Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Why Do the Cubs Keep Embarrassing Themselves?

Excepting things that directly involve me, my family and friends--and likely superseding most of those--I can't think of an occurrence that could possibly make me happier than the Cubs winning the World Series.

While there are undoubtedly millions who can honestly claim to be bigger Cubs fans than me--I don't go to or watch all that many games, I rarely know much about many of their players and not only do I not hate the White Sox, I actually like and cheer for them as well--rooting for the Cubs through thick and mostly thin has been ingrained in me since I was a young child, back in the early 70s.

But my belief is that being a good fan--somewhat akin to being a patriot or just a good citizen--does not mean always fawning over your team, and certainly not the organization that runs it.

Especially in regards to a franchise that has not won a World Series in 106 years--I think we can safely include this one--not only is raising questions and offering criticisms just, but seemingly part & parcel with fandom.

And right now I am rather chagrined by the Cubs.

To begin with...

Their on-the-field results aren't just disappointing, they're disgraceful.

To complain about the Cubs perennially losing seems so 20th century, but the first decade of these '00s was probably their best since the first decade of the last '00s. From 2000-2009--perhaps not incidentally before the Ricketts family took ownership, not that the Tribune regime was that wondrous--the Cubs won their division 3 times and had three other seasons of 88, 89 and 83 wins.

Yes, the 2003 choke was crushing (as I recalled here), the 2004 collapse was pitiful--as was the slamming of announcers Chip Caray and Steve Stone by certain players--and the twin 3-and-out NLDS losses in 2007 and 2008 were pretty pathetic, but at least the Cubs were competitive more often than not.

As of today, prior to tonight's game in San Francisco, since the start of the 2010 season, the Cubs have won 292 games and lost 405, for a .418 winning percentage, coming in 5th place each year, where they currently sit at 19-30 for 2014.

Over the same span, I believe only the Houston Astros have been worse, and crosstown rivals the White Sox --the only other 2008 playoff team that has not made the postseason since--have come in 2nd twice and sit there now.

I recognize that since Tom Ricketts took over, the plan has been to rebuild--largely by bolstering a decimated farm system--and this plan has been exacerbated after Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer were brought aboard in bold moves after the 2011 season.

The Cubs have some impressive young players in Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro and Jeff Samardzija and a good handful of supposedly stellar minor league prospects--Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, C.J. Edwards, Albert Almora, Jorge Soler--hopefully approaching matriculation.

So if things work out as hoped, and the Cubs are competitive next year, really good in 2016 and win it all in 2017, I--and most every Cub fan--will forgive yet another crappy season this year.

But the Cubs haven't played a meaningful game after Memorial Day in 5 years. And it doesn't seem that they--the front office, not the players themselves who can't be blamed for their limitations--are doing anything to remedy this.

Some people--mostly media members who don't have to pay major league prices to watch minor league talent--argue that it makes no sense to bring in decent-but-not-star players who may improve a team's year-to-year fortunes, but not their chances of winning a World Series.

This isn't illogical, but not only have 20 of 30 other teams made the playoffs since the Cubs last did, the White Sox sure seem to be doing a better job of staying competitive--while the fumes of their 2005 title still waft--while hopefully building to the next level.

If nothing else, at least they're fun to watch.

But I wouldn't bother writing this diatribe simply to lambast the Cubs for being bad. Over the past few days have come announcements that have truly left me shaking my head.

Click here to see article and video
Unable to move forward with approved Wrigley Field expansion plans due to pending or possible lawsuits from rooftop owners, the Ricketts' announced their aims for even more substantive  renovations to the historic park.

Per this Tribune article, Tom Ricketts "plans to submit a revised proposal to City Hall that would feature more large electronic signs, additional seats, bigger clubhouses and a relocation of the quaint bullpens from foul territory to a spot under the bleachers by removing bricks and some of the iconic ivy and covering the space with a material that would allow relievers to see onto the field, according to a high-ranking Cubs source."

As with most things, this isn't a black and white issue, but once again the Cubs look petulant and silly.

