I’ve heard from a lot of Cubs fans who believe the Jim Hendry not-yet firing (and the fire sale that still lacks the spark The Boss told us was essential for such matters) tells you all you really need to know about the Ricketts family. There isn’t consensus on what that is, but people’s opinions on the matter have galvanized considerably. Here’s the gist of some of the varied views:
The Ricketts are typical fans who plan on catering to their own kind. They don’t know what they’re doing, they’re fueled by emotions and dreams and rainbows and latent racism, and deep down they probably have no desire to win as long as everyone enjoys their time at the ballpark.
We knew the Ricketts were fans when their names emerged as candidates to buy the team, but I don’t know what they’ve done that reflects the mob mentality of fans in general. Some say the Ricketts were behind Milton Bradley’s suspension. Others point to the decision to stay in Mesa. In my mind, both of those were no-brainers although the former seemed more like a vitriolic response straight from Hendry while the latter resembled shrewd business and political manipulation, not blind adherence to tradition. And keeping Hendry hardly represents the typical fan sentiment.
I just don’t see how a fan mentality has reared its irrational head in any significant way just yet.
The Ricketts are slimy suits who care only about money. I try to make it clear whether by illustration or direct statement that I know nothing about business (the lack of ads on this site says that quite loudly), but my gut tells me that the net return on the Ricketts family’s investment in the Cubs is somewhere along the lines of -$800 million. People like to point to George Steinbrenner’s windfall from increasing the value of the Yankees franchise 100 fold, but The non-Springsteen Boss bought low on the Bronx Bombers. The Cubs are never going to be a $2 billion franchise, let alone a $100 billion franchise.
Yes, they have implemented a number of revenue gimmicks: the ticket pre-sale, the noodle, and the Who Wants to Be A Middle Reliever? game show. But keeping Hendry and endorsing his “we’re not rebuilding, we’re competing” mentality is not the move of someone who prizes revenue over winning. Hendry doesn’t exactly follow the Andy McPhail Guide to Winning on the Cheap. If the Ricketts just want revenue, their going about it all wrong, and I don’t think they got rich by being that stupid.
The Ricketts don’t know baseball and are too stubborn to listen to reason. The first part may be completely true, but they haven’t done anything to show that; they certainly haven’t done anything to indicate they aren’t open to change. Hiring Ari Kaplan as a stats guy was, I guarantee, not done to appease the lustful longings of Jim Hendry. Maybe Crane Kenney had something to do with it, but who cares? What does Crane Kenney do anyway? Granted, maybe the fact that there’s no impressive answer to that question is part of the problem, but I don’t think that’s the reason the Cubs’ record is what it is. It would be nice if the Cubs had a baseball genius as president of the organization, but Kenney isn’t standing in the way of progress. He’s probably more there for his business acumen than anything, and the Cubs franchise is a rather big business.
The bottom line, though, is that Tom Ricketts really hasn’t made a single baseball move to this point. Lou’s retiring on his own. Kenney and Hendry still have jobs. They play walk-up music now. The only thing Ricketts has really shown is some semblance of patience. I thought that was a virtue.
I don’t think we’ll get an accurate read on Tom Ricketts as owner until 2011. We’ll see, over a year removed from the ownership transition, how much Jim Hendry is allowed to spend and how many prospects he’s allowed to ship out. We’ll see what happens to ticket prices. We’ll see a new manager hired, but not by Tom Ricketts. He said he’ll let the baseball people make the baseball decisions, and I don’t think he would keep Jim Hendry as GM if he didn’t intend to do that. If the owner doesn’t agree with what Hendry wants to do, he has little incentive to continue to employ him.
And if Hendry fails to deliver with a gun* to his head, that’s when Tom Ricketts’ ownership style will truly come to light. When he begins the interview process for new GMs, he’ll run into a few people who tell him the Cubs can’t win until they clean house. He’ll hear from people who believe the GM should have more control over on-field decisions and policies than the manager. He’ll interview a person or two who think day baseball is killing the Cubs, that sabermetrics wed to scouting can end the curse, or that putting Cashner in the bullpen has retarded his career as a starter beyond repair. What he does when he has to make that choice, or if he allows someone as baseball-illiterate as Crane Kenney to make that choice for him, then we’ll know something significant about this family whose name defies pluralization.
But right now we know very little. At least I do, and I stand behind that.