My Encounter with William W. Wirtz
This post will sound totally irrelevant for a while, and for that I apologize. But I swear, it's related to the current ownership turnover.
I worked in a toy shop on the North Shore of Chicagoland for all 4 years of my high school life. It was great, but it featured a lot of rich and irritating folk. Let's just say that after 7 hours of being told you had no idea what you were talking about by some little old lady dressed like she walked out a Prohibition-era bar, all manners and ideas of civility would occasionally escape me. It's a freakin toy, lady, not a nuclear weapon, stop freaking out about whether your 2-year old grandson will love it.
I grew up with two main loves in sports. The Cubs, and hockey. I did not love the Blackhawks. The way the whole organization was handled, the fact that they were never on T.V., it all was so irritating. So when this kid (who became my best friend) moved to my town from Toronto and turned me into an obsessive Maple Leafs fan, it suffices to say, I actually began to hate the B'Hawks. I felt bad about this; I mean, it's a Chicago team. But, with the Leafs on NBC all the time, how do you even compare?
As all responsible Hawks fans know, the real problem began at the very top of the organization. William W. Wirtz (now memorialized with a bizarre WWW patch on the sweaters). He believed that T.V. would cause people to not attend the games and thus ruin his franchise...despite mounds of evidence from every sport to the exact contrary.
I hated the man.
One day in 2005, around 4:30 p.m. after an unbelievable day at the toy shop where I worked, an elderly man walked in with two small children. The children ran around the store grabbing at toys, over and over. They picked the most expensive things in every section they went to. Each time their grandfather told them that no, this was a small shopping trip and that they would have to save their money for anything bigger.
After about 20 minutes, he finally came up to pay. He handed me his credit card, and I began to run it through our old-school hand-pressed machine. I realized it was one of those "Fan Club" credit cards from the Blackhawks, so I started talking to him about how much I loved hockey. He asked me if I was a Blackhawks fan.
I said no. I said that I hated the way the owner treated the fans and that I didn't understand why I couldn't watch them on T.V. and instead had to resort to a team that I had no connection to. My money quote was "why would that man be so greedy as to care more about ticket sales than fans?" I finally read the name on the card:
William W Wirtz.
I suppose what matters most isn't the fact that he didn't say anything to me after that, or that I was so scared I didn't say anything, or the fact that my boss almost fired me for saying that to the owner of the Blackhawks.
The look in his eyes was so devastated, so hurt and just honestly confused. I hated him because I thought that he was greedy. Maybe he was. But to him, he was doing the best for the Blackhawks. Maybe that's a thin line, but I have certainly looked at the way people own their teams differently from then on.
Maybe it was just a momentary thing for him, but I honestly believe in that moment I hurt him. I said in person what a million journalists had said in print, but I was the 16 year old kid who didn't know any better and said it right to him and laughed at his name and reputation. I'll never forget that look.
So, Mr. Ricketts, I wish you all the luck, and if you care even a little bit as much about the Cubs as Mr. Wirtz cared about his Blackhawks, at least you'll try your best.