Marking their territory

Posted on Feb 13, 2011 in Featured, Media Hacks | 17 comments


The monumental Ricketts-Yellon sit down is over.  Al ran the third part of his largely uninformative,  unintentionally hilarious interview on Friday.  If you’re wondering why the Cubs would grant somebody like Yellon this access and not a real writer like Paul Sullivan, Bruce Miles or even Gordo, the reason is simple.  Al’s an idiot.  He asked mostly pointless questions, and when he asked one that was actually pertinent he was unable to follow up on what Ricketts said, or to figure out when he was being fed complete bullshit.

In part one, Al was obsessed with finding out who “really owns the Cubs.” That question doesn’t matter.  What he should have been asking is whether or not the kids can really spend any money without their dad’s approval.  Joe Ricketts put up the money, after all.  So THAT was the information to dig for.  And when Tom indicated dad only goes to a couple of games a year, wouldn’t it have been nice to explore that further? It’s very likely that the Cubs have gone from being a largely dismissed asset in the Tribune Corporation portfolio to the exact same role in Joe Ricketts’.

In part two, Al was being used to defend the ridiculous tax scheme the Cubs are pushing.  At no time did Al ask the most important question.  If the Cubs don’t get their bond money do they have the money to do the necessary renovations to Wrigley Field on their own?  And if not, why would they have thought buying the Cubs was a good idea in the first place? Wrigley’s a really cool place, but it’s kind of a dump, and anybody who’s been in it could tell you it needs a shitload of work to keep it (or maybe, at this point make it) relevant.

Part three is a glorious mess.  Al’s questions are all over the place, and on at least one very obvious occasion, he cuts Ricketts off to provide his own answer.

So what are we waiting for?

BCB Interview: Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts (Part Three)

The third and final part of my interview with Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts touches on TV territorial rights — something I know is a key issue for many BCBers — as well as what he hopes to accomplish in “Year Two” of the Ricketts family ownership of the Cubs.

I think Al’s right that the biggest issue for his readers are TV territorial rights.  Nobody obsesses over what’s on TV more than shut-ins.  They have two things to pass the time:  counting how many cats they have and watching the Cubs on TV.

Many thanks to Tom for his time and his candid answers to my questions. I hope to be able to do this again later in the season.

And I have no doubt you’ll get to do it again later this year.  Tom would much rather answer your questions than somebody whose questions would be coherent.

BCB: Is there anything that surprised you about your first year?

The only real answer to this question is, “Cubs fans are dumber than I ever feared.”

TR: Well, there’s a pretty steep learning curve on a lot of different things. A lot of the more subtle parts of the operation, but in terms of surprises, I don’t think there’s anything that really sticks out as a surprise. But obviously we’re still learning and we have a lot to learn to get better.

Basically, “We didn’t know much, but nothing surprised us, and we still have a lot to learn.”  I’m comforted by that.

BCB: Getting to something specific, were you pretty sure Lou was not coming back?

There’s a timely question.  What’s next on the list, “Did you like the Danny Jackson signing?”

Seriously, did anybody think Lou was going to manage this team in 2011?  Lou sure as hell didn’t.

TR: It was left open to start the season. It was one of those things if they had gone well and Lou had felt like that he wanted to continue managing and he had a pretty good season and things had fallen into place, it was possible.

Nobody believes this.  Nobody.  If the Cubs had somehow been good, Lou was still leaving.

But we did anticipate the mid-season shifts, and I think we did our best to get through that.

What does this mean?  “We did anticipate the mid-season shifts?”  They figured Lou was going to quit?  Thank goodness there’s someone interviewing Tom so he can ask him to clarify that.  Go get ‘em, Al.

BCB: Let me beat the drum for television broadcast rights again.

Wait, what?  No, nobody gives a shit about that.  I mean we do, but there’s nothing Tom Ricketts can do about it, so ask him what the hell he meant by “the mid-season shifts!”

You know that certain places are blacked out and certain people who read BCB in Iowa can’t watch certain Cubs games. Is there anything you can tell them about whether broadcast rights will be opened up so that anybody who pays to watch a game can watch a game, no matter where they are?

Ugh.  You know what, if you’re not going to ask him, we’re just going to have to come up with our own answers.

The “mid season shifts” means:

  • We looked at our terrible roster and figured Lou would quit before the season ended and we could save some money by not having to pay him
  • We were excited about being so bad that we could convince Derrek Lee to waive his no-trade clause to get out
  • We were going to struggle to meet payroll until Todd got us all that “Undercover Boss” money
  • Not winning the BP Cup was pretty traumatic, I think as a franchise we’re still reeling from that.

TR: I know we talked about this last year. I know that Crane knows more about it than I do.

Other things Crane knows more about than Tom:

  • How to properly tie an ascot.
  • The difference between a sloop and a “real” sail boat
  • How to keep a job without any discernible talent
  • What Sam Zell’s beard tastes like

I don’t’ know what kind of flexibility the league has on it. I guess it’s a territorial…

BCB: It’s a territorial rights that dates back to the 1970s that .. I don’t have the specifics,

Here’s Al interrupting Tom to clarify the issue by admitting he doesn’t know any specifics about it.

but these areas were all carved about by the different teams and so certain teams can prevent other teams from carrying their games in those markets even though those broadcast channels don’t carry the games anymore. You know, pretty much everybody’s on cable these days or satellite.

Al is, without any surprise, wrong.  He claims that since few teams have games broadcast on over the air channels anymore, but rather on cable channels (like…for example, Comcast SportsNet) that these territorial boundaries are no longer relevant.  Most of the regional cable channels actually have a bigger footprint than the old over the air ones did.  So if anything, there should be more blackouts, not fewer.  Nobody wants that.  You don’t need to change the boundaries.  Leave those archaic things alone.  Instead, focus on changing the restrictions on MLB Extra Innings, so that if you pay DirecTV or MLB to watch games, that you get them all.

Even Al’s explanation is wrong.  “…areas were all carved about by the different teams and so certain teams can prevent other teams from carrying their games in those markets.”  Teams can carry those games.  It’s not like Len Kasper and Bob Brenly don’t get to work when the Cubs are in Milwaukee.  It’s simply about eliminating the haphazard way the blackout rules are enforced.  I live in an area where my home teams are the Cubs, White Sox, Brewers and Cardinals.  I get the broadcasts from all four every time any of them play.  What I can’t do is watch the Dodgers feed if they’re playing any of those four teams.  It’s part of why I hate the Cardinals so much, they force me to listen to Dan McLaughlin and Al Hrabosky if I want to watch them play anybody but the Cubs, Sox or Brewers.  The thing that pisses me off about the current rules are that Fox exempts their national game of the week games from the package.  If your local affiliate picks Mets-Phillies and the Cubs are playing the Cardinals you can’t watch that game.  Since I live in a market where they always pick the Cubs or Sox when they’re on, it doesn’t apply in that way.  But sometimes they pick a game I don’t want to watch like the Sox playing just about anybody and if there’s a better game on at the same time, I can’t watch it.  It forces me to spend that time in the summer either going outside or spending time with my wife.  This needs to end.

Al’s biggest complaint is about those Saturday afternoon games, and of course, they are completely unaffected by the territorial boundaries.  It’s a completely different issue.  But why would Al realize that?

BCB: How does it feel being the new kid on the block?

I would guess it feels like always being the second most famous Wahlberg.

TR: First of all, Chuck Greenberg (Texas Rangers) is the new owner on the block, right?

Check your facts, Al!  Burn!

But the owners have been universally supportive. It’s a good group of people.

The best kind, really.  Rich and almost all white.  And as long as Peter McGowan and Laura aren’t in the room…straight.

I think the Commissioner’s been great to work with. He’s actually been very, very helpful on a handful of different issues.

The fact is that I can always call the Commissioner. I can call Jerry. Everyone is pretty open.

BCB: Despite the North Side – South Side rivalry, you and Jerry Reisndorf get along well enough?

TR: Absolutely.

This makes sense to me.  Nobody knows more about owning a team without spending any of his own money better than Jerry Reinsdorf.

BCB: What would you say your goals are now for the next year?

To dupe as many people into buying tickets and $8 beers as possible.

TR: First and foremost, we want to start wrestling this Wrigley issue to the ground.

This answer just seems a little oddly aggressive to me.  Tom doesn’t want to just get a handle on the Wrigley renovations, he doesn’t just want to wrestle with it, he wants to wrestle it to the ground, and then, likely sodomize it with a broomstick.

I think we owe it to everyone to take these issue head on and try to get through them.

Obviously, always improving as a team on the field. Looking at ways that we can get better; I think that’s something that just never ends.

Obviously.  See how many more times you can bring back Reed Johnson.

With respect to the in-game experience that’s sort of a thing that never ends.

None of this ever ends.  Kind of like our wait for a championship.

Obviously, the Ambassadors, we tried a lot of stuff. We did a lot of surveys for the first time. We’re really trying to understand what we can do better in the park on an ongoing basis.

There’s a lot of “obviously…never ending” going on.

BCB: In those surveys, was it 37 percent are from out of town or first timers?

Excellent context Al.  I assume you are referring to the 37 percent who said that they did crack with Ronnie Woo Woo?  Maybe it’s the 37 percent who said they felt creeped out by the bridge troll the Cubs hired to sit in the back row of the left field bleachers?

TR: In the two weeks that they were in the park, the people they surveyed, 37 percent were from out of state.

Fascinating.

But it was a week in August and a week in September so it was probably kind of skewed a bit.

Skewed by what?

I don’t think we have that kind of numbers in April or May

I would guess you’d have pretty much exactly the same kind of numbers.  Even in backwater places like Iowa and Indiana, school is in session in late August and September.  Just like it is in April and May.  The reason your out of state numbers might be abnormally high is because the farther away you live the more likely you are to use the tickets you wasted on a shitty team.  If you’re driving down from Rogers Park and the Cubs blow you might say fuck it and stay home.  If you live in Ottumwa, you’re probably still taking hay bales out of the truck and making room for the brood.  But you know that.  Look at your lousy, unpopular ticket packages, you load them up with shitty games in April and September.

I think we use it as just how indicative of how powerful an attraction Wrigley is from a tourism standpoint.

Refreshing, isn’t it, that the owner of a team embraces the idea that the facility brings in the fans, not the actual team.  This bodes well for continuing the tradition of ineptitude.

And you know as well as anyone, you can be sitting next to someone from Ohio or Iowa.

BCB: I always find people from out of town.

That’s because the rest of us know not to sit near you.

TR: And the other thing that was interesting about those people from out of town, most of them came because they wanted to come to a baseball game at Wrigley. Most of them aren’t convention goers, or happened to be around or visiting a brother-in-law who’s graduating from college…

More oddly specific rhetoric from Tom.  I like how the graduate is a brother in law.  Maybe he can wrestle him to the ground?

BCB: They came specifically to go to Wrigley?

TR: I think most of them were Cubs fans, but I think people come because Wrigley’s unique and it is baseball the way it’s always been.

Amen to that.  For example, when my dad was a kid, Hank Sauer couldn’t catch a flyball, and when I was a kid, neither could Gary Matthews.  When my dad was a kid, Dee Fondy had a couple of decent years and Cubs fans thought he was teh awesomes.  When I was a kid, Jody Davis did the same thing.  Ahh…”baseball the way it’s always been.”  Shitty.

BCB: You’ve got the longtime cable exposure from the ‘80s and ‘90s. There are Cub fans at BCB that have never lived in Chicago. They became Cubs fans because they could see them on television all the time.

In the ’80s and ’90s a local station used to play “The Big Valley” reruns every day and I didn’t feel the need to drive to northern California and become a ranch hand.  I did however have the hots for the in her prime Linda Evans.

TR: And we understand and we get that part.

Exactly.  I mean, Lee Majors was pretty good in it, but why was Peter Breck always wearing gloves?  Oh, you meant the part about out of state Cubs fans.  Never mind.

BCB: This is where the territorial rights come in

Ugggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.  Not this again.

you’ve got people who at one time could see 140 games on WGN and now they can’t. Okay, so some of them could pay extra, buy an Extra Innings package and see it, but there are some who pay for that and still can’t because of the territorial problem.

TR: Right. I’ll look into that territorial thing again.

Here’s where Al should have said.  “Fine. I’ll wait.”  Then just sit there until Tom “looked into it.”  What better things did he have to do?  Double check his hat standings?

BCB: One of the things that I have noticed, watching you from spring training on.

Not only isn’t this a question, it’s not even a sentence.

That first day when you came out to the berm in Mesa and you were swarmed by people — it seemed you weren’t quite ready for that.

If I had a dime for every time I’ve been swarmed on a berm…

But as the season went and you settled into the role of the face of the franchise and you got out and talked to people and listened to people, what did you hear?

You know what would help here, Al?  Before he can answer, give him a couple of examples…

Did you hear complaints? I heard “Can I have a picture with you?” but what did you hear?

Awesome job.

I would guess Tom heard a lot of:

  • Why don’t you install a berm here at Wrigley so we can swarm you on it?
  • Why does your team suck so much?
  • Why are drunk fans throwing up on me in the bleachers?
  • Aren’t you the guy who played the Beaver on TV?
  • Thank you for cleaning up the bathrooms so I can poop at the games, finally!
  • Is that vendor throwing away hot dogs?
  • Does this look infected?
  • Do you put the same shit in your hair that Andre Dawson used to use?
  • Can I get a picture?  No, I don’t want you in it, I was hoping you could take one of me pointing at this girl’s boobs!

TR: There’s a couple of things. I think really early, like in the spring training games and in the first few weeks of the season it was a little overwhelming because I think that people didn’t really realize I’d be there a lot.

Sure.  Why would the owner be at the game?  Maybe Al should clarify if you own the team, again?

But as I go around and talk to people, it’s all over the map in terms of what they want to talk about. There are some people who have specific issues or suggestions and we acted on some of them. Sometimes I’ve walked into an usher who had a suggestion and we’ve used that. I think one thing that we’ve learned in our first year is that communication can get better around here.

You bet it can.  You need to do more interviews like this where you pretend to give a shit about the fans.

Some people had suggestions on general manager or manager, and I don’t mind that. That’s great. That’s a really healthy thing to talk about.

That is a healthy thing to talk about.  Personnel matters should always be discussed out loud at large gatherings.

That’s a fun thing to talk about.

Fan: Hendry sucks!  He is such a dumbass!  He should trade for Pujols or Chase Utley!
Tom Ricketts: Isn’t this FUN?

Even for me, even though I can’t say anything, it’s fun.

Nothing is more fun than nodding ambiguously.

I would say that literally of the thousands of people that I met in the park or at the airport or anywhere last year, I could name two that I thought were inappropriate. And one was just a young guy who was over served who misunderstood, he thought we were putting in some kind of PSLs or something and he was afraid of PSLs.

THESE PSLS ARE TRYING TO GET ME, TOM!  RUN, RUN FOR YOUR LIFE!

And one was just an odd cat out at the All-Star Game who didn’t like our pitching coach.

I had no idea Sloth ran into Ricketts at the All-Star Game.

BCB: Speaking of PSLs. No plans for PSLs?

TR: No.

Since Al didn’t bother to write out what PSL stands for, I can only assume it stands for Personal Seat Lasers, and that if the Cubs had them, fans would be able to shoot and kill players with them.  I’d like to see them give those a try.

BCB: Do you feel any particular pressure personally when you hear people say: “Why doesn’t Tom Ricketts do this” or “Tom Ricketts needs to do this” or “Tom Ricketts is the one who we’re blaming for this”.

Al must be a gas at dinner parties.  “Tom Ricketts is the one who we’re blaming for this!  Agreed?  Do we need to vote again?”

TR: I guess ultimately someone has to take the blame for everything. I guess you have to accept that as part of the job. I mean, I really don’t worry about that too much, to be honest. I think that my goal is that everyone that does spend a few minutes actually watching the team knows that the family and I are doing everything we can to hit those three goals,

Blah, blah, blah.  And note, this is the third time in the three part interview that Tom has referred directly to the “three goals” and at no time did Al ever write what those goals were.  Holy shit, he is good at this.

So the only way to really gauge what we’re doing now is to fast forward 10 years and look backward because we’re not managing toward how people feel today, we’re managing toward how people feel in the future and you just have to keep the big picture in mind whenever you hear people concerned about any type of individual decision or something that did or didn’t happen that may or may not have upset them.

I think Tom just announced Time Machine Day at Wrigley.  That’s going to be awesome.

BCB: Is there anything else you want to say in conclusion?

Just that you are dumb.  Oh, you mean Tom.

TR: I’m excited about Mike Quade. I really am.

The “I really am” is troubling.  It’s like Donald Sutherland trying to get the students to hand in their reports on Milton in “Animal House.”  “Listen, I’m not joking. This is my job!”

I am excited about Quade but I think here’s another case where maybe the media created a problem that didn’t exist — the Sandberg issue.

I know.  Fucking media.  Can you believe they gave him a job managing in the minors for four years?

I mean, Ryne and I talked throughout the process. He’s a complete gentleman. We have a good dialogue, we have a good relationship.

But it’s an open relationship.  Tom is free to hang out with other Hall of Fame second basemen.  Robbie Alomar’s coming for a sleep over next week.

I think it just seemed the media was try to make a lot more out of it than just the fact that Jim, and we support him 100 percent, made the call on the guy he thought could win the most baseball games.

I hope Jim sees the bus Tom just threw him in front of.  In one run-on sentence he gave Jim a vote of confidence “and we support him 100 percent” and pinned the Quade hiring 100 percent on Hendry.  Wow, what an asshole.  No wonder he likes Crane.

And to read any more into it than that is not productive.

Like Carlos Silva!

BCB: So the door is always open for Ryne Sandberg to come back?

TR: From our standpoint, Ryne is always a Cub.

Except now, when he works for the Phillies.

He’s always been part of this organization.

Except when he was in the Phillies organization, before…and now, that he’s back in their organization.  But other than that he’s always been a part of our organization.

To the extent that if there’s a role for him in the future that’s more specific than that, we’ll always be open minded.

As soon as we have a need for a balding guy with a vacant stare and a really uncomfortable laugh, Ryne will be back.

So that’s it for Al’s three part interview with Tom.  If he had edited it down to just the interesting parts…it might have filled a FanPost or is it a FanShot?  Oh shit, I can never remember what the difference is.