I love Wrigley Field the way it is. I don't want a jumbo video scoreboard or tons more advertising signage. The quaintness of the stadium is what has brought me to Cubs games year after year, even when the team has stunk.

But the classicist in me has never fully embraced the apartment building rooftops on Waveland and Sheffield becoming corporately-owned and adorned with mammoth bleachers. I agree with the argument that the entities charging patrons to sit across the street and watch games are essentially stealing the Cubs' product. It'd be like people bringing sling chairs to my patio to watch the HBO I pay for (except that I don't currently subscribe to it).

So while I would prefer Wrigley to be structurally-enhanced but not substantially altered, I understand the Ricketts' desire for--and even right to--greater revenues which they say will help them field a better team.

But here's the thing, or a few of them: In 2004, when the Cubs were owned by the Tribune Corporation, the team signed a 20-year revenue-sharing agreement with the rooftop owners. This fine article by David Kaplan on CSNChicago.com provides much more detail than I will here (also see this recent follow up), but essentially the Cubs collect 17% of Gross Revenues from the rooftop owners while agreeing not to block their views (note: this is a simplification, not legal fact).

A rendering of proposed changes to Wrigley Field, released by the Cubs
And the Ricketts family bought the team knowing full well what legal agreements and restrictions were in place. 

So it seems that rather than kick and scream until he gets his way, Tom Ricketts will have to come to a new agreement with the rooftop owners. If it would help the Cubs win the World Series, I would readily accept a moderately-sized electronic scoreboard in back of the left-field bleachers that doesn't block rooftop views (or reimburses lost revenues), expanded bleachers, larger clubhouses under left field, a couple prominent advertising signs and a nearby Cubs-owned hotel.

I'm not looking it all up again, but I think the Cubs have approval from the Chicago City Council for all of this.

And with due respect to the investment your family has in a lousy baseball team, Mr. Ricketts, please leave it there. Leave the bullpens where they are, and don't muck up Wrigley with advertising any more than you have to. Especially as it's the one good thing about the franchise about this point.

Click here for article
Finally, for now...

Signing the disgraced and self-serving Manny Ramirez to be a player-coach with the AAA just seems stupid. Or worse.

Manny Ramirez was a great hitter for many years in the major leagues. I don't doubt he could impart something valuable about hitting, and even life, to some of the Cubs' prime prospects.

But he shouldn't be enlisted to.

In 2009 and again in 2011, Manny-being-Manny was suspended for violating MLB's drug policy.

He served his suspensions and is said by some to no longer be the complete tool he appeared to be throughout his career. (Anyone reading this likely knows what I'm referencing, even without citing any specific instances.)

I still consider him a cheat and don't think he should've been hired by the Cubs. Especially as he's angling for a chance to return to the majors and having been told he won't have that chance with the Cubs, will instantly leave behind his coaching duties if any other team offers him a big league deal.

But what annoys me more is that this deal actually makes me feel sorry for Sammy Sosa.

Yes, I believe Sammy used steroids that helped him hit prodigious homers in record numbers. But however sheepishly I must admit it, I buoyantly cheered for him through those glory years, and the Cubs paid him tons of money.

Also, it should be noted, he never flunked a PED test that has been made public.

Yet when the Cubs recently had a celebration commemorating the 100th anniversary of Wrigley, with star players of the past saluted on-the-field, Sammy Sosa wasn't invited.

I felt that was hypocritical and a bit petty, but I wasn't all that bothered by it, as I think Sammy did cheat.

But at least he cheated FOR THE CUBS. While on their payroll, with many in the clubhouse and front office undoubtedly aware that Sammy didn't blow up like Popeye by eating spinach.

It is still written in the record books that Sammy Sosa hit 609 regular-season major league home runs, including 541 for the Cubs, leading them to 2 playoff appearances. 

Meanwhile in the 2008 National League Division Series, while playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Manny Ramirez hit .500 with 2 home runs to help sweep the Cubs in 3 games.

I'm not saying either cheat should be employed, or even championed, by the Cubs. But it makes no sense that they shun Sammy and then hire Manny.

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