Ricketts must find Cubs stadium solution

Updated 8/25/2011 4:22 AM
  • Tom Ricketts faces a winter of Cubs fans' discontent, and he's on the spot to do something about it.

      Tom Ricketts faces a winter of Cubs fans' discontent, and he's on the spot to do something about it. Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

Tom Ricketts is a smart guy.

No, that's not the judgment here.

In fact, it's too early to make that call and so far there's not a lot of evidence to support the aforementioned opinion.

Actually, he's mostly made mistakes since taking ownership of the club, and so many of them were so easily avoidable.

But people want to believe he's a smart man, and perhaps he's just that.

Maybe he's a smart guy who's simply had a bad few years, and the firing of GM Jim Hendry is the first step in turning around an ugly streak of defeats as Cubs owner.

A few days ago I found notes of some conversations from October 2006 with people like Don Levin, who knew then that the Cubs would be for sale.

Groups began to form, syndicates were discussed, dollar totals were thrown against the wall, and specific plans were put in place for a lightning-fast transition.

The new owners wanted to be completely prepared and hit the ground running.

Four years and nine months later, Tom Ricketts made his first big Cubs decision.

The notion that he needed time to figure things out and survey the landscape before so much as finding out who worked for him remains as absurd a defense as any that has been spit into the wind thus far.

It took Ricketts about 15 minutes to raise ticket prices after he took over the club and less time than that to try to move spring training to Florida, so it's nothing short of naive to believe he had to watch people work before he could make any decisions.

He knew what he had. He liked what he had. He kept all that he had.

And then he did it again for a second year.

He's still enamored of Crane Kenney, believes he's the Cubs' gift to baseball and intends no change along those lines, despite the fact that Kenney is nearly as culpable as Jim Hendry.

And yet we're told that Tom Ricketts is a smart man.

On the positive side, he finally has made one crucial change in management, and he just spent more in this year's draft ($12 million) than the Cubs spent on the previous two drafts combined, and that doesn't even include $7 million on international free agents.

These are two essential moves, akin to a two-game winning streak when you're a dozen games out and 20 under .500.

It's a start, and it gives people something to feel good about, but there's a big hole to climb out of and a lot to prove.

Maybe the next important thing to happen would be for someone to tell Ricketts the truth about Wrigley Field.

To this point, it's unclear if anyone who works for or around Ricketts tells him the truth about anything, but someone ought to be realistic about the future of the Friendly Confines.

The reality is he'd be better off moving to the suburbs and building himself a Wrigley replica with modern toilets and enough seats, concessions, parking and advertising to support his team through the bad times and lift it up during the good.

Few want to see the team leave the North Side shrine, but it might be foolish to pour hundreds of millions into restoration, and rebuilding it from scratch on site is probably cost prohibitive.

If Pat Quinn shuts the doors at Arlington Park by denying the track slots, that's a prime piece of land right there off Route 53 just perfect for a new ballpark.

At the very least, Ricketts ought to use moving out of the city as a threat because he has zero leverage right now in dealing with Chicago, and he hasn't gotten very far in drumming up support for public financing during this economic misery.

Kenney is his team president and business expert, and to this point his business expert hasn't advanced the cause much as it relates to refurbishing Wrigley Field.

Taking control of his stadium situation would give Cubs fans one more reason to be confident in an owner who thus far -- at least until last week -- has appeared to be much more the hapless victim than powerful leader.

But lest we forget, he's on a two-game winning streak, and championships, after all, have to start somewhere.

Here's hoping this is the beginning of something big -- and that Tom Ricketts is as smart as his friends and family say he is.


•Listen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score's "Hit and Run" show at WSCR 670-AM. Follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.