An open letter to the next owner of the Chicago Cubs
Or: A Cub Fan Manifesto for a New Era
Editor's Note: This will be a long article. If you don't think you have the time in one sitting, don't worry - it's going to be broken into chunks. Read 'em one at a time if you have to - but read them nevertheless.
Section 1: Assumptions
This section is the only one which is written directly to our regular readers. It is true that we are simple fans who rarely come closer to our favorite team than Row One. But make no assumptions. If you hear a ballplayer say that he doesn't read the papers or check his stats, you can bet it's malarkey. Likewise, don't believe for a second that players and executives have never stumbled across the blogs - we are a direct connection for them to what the fans are thinking.
If it's true that Tom Ricketts is to be the new owner of the Chicago Cubs, then make no assumption that he is a man who lives in a bubble, or an ivory tower. Chances are that he will stumble across this blog in the coming days in order to find out what the buzz is from the fans. So, I write this to him, and if you have anything to add please make a comment below. In the coming months there will grow a bubble, so this might be our only chance to make ourselves known.
Section 2: Introductions
Mr. Ricketts, my name is Kurtis Evans and I have been a lifelong Cubs fan. I was born shortly before the Chicago Tribune purchased the team, and I have grown knowing nothing but Tribune ownership. I have followed the Cubs in seasons in which they barely manged to escape 100 losses, and I have seen them come almost as close as possible toward reaching the World Series. But if I could impart upon you one piece of advice, sir, it would be this: winning a World Series should not be your immediate goal. Rather, winning should be the culmination of all other things done right.
In other words, you can't just hire the greatest general manager who's ever lived - and "the greatest GM who's ever lived" is so subjective that I wish you luck if you try. You can't just sign the top free agent. You can't just approve the big trade. You need to do all those things at the right time, and so much more. Permit me to explain.
Section 3: It's the Infrastructure, Stupid!
I said something the other day that fits perfectly here. The Chicago Cubs run their farm system like it's still the 80's. I mean no disrespect to your General Manager Jim Hendry - I'm sure he does the best with what he has. But Mr. Ricketts, while the Cubs have had great success with Geovany Soto, he is the only successful hitter the Cubs have had since I began noticing girls. (At this point, Ryan Theriot has had a good year, but he needs to do it once or twice more before I'd say he's a success rather than a fluke). Apart from Soto, the Cubs haven't developed a truly successful hitter since the 1980's. Seriously, sir, that's a ridiculously long time.
Please do not feel beholden to the people who run the minor league system. They have developed some pitchers, but the bottom line is that if you fail to develope successful positional players, then you're going to spend way more money buying what you need on the market.
In the meantime, there are some very successful teams out there with oustanding track records of developing their youngsters - Tampa, Boston, ... well, actually, just about every other team in baseball does better. It's time for an epic change within the Cubs hierarchy. It's time to shake up the coaches, the managers, the scouts, and every other guy in any front office associated with the team.
I'm not saying fire them all - I'm not even saying to fire any of them. I'm just asking that you analyze your situation with intensity. Maybe some of your guys have the kind of old school mentality that doesn't actually work anymore, and if they do then you need to shake their hands, give them a severance package so nice they could vacation in Greece on it, and improve your organization. And that leads us to...
Section 4: Any Edge, Every Advantage
Do not listen to your General Manager (well, unless he says what I'm about to say). He is well intentioned, but he already has methods. Methods hold you back. You need to go beyond methods. You need to create them at every turn. At every level of the game, I believe the best way to win is to discover the advantages. Give yourself an edge. Since I've been a Cubs fan, I've seen the team draft player after player who can be described as having "five tools" and being "athletic." I've seen every one of those guys fail, so maybe "tools" and "athleticism" aren't what you should be looking for.
Sir, there are highly trained, immensely educated people out there* who are obsessed with understanding baseball. They devote their time, energy, and calculators to figuring out what works. They invent new statistics. They hone nontraditional ones like "win shares" and "wins above replacement player" and all sorts of cool, crazy things that you won't understand unless you're mildly autistic or something. The point is, these guys are on the fringe and you should use them. Do you know why? Because most teams don't - but the ones that do win.
(*I'm not one of them. I mean, I've got three degrees, but not in the field I'm talking about.)
Basically, what I'm saying is this: if I could tell you that according to a number of tools and statistics the player asking for 5 million a year is actually more valuable to your team than the one asking for 15, wouldn't it make sense to go after that guy who makes less and is worth more? If I could tell you that there are a whole bunch of prospects who are underrated, wouldn't you like to know about them and why they might pay off later?
Baseball should not always be about throwing the most money at the shiniest player. Sure, it makes a splash to sign that guy with the name recognition, but you now own a team that would sell 2.5 million seats a year if they were in last place. Your fans aren't looking for the splash - they're looking for the result. Focus on that, please, if not because it will make you more money in the long run then for the sake of every 98 year old Cub fan fighting off cancer because he or she wants to see a World Series Championship before they die.
