New Cubs Owner Feels Fans' Pain, Promises Relief There's an old joke: How do you become a millionaire? Have $1 billion -- then buy the Chicago Cubs. Well, Tom Ricketts did buy the storied franchise and its famous ballpark, Wrigley Field, spending almost $900 million. And it's a team that hasn't won a World Series for more than a century.
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New Cubs Owner Feels Fans' Pain, Promises Relief

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New Cubs Owner Feels Fans' Pain, Promises Relief

New Cubs Owner Feels Fans' Pain, Promises Relief

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

Well, Tom Ricketts is that man. Mr. Ricketts is the chief executive officer of Incapital, a Chicago investment bank, and a director of Ameritrade, and now owner of the Chicago Cubs. He bought the storied franchise and its famous ballpark, Wrigley Field, for almost $900 million, the most ever paid for a baseball team and its park.

And I believe - I'll check the facts on this � that it's a team that hasn't won a World Series for more than a century.

Tom Ricketts joins us now from the studios of Chicago Public Radio. Thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. TOM RICKETTS (Owner, Chicago Cubs): Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: Did you buy the Cubs for love or money?

Mr. RICKETTS: Well, I think it's going to be a fair investment over time, but you don't buy sports teams just because you're looking at the investment side of it. It's a love of the family, we love the field. We're looking forward to being a part of it and we're looking forward to getting rid of that 100-year reference you just made.

SIMON: Well, can you tell us whether or not you're going to increase ticket prices?

Mr. RICKETTS: Yeah, nothing's been decided on that yet. I think that it might go up a little bit overall for next year, but we haven't made any final determinations on that.

SIMON: And if I might sound like a cranky, garrulous fan for a moment, why would they go up at all? It's certainly not as if the team played any better.

Mr. RICKETTS: Yeah, the fact is that it's pretty expensive to put a team on the field. I think that key that all fans - garrulous or not - should keep in mind is that with family ownership now, we intend to reinvest all of the profits that we can get on the team and put that back into preserving Wrigley Field and to putting a better team on the field. So it's not like it's going away to some kind of corporation never to be seen again. You know, we're all kind of in this together from our perspective.

SIMON: Speaking as a businessman, do players' salaries make sense to you?

Mr. RICKETTS: In baseball, the players, you know, a lot of those players create a lot of value for those teams. It seems like a lot of money, but as a free market guy, I guess I'd have to say that if those people are getting those kind of salaries, then they're justifying it economically somehow.

SIMON: Do you prefer to build a team through the minor league system or go for some big-name free agents?

Mr. RICKETTS: Scott, undoubtedly the way to build a long-term winner is through player development. 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.

Free agency, I think, is something that is - something you look when you've got a hole to fill or when you haven't been able to produce a player from your own system. The real key for consistent performance and trying to win the division every single year is developing our own players.

SIMON: Johnny Damon of the Yankees is an outfielder, free agent; Carl Pavano of the Twins, pitcher - good one - is a free agent. Any interest?

Mr. RICKETTS: Those decisions are to be made by the general manager. I don't have any feeling for whether or not Jim has any interest in any particular free agent at this point.

SIMON: So, Jim Henry's going to remain as the general manager?

Mr. RICKETTS: That's true, yes. Jim is staying on as general manager. I think everyone was disappointed by the performance in 2009, particularly coming off a great 2008. But overall, I think Jim's done a good job of kind of bringing the team up to the level that they're at with three playoff appearances in the last seven years. And we're going to give him the opportunity to put us over the hump next year in 2010.

SIMON: Do you want Lou Piniella to stay on as club manager?

Mr. RICKETTS: I do. We think Lou is one of the best managers in baseball. He has an option to return next year, and from what I understand I think he's planning to.

SIMON: Wrigley Field is not only great, but in the opinion of many people it's the franchise in the sense that no matter how well or not well the Cubs play, there's a great turnout for people to see Wrigley Field. The players sometimes point out there's not enough room for training facilities, offices, that sort of thing that have become accepted at the major league level.

