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updated: 1/21/2014 8:03 PM

Cubs should know a contract is a contract

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  • Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts address the fans during the team's annual convention last weekend.

      Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts address the fans during the team's annual convention last weekend.
    Associated Press

 
 

Cubs management should understand the sanctity of a contract as much as anyone.

Didn't they have to keep paying and keep paying and keep paying Alfonso Soriano until the Yankees finally agreed to start paying him?

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Maybe the Cubs think they can deal the rooftops to New York, too.

No, though the Ricketts ownership appears to be stuck with the contract that previous owner Tribune Company negotiated. No wonder the most fascinating, intriguing, complicated issue the Cubs face is this ongoing dispute with the neighbors across the street.

It's enough to make a serious businessman like Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts turn goofy. Consider this tidbit from an espnchicago.com report:

"So you're sitting in your living room watching Showtime, you're watching 'Homeland,' you pay for that channel," Ricketts said Saturday morning on Day 2 of the Cubs convention. "Then you notice your neighbor looking through your window watching your television. Then you turn around and they're charging the other neighbors to sit and watch your television. So then you get up to close the shades and the city makes you open them."

Ricketts' analogy is at once clear and clearly flawed. Missing is the little matter of that dang contract that rooftop owners have with the Cubs.

Similar to a lot of other sports owners here, past and present, it's taking Ricketts, an intelligent businessman, awhile to understand how the city that works really works. There are enough special-interest groups to fill all the increasing number of empty seats in Wrigley Field.

Every time I have been around when Ricketts is asked how he can get out of the contract with rooftop owners, he gets a knowing expression on his face as if he knows something the rest of us don't. But he must not. If he had a way out of the contract, the Wrigley redo would be under way by now.

The rooftop owners haven't budged or blinked. Instead they threaten to sue if the Cubs violate the contract with a videoboard that obstructs views from atop the buildings across Waveland and Sheffield avenues. For now the Wrigley Field renovation is delayed, which by extension delays the Cubs' plan to rebuild the ballclub.

Ricketts should be applauded for intending to improve everything in the ballpark, from facilities for players to amenities for fans. Harder to applaud -- essentially impossible to applaud -- is the idea that the Cubs can get out of the contract with rooftop owners just by saying they want to.

As old-fashioned as the concept is, a contract remains a contract. If this one says the Cubs aren't permitted to block the rooftop views, they aren't permitted to block the rooftop views.

Ricketts wants the public to believe building owners steal Cubs games like the neighbor entrepreneur steals "Homeland."

Saying that, jokingly or seriously, is absurd and suggests that the chairman is either playing the fool or playing Cubs fans for fools.

The neighbor doesn't have a contract with the homeowner and doesn't pay the homeowner 17 percent of revenues like rooftop owners pay the Cubs. That's the deal Tribune Company struck with the rooftoppers when it owned the Cubs.

So now Ricketts is reduced to making flimsy analogies, getting that knowing expression on his face, and looking for a way to steamroll the Cubs' way toward a resolution of the problem.

To this point, I'm all for the Cubs renovating Wrigley Field and also all for the rooftop owners not being bullied into submission.

If those sentiments are at cross-purposes, well, that's why this issue is so complicated.

mimrem@dailyherald.com

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