Day Two of the 2016 Cubs Convention began with the Ricketts family forum hosted by Mully and Hanley (670 The Score), featuring Tom, Laura and Todd Ricketts.
There was a common theme throughout the day in the leadership sessions. Ownership, the front offices and field staff all thanked the fans for their patience with rebuilding the team and Wrigley Field.
The first question Tom Ricketts fielded Saturday morning was about Theo Epstein’s extension. Tom was asked what is the holdup and if he anticipated having it completed by Spring Training. Ricketts reinterred that ownership and baseball operations are on the same page.
Todd Ricketts explained that Epstein’s goals are the same as the fans and he is not going to leave the Cubs until he fulfills the promises that were made and reaches the ultimate goal.
There have been other opportunities for Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod to leave the Cubs and take higher up positions with other organization. Tom Ricketts said like Theo Epstein, Hoyer and McLeod are committed to seeing this through.
While a formal announcement hasn’t been made, Ryne Sandberg has returned to the organization in an official capacity. Tom Ricketts said he is really excited Sandberg is back with the Cubs.
Ryne Sandberg is a Cubs ambassador, the same as Billy Williams, Fergie Jenkins and Kerry Wood. Sandberg has a personal services contract. He will make public appearances and possibly help out in Spring Training like Billy Williams.
Here are the highlights from Saturday morning’s session with the Ricketts family.
Ownership sat down with the front office at the end of last season to figure out what was needed to take the team to the next level. Theo Epstein laid out ‘Plan A’ to Tom Ricketts and found a way to execute it. Epstein told Ricketts the players he would like to sign or acquire this off-season. Epstein was not sure if all the pieces in ‘Plan A’ would fall into place.
Tom pointed out that it was incredible to be able to bring in a free agent the quality of Jason Heyward, especially with him being only 26 years old. Ricketts told the story about during the process of negotiating with Heyward, he called Theo and said he could not get comfortable with the ‘Heyward thing.’ Epstein thought Tom was concerned they were committing too much money to him.
“No, no. The first day of Ricketts’ ownership the first pitch he saw in Major League Baseball off Carlos Zambrano he hit out of the park. And I’m just not over it yet.”
After the laughs stopped in the expanded banquet hall, Ricketts said the Cubs have had a great off-season. Ownership is very excited about what the front office did to improve the team.
Tom, Laura and Todd took a minute to reflect on last season before fielding questions from the audience.
Tom said when you think about the formation of this team, watching the players grow and come together as a real team. Ricketts said he goes back to 2014 in Cincinnati when Anthony Rizzo dropped his glove and took a couple of steps towards the Reds’ dugout. It was in the middle of the season, not a meaningful game, but Aroldis Chapman had thrown a couple of pitches high and tight and too close to Nate Schierholtz’s head. Ricketts feels that game, that moment was a statement. The Cubs were no longer a punching bag and would not just roll over.
Early last season in the third game against the Rockies at Coors Field, that game stands out to Tom. Dexter Fowler hit a home run in the ninth inning and the Cubs went on to win. Ricketts pointed out that the previous two seasons the Cubs had won only one game out of 139 (1-139) when they were behind going into the ninth inning. Ricketts felt the Cubs needed that win in the first week of the season.
Laura also pointed to the come from behind wins from last season as was stuck out to her from a year ago. Before last year, she never felt the team would win the game if they were losing late. But for one really poignant moment, it was the Wild Card Game.
The entire family attended the Wild Card Game in Pittsburgh. Laura admitted she had never heard a baseball stadium as loud as PNC Park was that night. And then for the Cubs to win, it was absolutely wonderful.
“It was absolutely a turning point in the history of this Ballclub,” Laura Ricketts said.
For Todd, seeing the kids come together and win games was great. He feels the Wild Card Game was a transformational moment for the organization. Todd said his second favorite story of the season from last year “had something to do with the Cubs, but not as much to do with the Cubs.”
“My wife is French-Canadian and she is a hockey fan through and through,” Todd Ricketts said. “Even since she moved here she’s been a bigger Blackhawks fan than a Cubs fan. She knows the Cubs are like the family business and she roots for the Cubs, but she didn’t have that level of emotional engagement.”
“So anyway, we go to Pittsburgh and we have a great time. The energy level is great. We go to St. Louis. The fans were a little more confident but still friendly and hospitable in that kind of Southern kind of charm. And then we went to New York.”