There's always some talk of the Cubs maybe purchasing adjacent land nearby to build something. Do you have anything to say on that?

Mr. RICKETTS: Yeah, a couple thoughts on that. First of all, we want this to be the best franchise in baseball. And you can't be a world-class franchise and have third-class facilities, and we see that. We really understand that there's things that we have to improve inside the stadium from the player perspective.

With respect to how we do that, it's linked to the second half of your question, which is there is land that is just adjacent to the stadium along Clark Street that the team owns that we intend to develop that into a part of 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 clubhouse functionality that other teams enjoy.

Things like, you know, a batting cage or a video room or a place where the players can sit quietly. I mean, those are kind of things that we have to look at building in. But it's all part of the stadium redesign that accompanies the addition to the stadium, which will allow us to move a lot of the current things that are in the stadium out of the stadium so we have some more space.

SIMON: Is there a franchise, as you look at major league baseball, that inspires you and makes you think if they can do that maybe I can try something like that with the Cubs?

Mr. RICKETTS: Well, you know, the Cubs are unique. I think there are some analogies you can see from other teams out there. But, you know, the Cubs are a special kind of one of a kind franchise. So, I'm not sure there's any one team that you can just point to right away.

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. 'Cause we really do want to preserve and keep improving the special experience that Wrigley Field is.

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

SIMON: Tom, what do you look forward to?

Mr. RICKETTS: I look forward to opening day. I look forward to being at every game. I look forward to winning the World Series.


(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: �that's not too much, is it?

Mr. RICKETTS: Not too much to ask, I don't think.

SIMON: Every game you think you might get to?

Mr. RICKETTS: Unless there's some kind of family commitment that prevents me from doing so, I suppose I'll be at many games.

SIMON: Steven Bartman, the poor guy a lot of Cub fans blame for snatching the foul ball away from Moises Alou, 2003 playoffs, that they feel kept the Cubs out of the World Series - would you welcome Steven Bartman back to Wrigley Field?

Mr. RICKETTS: I'm sure that if he wants to come back, it'd be fine with me. I don't have any issue with him. And on top of that, Scott, it's like, I think one message that we have out for every fan is let bygones by bygones. What's happened in the past is behind us. There is no curse, there's no Billy goat, there's 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, and we just have to look forward, not backward.

SIMON: You nicely set up my last question. Mr. Ricketts, sir, can you use a right-hander in the bullpen for late inning relief?

Mr. RICKETTS: You know, I�

SIMON: I'm not volunteering, if that wasn't obvious.

Mr. RICKETTS: Volunteering? Yeah. Will you work for the minimum?

SIMON: Are you kidding?

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: It's got to beat what I'm making now. And yes, I'd pay you.

Mr. RICKETTS: Fair enough. Well, we'll take a look at that.

SIMON: No commitments. You're very canny. Talking like an owner already.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: You know, years ago, when Barbara Walters finished an interview with Jimmy Carter just before he was sworn in as president, she said, Mr. President, be good to us, be kind to us. If I may, on behalf of all Cub fans�

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: �be good to us, be kind to us.

Mr. RICKETTS: Well, you know, and on behalf of the family, we're fans too and we feel the pain of the fans. We understand the magic that is Wrigley. We understand everything that goes into it. So it is our singular goal to get us to the promise land and to start being more consistent and get to that World Series. And hopefully we'll be on this show again soon and we'll be talking about what it was like to win.

SIMON: I hope so. Tom Ricketts, new owner of the Chicago Cubs. Thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. RICKETTS: Thank you, Scott.

(Soundbite of song)

Unidentified Men: (Singing) The Cubs are gonna win today. Hey, hey, holy mackerel, no doubt about it, the Cubs are on their way. They've got the hustle, they've got the muscle. The Chicago Cubs are on their way.

SIMON: The audacity of hope.

WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

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