Section 5: What are you so afraid of?
Okay, so this piece of advice is made from a selfish point of view. But blogs are already a huge source of media. We get readers that the papers don't, and we reach more eyes now than ever before. And we're still growing. In England, they hire us to write for rags and mags because we're in touch (and probably cheaper than other writers).
So don't shut out the blogs. Give us limited access. What would it hurt to let us interview you? Why not hand pick one blog every month, give them a weekend's worth of press passes, let them cover the game and feed from the buffet, and then watch them write glowingly about how great you are and why every Cub fan should love you?
It almost seems as if MLB in general and the Cubs in particular are afraid of us. I don't know why, but I think there would be a mutual benefit from building a relationship with the best blogs out there.
Section 6: Your ballpark
You're going to find Wrigley Field to be less a sacred shrine and more a sacred cow. Particuarly in the sense that no matter how much damage it does to your shop you are forbidden from touching it.
Cub fans love Wrigley Field. It's in our conditioning. When we were growing up we were taught to obey the laws, walk on green, and love beautiful Wrigley Field. Unfortunately for you it's falling to pieces. You won't be able to build a new one so suck it up.
Sometime in the near future you're going to have to renovate the ballpark. Cub fans loathe this idea because it means a year or two in US Cellular. I don't think that's a big deal, but I think it'd be cooler if you could move into Soldier Field. Regardless, when the ballpark gets rebuilt I can only ask that you expand the bleachers and make the upper deck bigger and better. Also don't forget to improve the home team's clubhouse ... and leave the visitor's clubhouse as a hole. Every advantage, Mr. Ricketts. Any edge.
Oh, and I'm betting money that the Cubs win the World Series for the first time while out of Wrigley. It'd be too funny for it to not happen.
One other thing while I'm thinking about it - if you choose to capitalize off the fame of the ballpark by selling naming rights you will face staunch opposition from the vast majority of the fans. They apparently don't realize that Wrigley Field was the first ballpark to be named after a brand.
Maybe you could offer Wrigley's chewing gum a sweetheart deal to retain the naming rights or maybe you could rename it Rickett's Field just to mess with people, but if you sell naming rights to the park and put it immediately back into the payroll of the team you will have my full support. I don't care if it's called Trojan Condoms Field so long as the Cubs are winning.
Section 7: Your brand
The Cubs are worth so much to you. Already that lovely Cubs logo is on a ton of merchendise and we're sure that won't change. But there are still more ways to make more money. Actually I'm going to save this topic for another day because I have a laawwwt of ideas. But trust me on this. There are things you are not yet doing.
Section 8: In Conclusion
I said something earlier that might get a lot of heat from some of this blog's readers. I said, "Winning a World Series should not be your immediate goal." That 98-year-old Cub fan wants to throttle me because of it. Basically I mean only one thing: if you do it right, winning will come. We're just not used to that concept because the Cubs haven't done it right since William Wrigley died in 1932. That's a long-ass time to have bad ownership, but unless you really believe in curses then it is absolutely the reason for the drought.
The Chicago Cubs are a powerful organization. You already know that or else you wouldn't be spending close to a billion dollars to own them. Their brand is universal. Their fanbase is international. Only the Yankees have the capacity to make more money and there are only a handful of teams even in the same league: the Angels, the Giants, the Red Sox, the aforementioned Yankees, and the Dodgers.
The thing all these teams share in common is that they are in a position to win every single year. There should never be ten - or even five - year droughts between playoff visits. They have the fanbase and the money to do it right. So do the Cubs.
We know that there will be hard years. We know that the Cubs won't be playoff bound ten times a decade. But compared to the lightweights who the Cubs share their division with, Chicago should be playoff bound a lot more than they have been in my lifetime. We're not saying that you have to spend 200 million a year on payroll* - although we hope you always spend whatever it takes - but instead that you are buying an amazing franchise with a storied history and its fans deserve more than what they've gotten.
(*but we do hope you spend more on developing young players than any other team in baseball because doing so saves you money in the long run)
Put it to you this way. You know a lot about investments. Cubs fans have invested so much into their team. We've invested money, sure - probably tens of thousands of dollars (if not more) in our lifetimes. We've also invested time - perhaps tens of thousands of hours watching, cheering, and talking about the Cubs. But we've also invested our hearts, living and dying with every win and loss. And so far no Cub fan - be he 20, 50, or 100 - has gotten the return they were looking for on that investment.
Sir, it is time to deliver us our returns. If you do it right it shouldn't be hard but I am terrified that you won't. I'm afraid you'll say all the right things and do none of them. And if you're the wrong type of owner it might be another ten, or twenty, or fifty years ... and that's just way too much. Mr. Ricketts, you can do so much if you just work to do it right. That's all I'm asking. Do it right.
Oh, and please pass an edict to get the names off the backs of the home jerseys. The Cubs are classic. They are traditional. The names uglify the jerseys (that's right, I said "uglify"). Please fix it.