Tom Ricketts joined Bruce Levine and Mike Esposito during Inside the Clubhouse (670 The Score) on Saturday morning.
In what was a candid interview, Ricketts discussed his team for about 20 minutes. Among the topics he covered were Theo Epstein and the status of his contract extension, Joe Maddon, Sammy Sosa and the PED Era, the new Plaza and Wrigley Field.
On it getting closer to baseball season … Cubs Convention next week and Spring Training is just a few weeks away
“It’s getting exciting. Obviously we have high expectations for this year and we’re anxious to get started.”
On where the Cubs are now compared to where the franchise was in October 2009 when he purchased the team
“Obviously we’ve always talked about three goals. Winning the World Series being the foremost goal, fixing and preserving Wrigley Field and improving it, the second goal and then doing more for our community is the third goal. With respect to the third goal what we’ve done with Cubs Charites is truly astounding. We’ve dramatically increased the amount of dollars that we raise and distribute throughout the city and having a much bigger impact on a lot of people’s lives. We are very proud of that.”
“With respect to the second goal of restoring and improving Wrigley Field, we are getting there. Obviously it’s a huge project. It is multiple years. It is probably north of $450 million as we look at it today. When you think about it we are effectively piece by piece replacing most of the steel, most of the concrete, most of the seats and turning Wrigley into … still the same Wrigley everyone knows and loves but it will be a newer, better version. So, that’s made a lot of progress on that front.”
“Of course on the baseball side, we are extremely encouraged by the last few years. We took the approach that it was going to have to be a kind of tear it down and rebuild from the foundation kind of process. I think that credit goes out to the guys at our baseball organization for doing a great job of laying out the strategy and executing. But as importantly, I give all the credit to the fans who have been supportive and coming to the park through these years and understanding that if we are going to be a different organization we have to do things differently and that takes time. We feel like we made a lot of progress in all three of our goals. Obviously the number one goal is still out there and we have to keep pushing toward that this season.”
“When it comes to those kind of additions, it’s interesting. Mid to last season, Theo [Epstein] came to me and said, I think if we add a player here or two we might have a puncher’s chance next year. These young guys are coming on a little quicker than we anticipated and it was really big for the organization to get Jon Lester to come over to be a Cub. It sent the right message. The message that this team is now going to be focused on winning the division and winning in the playoffs, and to get a professional with the kind of history and the kind of character that Jon Lester has to believe that story was big. When Theo comes in and asks for something and really believes in something, you don’t want to second guess him, you just want to support him. So, that was obviously a big thing last year. Of course with [Joe] Maddon coming in shortly thereafter, which was an incredible stroke of luck for us. But then this year we had some resources, let’s put them to work and let’s build a team that can really compete in ’16 without risking our future. It’s been a great off-season.”
On the stroke of luck that Theo Epstein was available when he was and to ultimately be hired by the Cubs
“Undoubtedly. Obviously I think what they [Epstein and Maddon] do and throw Crane [Kenney] in there. We have Joe Maddon. We have Theo Epstein. We have Crane Kenney. All three I think are as good at what they do in baseball as anyone, if not the best. So that’s very, very fortunate and it makes my job a lot easier. But the timing on Theo was very serendipitous. Obviously he had one year left on his deal in Boston. The season didn’t end well for Boston. It’s crazy to think about but if, I don’t know, was it Dan Johnson that hit that home run for the Rays? If that home run doesn’t clear the fence and the Red Sox go to the playoffs, they might have won another World Series and maybe Theo never leaves. Who knows? But the fact is we’ve been very lucky and in the right place at the right time with the right story to get the best people in the game to be part of this organization. I think that really is what’s driving our success.”
Bruce Levine thinks luck is the residue of hard work and vision and he thinks both Tom Ricketts and Crane Kenney have shown that in getting some of these things done.
On the possibility of the Chicago Cubs, for the first time in franchise history, sell out the entire ticket base for the upcoming season (sell out every home game for the season)
“Gosh, I hope so. [Laughs] In the end the only challenge on that is basically the early season games where the weather can be a little unpredictable. I think it would be great to sell all of our tickets. I think that we are going to have an extremely compelling team on the field and a summer of exciting baseball with guys that fans really, really want to cheer for. We are going to play baseball the right way with a great manager. The value proposition can’t get better. We are on the quest to win the World Series. We have the right guys on the field. So the question really would be in terms of ticket sales, they are already going to be much stronger than last year, but to get the full sell out I think it’s a matter of just getting people to brave some of the early season weather and that will be our challenge.”
On the Cubs being able to sell out the entire season if they did not have to hold back tickets for playoff and national games because they have a season-ticket waiting list of 100,000 people
“It’s a component. The league does make you hold back a certain number of tickets to accommodate national sponsors and other league purposes during the playoffs. So you don’t want to sell season tickets to someone and tell them that they won’t be able to use those tickets during the playoffs. So you have to have a certain amount of hold back. But you also have to hold back certain tickets because not everyone can buy season tickets. You want to have inventory for the people that just want to go with a few friends or just bring their family one day. So you hold back some of those tickets. And then lastly for us, bleachers. We do have some season tickets in the bleachers, but generally we like the idea of the fact that the bleachers are a place where people come for a great game but also a fun social experience. And the bleachers are, the magic of the bleachers is the words ‘General Admission.’ So when you buy a ticket, you don’t know who you’re going to sit next to. You might meet your wife [Laughs]. So we also hold tickets back because we want to have that experience available in the park. Obviously this year, like I said with a very compelling team on the field I think that we will do pretty well in tickets sales and I think everybody is going to have a great time at Wrigley this summer.”
