New Cubs Owner Feels Fans' Pain, Promises Relief

A Cubs fan holds up a sign. M. Spencer Green/AP i i

The Chicago Cubs haven't won a World Series in more than 100 years. M. Spencer Green/AP hide caption

itoggle caption M. Spencer Green/AP
A Cubs fan holds up a sign. M. Spencer Green/AP

The Chicago Cubs haven't won a World Series in more than 100 years.

M. Spencer Green/AP

There's an old joke: How do you become a millionaire? Have $1 billion — then buy the Chicago Cubs.

But Tom Ricketts, who recently bought the storied franchise and its famous ballpark, Wrigley Field, for almost $900 million — the most ever paid for a baseball team — says he thinks it's going to be "a fair investment over time."

"You don't buy sports teams just because you're looking at the investment side of it," Ricketts tells NPR's Scott Simon. "We're fans, too. And we feel the pain of the fans; we understand the magic that is Wrigley."

Ricketts is the chief executive officer of the Chicago investment bank Incapital, a director of Ameritrade and now, owner of the "Lovable Losers" — a team that hasn't won a World Series for more than a century.

The ballpark that has been the team's home for much of that time is the subject of constant renovation chatter. Ricketts says he's taking notes from Boston's Fenway Park; the home of the Red Sox is often touted as a prime example of upgrading a historic stadium rather than replacing it with a new one.

"I think obviously what they've done with Fenway is a good thing for us to look at in terms of how to improve the stadium," Ricketts says. "We really do want to preserve and keep improving the special experience that Wrigley Field is."

Part of his plan includes developing land adjacent to the stadium. "That will give fans more options on game day, but as importantly, free up space inside of the stadium to build in some of the club house functionality that other teams enjoy," Ricketts says.

"On the field, we also won't mind copying the Red Sox," he adds. "I think it's time for the team to push forward and to win a World Series."

Talk of upgrades usually produces some griping about rising ticket prices. Ricketts says nothing's been decided, but expects ticket prices might increase a little bit overall next year. "But we haven't made any final determinations on that," he says.

Tom Ricketts, right, and his siblings Laura and Todd. Jim Prisching/AP i i

Todd Ricketts, left, laughs as his sister Laura and brother Tom share the microphone a news conference at Wrigley Field on Friday in Chicago. Jim Prisching/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Jim Prisching/AP
Tom Ricketts, right, and his siblings Laura and Todd. Jim Prisching/AP

Todd Ricketts, left, laughs as his sister Laura and brother Tom share the microphone a news conference at Wrigley Field on Friday in Chicago.

Jim Prisching/AP

Fans might grumble about that. After all, even with an expensive and much-hyped roster, the 2009 season was pretty disappointing — even for a Cubs fan. Ricketts says he understands, but adds that putting a team on the field and maintaining a stadium costs a lot of money.

"The key that all fans ... should keep in mind is that with family ownership now we intend to reinvest all the profits we can," he says. That means putting the money into the team and preserving Wrigley Field. "So it's not like it's going away to some kind of corporation and never will be seen again."

He might get less flak from fans if highly paid players can justify their salaries on the field. A winning season, Ricketts says, is going to take some player development. "The real key for consistent performance and trying to win the division every single year is developing our own players."

"You've got to draft the right people and you've got to have scouts and coaches that are coordinated and working together to turn the right players into real producers at the major league level."

But, as a "free market guy," he says, "If those people are getting those kind of salaries, then they're justifying it economically somehow."

Ricketts praises Cubs manager Lou Piniella as "one of the best managers in baseball." Piniella has the option to return for the 2010 season, Ricketts says, and expects he'll come back. General Manager Jim Hendry also gets the thumbs up for now: "We are going to give him the opportunity to put us over the hump next year in 2010."

Expect Ricketts and his family to be very involved with the team. "You'll see us in the field every day," he says. "We intend to be very highly visible and connected.

"Our job is to make sure that the fans are having the kind of Wrigley experience that we know and love," he says, "so we will definitely be around. ... I look forward to Opening Day. I look forward to being at every game. I look forward to winning the World Series."

And, he says, fans need to start looking beyond their team's reputation as cursed — a legend that famously involves the rejection of a goat from Wrigley Field in 1945. "What's happened in the past is behind us," Ricketts says. "There is no curse, there is no Billy Goat, there is none of that stuff. Let's move on. We're one of the best teams in baseball; we will be the best team in baseball going forward."

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