Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Cubs 101 - Pt. 72 - The Sale of the Cubs to the Ricketts Family

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When Andy MacPhail resigned from the Cubs during the '06 season debacle, it soon became clear that the long-time whispers of a Cubs sale were formulating into reality.  The Cubs parent owner -- the Chicago Tribune -- was in dire financial straights and, even though the Cubs were a perennial money-maker, they were facing the grim task of bailing out their debt and satisfying their stock holders.  None of that stopped Jim Hendry from signing some very big names on the free agent market soon after the '06 season ended, though.

But when the sale of the Tribune to Sam Zell was announced in April, 2007, the Cubs had a new defacto owner who pledged immediately to sell off his billion-dollar asset as quickly as possible.  Naturally, I thought that meant '07 would be a lost season -- after all, with a new owner the Cubs perhaps had frozen assets and Jim Hendry would be less likely to have the bank to expand the payroll as needed. 

Although the Cubs didn't lose out on their "lost season," and although they proceeded to spend even more money after they were knocked out of the playoffs on bats like Kosuke Fukudome's, we had the same concern about '08.  By this point the Cubs had been in sale limbo for about a year, with no named suitor in sight, and the trail leading to the team's eventual purchase appeared endless.

Then, as the '08 season winded down, the Tribune began accelerating the process, narrowing the field of prospective suitors down to a handful of multi-billionaires.  The favorite Cub fan choice at the time was Mark Cuban, the passionate owner of the Dallas Mavericks who was known for throwing himself at opposing players and for also cutting no expense when it came to getting the best players and the best equipment.  Naturally, he didn't have a chance in hell.

Maybe his bid would have been accepted; perhaps Cuban could've been a finalist, but the conspiracy theorists of the world will note that Major League Baseball did not want such an iconoclast, revolutionary owner to so much as sniff their clubhouse.  Afraid that Cuban would change the nature of the game in a costly manner, some feel it was not a coincidence that he suddenly found himself accused of an alleged insider trading scandal.  For that reason -- and the market collapse of the fall -- Cuban bowed out.

The eventual winner of the drawn-out sale was Tom Ricketts, the son of Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts, and long-time Cub fan.  Finally, we thought, we finally knew the shape of the team's future.

Except the sale to Ricketts just... never... ended.  He was announced as the winner in January of 2009.  He'd then spend the next eight months turning over couch cushions, and emptying out pockets, and doing whatever else possible to find the cash he'd promised the Cubs. 

Yep, nothing quite as reassuring as a new owner who can't afford to seal the deal.  Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. 

Not that Ricketts is a bad guy.  From all appearances, he's a passionate Cubs fan who met his wife at Wrigley Field who wants to see the Cubs win just as much as you or I.  The only problem was that his purchase of the team eventually became so desperate that he began contacting celebrity Cub fans in order to offer them a share of the pie if they could help pitch in and finalize the sale with him. 

Before too long, a frustrated Tribune began to look into re-opening the sale and accepting the next-highest bid.  The plan, temporarily, was that they would submit both bids to a bankruptcy judge who would accept the best one.  Suddenly, Ricketts was no longer a sure thing.

Then, in July, Ricketts finally found that hundred million he'd lost in the back yard's shed and he and the Tribune reached an agreement.  But of course, as the season drew to an end three months later, we were still left waiting for MLB to finalize the damned sale.

So -- Tom Ricketts.  Is this guy the owner we've been waiting for?  Close to 30 years ago, the faceless Chicago Tribune bought the Cubs from the Wrigleys for something like $20 million.  They sold the team to Ricketts for $900 million.  Over that three decades they promised hope, initiated change, and utterly failed to bring Cub fans the championship they've been waiting for.

Now, we're left waiting for something else -- we are hoping to discover that Ricketts is a silent Cuban, a guy with the same ideas and passion but without the bad rap.  We are hoping that he will step up and purge the organization of the executives who've had too much time to deliver so few results, that he will replace them with brilliant baseball men and women, and that he'll make wise-but-aggressive decisions when it comes toward dramatically improving the Cubs to the best of his ability.

What we're hoping he won't be is a Peter Angelos, who has taken a competitive Orioles organization and in just over a decade turned them into a basement-dwelling laughing stock.  But the kind of owner that Ricketts will be remains a mystery... for now.  Thankfully, amazingly, the ridiculously long wait appears to be nearing its end.

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