Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Cubs 101 - Pt 16 - The Sale of the Chicago Cubs to the Tribune

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By the time P.K. Wrigley finally died in 1977 he'd done a lot to decimate the Cubs organization.  It probably wasn't that he wanted the team to lose, but instead that he didn't understand what was needed for them to win.  Consequently, the history of the Cubs is littered with his bad ideas -- from the voodoo hex-man to the College of Coaches -- and the reputation of the team is cemented by his unwillingness to spend money on valuable prospects an players. 

The best example of this might be in Bill Madlock.  Up until 2003, the Cubs had a long-standing reputation for being unable to replace Ron Santo at third base, but this wasn't entirely true.  In 1973 they'd acquired from Texas a young third baseman named Bill Madlock.  Madlock would be a Cub for 3 seasons, in which he came in 3rd for Rookie of the Year and then led the league in batting average for back-to-back years.  Then he had the audacity to ask the team to pay him what he he thought he was worth - $200,000 a year for 5 years.  Finding him "impossible to deal with" on account of how "no player is worth more than $100,000 a year, Wrigley sent him packing to San Francisco for two players who briefly did well for the Cubs before burning out into obscurity.  Madlock, meanwhile, would play until 1987 and retire with a .305 AVG and 2,008 career hits.  (This sort of reminds me of when the Tribune would let Greg Maddux go elsewhere, only to spend their Maddux money on two or three guys who'd also have one good year and disappear.)

As you surely know by now, P.K. Wrigley didn't care to spend money on players.  He preferred to market a beautiful ballpark where baseball happened to be played 81 times a year.  His Cubs were lovable losers.  They were hard to hate because they were just so pathetic.  Mostly they were just pitied.

Then, after P.K. died, his son William the Third inherited the team.  And with the pending gut-blow of a massive estate tax he was forced to sell the Cubs on June 16th, 1981 to a massive organization with a history of growth and success -- the Tribune Company.  The cost of the sale was $20.5 million dollars.  That's right - for about $10 million less than what Alex Rodriguez earned at his peak, you could've bought the Cubs back in 1981.

I imagine that Cub fans must've been excited.  After all, no matter how much they loved those losers, it must've been tough watching organizations like the Reds, Mets, and just about everybody else trounce them on a yearly basis.  Then comes the Tribune, who promptly swooped in and within a matter of six months made two changes that would be forever memorable to those who were alive to experience them.  First, they signed Harry Caray to replace the retired Jack Brickhouse, and second they brought in Phillies GM Dallas Green to build a winning organization from the ground up.

Odd how, 29 years later, those remain perhaps the two best moves the Tribune ever made.  More on them in the coming week.

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