“I don’t know if you guys know this, but Mets’ fans are really, really obnoxious. Obviously that series ended disappointingly for everyone. We continued to watch baseball. Sunday night of Game 5 of the World Series, my wife and I are sitting there in our living room, it’s 10:30 at night. I don’t know if you guys remember, Matt Harvey refused to come out of the game,” Todd Ricketts said. “He put on a show on TV and showed he was a tough guy and he was going to win this game for the Mets. He went back out on the mound and I think a few batters later the Royals scored two runs. This best part of this, I’m sure everybody here was watching this game because it’s so exciting. Hosmer is on third. Wright moves to his left to pick up the groundball. And every step that Wright takes to his left, Hosmer takes a step towards home plate. They know Duda is a bad fielder. So he throws the ball to first. Hosmer takes off for home. And I’m telling you when Hosmer’s left hand went across home plate, my wife jumped up, pointed at the TV and she said, ‘Screw you Matt Harvey!’”
“I’m not certain that she’s adopted baseball as her favorite sport. And I’m not saying that she considers the Cubs her favorite team because she loves the Blackhawks so much. But I know this for sure, she really, really hates the Mets.”
As for Wrigley Field and Phase Two of the 1060 Project, Tom Ricketts said there would not be noticeable changes this season like there were last year.
The Cubs have replaced hundreds of tons of steel at Wrigley and a lot of concrete has been removed and replaced.
The big deliverable this off-season is the new clubhouse. Tom Ricketts explained the players’ facilities were possibly the biggest surprise to him when the family bought the team. The facility in the Dominican Republic was bad and maybe the worst in the league. The Spring Training facilities were “a joke.” Ricketts went onto say it is hard to tell the players they are part of a First Class organization and give them Third Class facilities.
The Ricketts family focused on improving the players’ facilities throughout the organization. The Cubs facilities will have gone from the worst to the best when the clubhouse is completed.
And the clubhouse remains on schedule to be ready by the Cubs’ home opener.
The Ricketts family recently completed the purchase of three more rooftops buildings. The family now owns a majority of the rooftops and Tom let everyone in attendance know about the new website, ‘Wrigley Rooftops’ that allows fans to buy tickets to each one of the 10 rooftops through the same site.
Wrigley’s video boards were extremely well received. Tom had only two complaints all season about them. The first came in July when a fan told him he destroyed Wrigley and the other wished their seat had a better view of the video boards.
All of the red tape with the neighborhood is not behind the team. The Cubs are still working with Ald. Tunney to developing operation rules for the Plaza outside of Wrigley Field.
Tom Ricketts held back comments on the negotiations with Ald. Tunney but did say the Cubs realize they are part of a neighborhood. Ricketts doesn’t quite understand why the Alderman has proposed an ordinance to treat the Cubs differently from other bars in Wrigleyville. Ricketts is convinced the two sides will work through everything because it’s all a process.
Tom Ricketts stressed that he hopes everyone that lives around Wrigley knows the Cubs just really, really want to make the neighborhood better. The Cubs not only want to make it better on game days, but on non-game days and year around. The Cubs would like to make Wrigleyville more of a community than it is now.
“We want to make our Plaza like a town square of the North Side of Chicago,” Tom Ricketts said.
The Cubs would like to bring in more restaurants and give the neighborhood more variety. Clark Street is geared toward a younger crowd and not as much toward families. The Cubs would like to change that.
Tom Ricketts would like it if Ald. Tunney trusted them a little more. The Cubs are going to make the area great and over time will get past the current issues.
Once the restoration and renovation of Wrigley Field is complete, there will be 56 percent more women’s restrooms and around 40 percent more for men. And Wrigley will go from two elevators to eight. Ricketts said they are doing their best to make improvements to an old building with a small footprint. Ricketts called what happened on Opening Night last year a disaster and promised it would not happen again.
As the session wrapped up, Tom Ricketts said the key to being successful is hiring the right baseball leadership. Ownership does all they can to support them and their decisions.
The Cubs have created a winning culture, something Tom Ricketts doesn’t think anyone ever said to him before Jason Heyward did recently about his team. The Cubs have a good, young nucleus of players and a great manager.
“There is something special about what is happening.”
On Deck: Baseball Management with Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer