Paying back Cubs fans is what Tom Ricketts told a small group of independent media/bloggers drives him to build the best organization in baseball.
“Ultimately the biggest thing that drives me is I want to payback all the fans that have been so patient and so supportive through some pretty lean, but necessary seasons.”
“When we came in 2010, that August of 2010 we had the third highest payroll, at one point the third worst record, oldest lineup and a bottom farm system. And that’s a pretty bad mix,” Ricketts said. “To try to create an organization that can sustain success you’ve just got to address it and take your medicine and do it the right way.”
“We didn’t know what was going to happen. We didn’t know how many people were going to not come to ballgames or how people would react because it’s never really been done in the way that we were doing it with a Major League Baseball team.”
“The first night I met Theo, I said look man don’t worry about fans, that’s our job. You just worry about building a team that can win on a consistent basis and build an organization that’s the best in the game,” Ricketts said. “How long that takes, whatever resources you need, we will do what we can to get them to you.”
“Now, I feel like I want to give that payoff for everybody. It’s for everybody in the bleachers. It’s for everybody in section 525 that I see all the time. It’s not just going to be some trophy that sits in a case. It’s going to be something that really is meaningful.”
“I think we’ve approached ownership differently than other owners,” Ricketts said. “I think we are closer to fans than most guys get. If you’re at Wrigley and you’re not out in the crowd, you’re missing it.”
“We just hope all of the building blocks we’ve put into place will get us over the hump soon and we can all celebrate.”
Overlooking a beautiful Sloan Park, Tom Ricketts and Julian Green talked glowingly about the Cubs. Tom Ricketts preferred not to answer questions about the CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement), and he was not asked about Theo Epstein’s extension or Donald Trump’s comments, those subjects were covered earlier in the morning by the mainstream media.
Outside of those three subjects, Tom Ricketts was extremely open about answering questions about his team.
The Ricketts family currently owns nine of the rooftop buildings and do not have any current plans to change the way those businesses have been run. Tom said they will continue to run those at rooftop clubs. Ricketts would not rule out maybe doing something different with those buildings down the road, but not right now.
The possibility of the National League adopting the designated hitter is one of the hot topics in the game right now. Commissioner Rob Manfred is on record saying he likes things status quo. In other words, he likes having the two leagues play under a different set of rules.
Ricketts said any change in the rule that would bring the DH to the National League is “unlikely.”
Message to the Team
Tom Ricketts addresses his team every spring before the first full squad workout. He met with the front offices, manager, coaches and players Wednesday morning prior to talking to the media.
Tom delivered three points to the players this year:
1) Be professional on and off the field. The Cubs have not had any incidents with the players in a long time and he does not want the players to do anything that reflects poorly on the organization. Ricketts reminded the players that it is very important to them because it is a family business and the team is part of the family.
“Don’t embarrass yourself, your teammates or your organization,” Ricketts said.
2) The most important people in the ballpark are the fans and without the fans “we don’t have a game and we’d all be doing something different.” Ricketts feels his players have been great with the fans.
3) Community. One of ownership’s goals when they took over the team was to be good neighbors and contribute to the community. Cubs Charities has grown “from a pretty small effort to a large effort” and the main reason is because players dedicate their time and their energy to causes.
Clubhouse, Wrigley Field Marquee and Phase Two of the 1060 Project
Tom Ricketts confirmed there have not been any delays with the Cubs new clubhouse. It is on schedule to be ready by the home opener at Wrigley on April 11. The biggest deliverable this off-season was the new clubhouse.
The Cubs will have the best clubhouse in baseball, maybe not quite as big as the Yankees’, but the team feels it will be better.
A lot of the improvements that have been done to Wrigley will not be noticed as easily as the changes before last season. The Cubs have replaced a lot of steel, a lot of concrete, electrical, plumbing and worked on the infrastructure. The center field bleacher project will also be completed by the home opener.
The iconic Wrigley Field marquee is on schedule to be installed by the home opener. The Cubs received all of the necessary approvals from the Landmarks Commission to make the changes to the historical part of the marquee. As for the LED section, they are still working on finalizing what will be installed in that area, either video or an updated LED. The size will not change from what it’s been since 1983.
When the restoration on the marquee is complete and reinstalled it will be the same traditional red.
McDonald’s is closing this week and the building is coming down the first week of March. Construction on the hotel is set to begin shortly after the demolition.
Building a Winning Organization
Ricketts admitted the Tribune Company’s model for building a winning team almost worked in 2007-08 but it was not sustainable. Those teams won a lot of games and did well. But the model was flawed in the fact that what was done one year would likely not be carried over to the next.
In order to have a winning organization, thought has to be given as to what comes in two years and four years when decisions are made.
Ricketts thinks Theo Epstein is best at taking a long look and a holistic approach to player decisions. And that will ultimately give the Cubs “a more consistent team.”
Since World War II, the Cubs have had 20 winning seasons where the Cardinals have had 20 losing seasons. The Cubs have to be on the other side, a team that is consistent and playing in the post-season every year. And an organization that has a reasonable chance to be in the playoffs on a yearly basis … instead of a team “that places all of its chips on one color every year and hopes for the best.”
“The key to winning a World Series is to make the playoffs,” Ricketts said. “Because every single playoff series, it doesn’t matter how many games you won during the season. Whether you won 114 games or 83 games, your odds of winning that series are the same. So, you just have to get there. Just have to get there as often as you can and that’s the way you have to think about building an organization. And the only way you’re going to achieve consistency and sustainability is to have your own organization bringing players up because you can’t buy them.”
Jason Heyward is an anomaly. Players like Heyward do not become free agents at 26 years old. His prime years are ahead of him. Teams lock up their young players to long term deals.
The Cubs have shown the willingness to lock-up their core players with long term deals, Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro are examples. As for locking up Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and/or Kyle Schwarber, Ricketts said that is a question for Theo and Jed. Ricketts trusts them to make the right decisions when it comes to the players.
Wrigley Field Security
The Cubs are installing magnetometers at Wrigley for the upcoming season, which could create long lines entering the ballpark, especially for the home opener, as the team works through the new process.
Tom Ricketts asked us to make sure we tell our readers to get to the park early to help alleviate some of the issues that could happen over the first several home games. The Cubs have hired additional part-time staff and are training them on the new security procedures and how to use the equipment.
The Western gate should be open by 2017 and that will help alleviate the lines to get into Wrigley Field.
Tanking and Parity in Baseball
Commissioner Manfred would like team owners to be more involved and that would reinforce to all the teams they are in this together.
Baseball has achieved parity more so than any other sport. Because teams can extend their young position players and extra draft picks, money doesn’t buy wins anymore.
“The correlation between payroll and winning is as low as it’s ever been,” Ricketts said. “The fact is we have good parity and every fan can go to the ballpark and expect their team to have a good season regardless of their payroll.”
The owners focus on maintaining the balance and growing the sport. And Ricketts thinks most owners are able to balance what’s best for their team and what’s best for the league.
As for teams tanking, Ricketts said, “Every organization has to make whatever decision they think is best for their own long-term perspective. I can tell you that there is no owner, no manager, there’s no player that wants to lose a game. It doesn’t work that way. Sometimes there are teams that have to dedicate their resources to more long-term goals and sometimes teams focus on short-term goals and I don’t think that’s new.”
Wrigley Field Netting
The Cubs are extending the netting at Wrigley and will be in compliance with the league’s mandate on fan safety. Ricketts said he is hoping the least obstructive type of netting will be installed at Wrigley, and that there will be as small an impact as possible on viewing the game.
The Cubs have a head’s up policy and want everyone’s eyes on the field watching the game, but they also want the fans to be as safe as possible at Wrigley Field.