With Recent Moves, Cubs Seek to Remove Lovable Label
Let’s just dispense with the obvious right away, which is that the Cubs would prefer to remove the “Losers” portion of the label first and foremost. That’s a given, but the way they’ve gone about that process is erasing their lovability as though it was just another McFly sibling in their awkward family photo.
The flurry of rumors, innuendo and things premature reports regarding Joe Maddon and Ricky Renteria is only the latest in a series of moves the organization has promulgated, all of which have served to rend its bumbling and carefree reputation with extreme prejudice.
At this point, the Cubs almost appear to be treating public perception as one of those mattress tags that are not to be removed under penalty of law except by the consumer.
The first real domino to fall was exercising the opt-out clause in the long-running deal with WGN-TV, which many saw as an affront to their keen sense of nostalgia. But fond memories don’t win baseball games, and the Cubs’ deal with WGN simply wasn’t paying them what they felt was market value.
Besides, the power and pull of the Superstation isn’t nearly what it once was in the days when TV was primarily terrestrial and all the home games were played in the sun. The proliferation of various networks and online viewing options have eroded WGN’s viability to the point where it was simply no longer feasible for the Cubs to continue on with it.
The Cubs have left WGN radio as well, though that decision was made by station president and general manager Jimmy de Castro, who said at the time, “We’re very proud of our long-time association with the Cubs, but it has to make good business sense and the current arrangement does not.”
But while it was WGN that made the move on the surface, the Cubs were really the driving force behind it. According to de Castro, the Cubs were presented with several different options to make the relationship a bit more fair to 720 AM. Instead, the Cubs chose to pursue deal that would have made Randy Moss proud, going with WBBM 780 AM for straight cash, homie.
And when it comes to getting paid, no place wrings every last penny from its patrons quite like Wrigley Field. Well, maybe a couple places do. At an average cost of $44.16, the Cubs boasted the third-highest ticket prices in the majors behind only the Red Sox ($52.32) and Yankees ($51.55).
While the price of admission to Wrigley actually dropped by a whopping .9% this season, the overall cost to attend a game rose by 2.2%. That is according to the Fan Cost Index (FCI), which factors the cost of 4 tickets, 2 beers, 4 soft drinks, 4 hot dogs, 2 programs, 2 of the least expensive, adult-size adjustable caps and parking to arrive at a total.
The cost for a family of four to attend a Cubs game this season was around $305, just slightly higher than the MLB average of $212. That’s a high price to pay for 89 losses. But hey, you can’t expect the Ricketts Family Trust to fund this whole rebuild by itself now, can you?
Of course, the Cubs didn’t get as many of those paying customers in the door this year as they’d have liked. And now, those bleacher seats that were so often occupied by little other than seagulls on many a summer afternoon are gone, demolished to make way for the march of progress, expressed in the form of LED video boards and signage.
This after a knock-down, drag-out fight with neighboring rooftop owners that saw the Cubs bully their opponents into reluctant submission in spite of the existence of a contract that paid the Cubs 17% of the earnings from those businesses. But you know the old saying: if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Then, after you’ve joined and you get tired of the deal, beat ’em.
And then you’ve got the revolving door at manager, the latest spin of which may well see Ricky Renteria, Theo Epstein’s second hand-picked skipper, tossed out into the street like just another drunken ne’er-do-well. Upon blowing into town from Boston, one of Epstein’s first orders of business was to cut ties with then-manager Mike Quade,
Getting rid of a guy whose only real claim to fame was referring to everyone by a nickname that ended in “y” wasn’t that big a deal, but immediately ruling Cubs legend Ryne Sandberg out of the running to replace him was. Enter Dale Sveum, who had been a coach with the Red Sox during Epstein’s tenure.
Then exit Dale Sveum and enter Renteria. Now the club is leaving its skipper dangling in the Chicago breeze while it waits to finalize a deal with Maddon.
If it sounds like I’m building some kind of case against the Cubs, that’s because I am. I’m building a case against them being the nice-guy team that can just be pushed around like so much cotton candy left behind after another crushing loss. These aren’t your father’s Cubs anymore. Hell, they’re not even your Cubs in some ways.
And while I may not be making it sound like a good thing, that’s exactly what it is. Well, at least it is if they win. Sometimes it’s better to be feared than loved, and the Cubs have set about building a team that could be pretty damn scary when all is said and done.
Raise your hand if you like the Yankees. How ’bout the Cardinals? The Red Sox? But what about the Royals? There’s a reason most of America rallied behind them this postseason, and it’s because they’ve been bad for so long. Everybody loves a loser because they’re not a threat.
I used to like the Red Sox before they started winning; then their quirky anxiety turned into insufferable arrogance. But they can put up video boards and plaster ads all over the hallowed halls and walls of Fenway Park because they’ve got something other than the park to fall back on.
And even though the Cubs may be putting the cart somewhat ahead of the horse in their own renovations, they’re not allowing the quicksand of sappy tradition to hold them back any longer. Does that make this group of owners the collective bad guy in the eyes of traditionalist fans? Sure.
Is it cold-blooded to fire a guy who, for all intents and purposes, accomplished all the front office asked of him during his single season in Chicago? Yes, very much so. But for as much as I love baseball for what it means to us as a sport, I am sick and tired of the Cubs resting on the laurels of bygone days.
Many of you will argue that the team could easily move forward with these plans without breaking from tradition, without an overhaul that has taken a tremendous toll on both fans and the loss column. And you might well be right. After all, music sounded better on vinyl and I’ll take a sugar-laden Pepsi from a glass bottle over today’s aspartame-spiked plastic bottles any day.
But the thing is, you can’t go back and you can’t take it with you. There’s no use complaining about what the Cubs shoulda/coulda/woulda done because what they are doing is going on right now. You might not like that, though, and I get it. The beauty of this whole thing is that it’s your right as a fan to disagree and to share your thoughts. In fact, I hope you do so in the comments below.
I, for one, am glad to see the Cubs pushing forward in spite of the indictments in various courts of public opinion. I’m glad they haven’t spent wildly on free agents just because it’s what fans had grown used to, though the one time they did, it backfired on them like one of Wile E. Coyote’s ACME rockets.
But it now appears as though the Cubs really were serious about bringing in Joe Maddon, along with (fingers crossed) a combination of legitimate veteran players, which would be a big step toward accomplishing the goals Epstein set out as soon as the season ended.
And when that happens, the Cubs and their fans can finally muster up a little arrogance of their own once again.