. Players must walk out beyond the right-field wall before games if they want to hit in a batting cage.

Other teams have batting cages near their clubhouses so their players can warm up.

"We don't want to be telling our players we're a first-class organization and give them second-rate facilities," Ricketts said. "It's not just how it looks or how it feels. It's how it works. We'd like to get batting tunnels built. We'd like to get better training facilities built. But once again, the ability to do that will be subject to how quickly the process moves."

There are at least two other lightning-rod issues when it comes to the ballpark experience: the proposal for a 6,000-square-foot video board beyond the left-field wall and more later starts to game times, including a proposal to increase the number of night games from 30 to 40 and the reintroduction of 3 p.m. starts for Friday games.

Many traditionalists are against a video board because they like the ambience of Wrigley Field and its hand-operated center-field scoreboard, which would remain in place under the plan.

"I like Wrigley Field. I'm very traditional," Ricketts said. "When you look at what the fans are asking for now to improve their game day experience and you balance and you add to that the economic value of the video board, it becomes obvious that it's the next-best step."

In addition to more stats and replays, video boards are potential generators of great streams of revenues from ads. The board the Cubs propose no doubt will block the view of some of the neighboring rooftop owners, who are business partners with the Cubs. That could pose legal challenges.

The Cubs also want more night games and later starts to generate revenue and to get the team on track with other major-league teams, which play a majority of their 81 home games at night.

"Our proposal is that we add some more flexibility to schedule night games and then we also need extra flexibility should the league take many of our day games and turn them into night games," Ricketts said.

bmiles@dailyherald.com

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