On the status of a possible contract extension for Theo Epstein
“Well, obviously this is the last year of the contract Theo signed a few years ago. I think we’d all agree he’s done an okay job. [Laughs] We have talked about … we’ve talked somewhat about getting an extension in place. I think generally we are on the same page and we’ll get around to it shortly.”
On Theo Epstein and the baseball operations department being committed to the Cubs and ownership being committed to the job baseball operations has done, but it does come down to business decisions due to the escalating price for a President of Baseball Operations which is three times what it was when Epstein signed his current contract
“It is interesting. Just to go back to something you said briefly in the beginning of that, the commitment. A lot of people don’t realize that we have people on our baseball staff that have been offered the opportunity to at least interview for other GM positions and have passed because they are on this quest and this is their mission and they want to be here when it happens. And that says a lot about Theo’s leadership. It says a lot about the character of the guys in our baseball organization and it just says a lot about how everyone is committed to achieving this ultimate goal. With respect to the increase in … the inflation in President of Baseball Operations salaries, as you point out Theo was one of the highest paid guys, if not the highest paid guy a few years ago and now other people have passed him. To me it’s … I’m not sure that it needed to go as far as it has, but back then and today I believe if you are going to have this large payroll, the most important guy on your team isn’t on the field, it’s the guy who is deciding who is going on the field. So it is a good use of your resources to make sure you lock-up someone who can build a great organization and make great decisions. And I think other teams have seen that over the last few years that their success is far more dependent on who is running the show than which players are on the field.”
On Sammy Sosa, the PED Era and players connected to using performance enhancing drugs
“Leaving Sammy out of it for the moment … Obviously this is a very sad story in the history of baseball. Obviously there was a lot of performance enhancing drugs that were used by a lot of players during a period of time and everyone saw the results on the field. They saw certain pitchers careers turnaround and they saw a lot of players hit a lot of home runs for one or two years. And we all know the stories. It’s just a … I think it’s sad that we’ve never been able to just rip the band aid off, get all of the details on the table and move forward, which I think ultimately is the problem that we struggle with. I struggle with it as a fan. I struggle with it as an owner. Bruce, I’m sure you struggle with it as a writer and who you vote for in certain situations. It’s tough. And you know it’s not a black and white thing. There are probably a lot of guys out there who tried it for a few months or there are guys who tried it and it didn’t help. It’s kind of a dark story. For me, Sammy is a great person and he was a great player. Obviously one of my favorite players for many years as a Cub. I think I just feel like there are certain things that over time should happen before players are, kind of, welcomed back. I’d just like to see, not just talking about Sammy, I’d like to see the entire baseball … all of baseball, you know, kind of shine some light on everything that happened or didn’t happen. I think that would bring more closure. But for the time being, I think … we’ll just kind of leave things the way they are.”
Bruce Levine has talked to other owners who are livid at the Marlins for hiring Barry Bonds without a mea culpa prior to naming him their hitting coach. Mark McGwire and Manny Ramirez had to admit what they did before getting back into the game at the coaching level.
“I would say to people that I wouldn’t judge all these players too harshly. They are in a unique situation. They have a lot at stake and I think that for all the players that were in that Era, we owe them a little bit of understanding. We owe them taking a little time to put ourselves into context of the moment but I also think they owe us a little bit of honesty. America is all about forgiving people and for moving forward. And I kind of believe that you just kind of feel like that’s the right answer for everyone from the Era and for everyone that might have dabbled in PEDs or whatever. I just kind of feel like there’s just no closure if you don’t address it.”
On the construction of the Plaza outside of Wrigley Field and on politics he has to deal with in getting everything approved to accomplish what the team would like to have in the area
“As we all saw play out with the ballpark it’s just a lot of process. Obviously on a sunny day in July, Wrigley Field is fabulous and everyone who is there is happy. But you look around the park, even on those beautiful days in July, the neighborhood directly around the park isn’t all that nice. We’ve always said Wrigley is great when you’re coming with a bunch of buddies from college or some other friends or a smaller group. But if you’re bringing your family, it kind of falls short. We’ve always wanted to be able to control the area around Wrigley a little more for game days and to do more family-friendly things, do more things that are … that just will make the entire experience even better. With respect to non-game days, that little strip, that little area is just not that great. I mean south of Addison you have a number of bars that do attract a good, younger crowd and they are pretty active on a Friday or Saturday night. But it’s just kind of inert on non-game days. We just said to ourselves, ‘Look if we’re going to try to create something that’s better for fans on game days, why don’t we go the next step and try to create something that’s better for our neighbors on non-game days?’ And with respect to our Plaza, the concept was to keep it open but to do different things that different people can take advantage of when there isn’t a baseball game and one of the things we tested early on was putting out an ice rink, which became extremely popular, the second most popular ice rink in Chicago. Now when we build our Plaza, we want to put a better ice rink in. We want to do things that are neighborhood friendly. We also want to do things that have a little more entertainment value to them. But there is always a balance. Just with everything that we went through the process a few years ago with the ballpark, we are respectful of the neighbors and the community groups. We meet with them and we talk with them. We respect the Alderman’s position on things. We move through and find what’s best. In the end I think that this is such an incredibly positive thing for neighbors that I think people are going to love it. We just have to kind of, like everything else in Chicago, work through all the details.”