Ricketts finally gets to relish in Cubs' winning ways
During the deepest darkest days of 2012 and 2013, when the foundation for the Chicago Cubs' rebuilding program had just been poured, Wrigley Field resembled a library on most nights.
The place was dead quiet as bad Cubs teams went down to defeat after defeat, 101 in 2012 and 96 in 2013.
But night after night, team chairman Tom Ricketts walked the stands and talked to the fans who showed up and endured the losing while the team's future toiled away in the minor leagues.
On Friday, it wasn't a library Ricketts visited. He enjoyed his first big reward, with maybe 5 million of his closest friends, at the Cubs' World Series rally at Grant Park.
So how did Ricketts endure the early days?
"Funny thing is, honestly, the best thing that I could have done in those days was walk around and talk to fans," he said during the clubhouse celebration after the Game 7 victory in the World Series at Cleveland.
"I walked around the upper deck and 19 out of 20 fans, all they said was, 'Stick with it. Follow the plan. We got your back. We're going to be here.' And they were. And they hung with us for all those years."
Ricketts and his family finalized their purchase of the Cubs in October 2009. After two losing seasons, Ricketts hired Theo Epstein to run the baseball-operations department, with Epstein having two World Series on his resume from his days as general manager of the Boston Red Sox.
"I think he's a great leader," Ricketts said. "Everybody who works for him respects him and appreciates the fact that he expects a lot out of them, but he's also not in any way some kind of crazy dictator. He just leads the right way.
"What I realized early on was that with Theo, the quantitative stuff is there, but that's not the key. The key for him is hiring the right people and helping them get to the right decisions.
"Each of those decisions, as everyone in this room knows, is what built this team."
The Cubs made it to the National League championship series last year, getting swept by the New York Mets. This year they rallied from a three-games-to-one deficit in the World Series to beat the Cleveland Indians in seven.
The final game provided its own wild swings, with the Cubs giving up a 3-run lead late and allowing the Indians to tie the game in the bottom of the eighth inning before finally winning it 8-7 in the 10th.
"Oh, dear God," Ricketts said. "I have never, never, ever had a game with more ups and downs for me, personally. That was back and forth. It was crazy.
"Give the Indians all the credit. Those guys just kept coming, and the fans were terrific. The energy in the park was incredible. No one who ever watched that game or was at this game will ever forget it."
It wasn't lost on Ricketts in the postgame happy mayhem that the Cubs had won the franchise's first World Series since 1908.
"I just like the idea that when a Cubs fan walks into the office tomorrow and someone asks when's the last time the Cubs won the World Series, you can say yesterday," he said Wednesday night before repurposing the joke at Friday's rally.
There was one other nice postscript. As the final out was recorded in Game 7, Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo stuffed the baseball into his back pocket. That was just fine with Ricketts.
"You know what? Riz can have it," Ricketts said at the time. "He deserves it. I'm not hung up on objects. It's not about the things that were here tonight. It's about the fans who got to see the game and the end result."
Friday at the rally, Rizzo presented Ricketts with the ball.
"It only feels right for me to hand this ball over to Mr. Ricketts, because this is part of history forever," Rizzo said.