The new owner of the Chicago Cubs knows what fans want to hear and he didn't wait long to deliver.
Tom Ricketts was only a few moments into his first news
conference as owner of the storied franchise Friday when he said
the Cubs will win the World Series and end an infamous drought that
dates to 1908.
When, who knows? How? Well, Ricketts said, there is no "magic
bullet" but consistent talent will get the Cubs to the top.
Ricketts said there are plans to improve Wrigley Field but also
preserve the feel of the venerable ballpark on Chicago's North
The family of billionaire Joe Ricketts, the founder of Omaha,
Neb.-based TD Ameritrade, this week closed a deal to buy a 95
percent controlling interest in the Cubs, the ballpark and 25
percent of Comcast Sportsnet, which broadcasts a number of Cubs
game. The Tribune Co. retains a 5 percent stake.
The price tag was $845 million. "It is a dream situation, a dream job. It's the best franchise in sports," Ricketts said earlier this week in an interview with The Associated Press.
"And I don't know any fans who wouldn't want to end up in the
situation we're in today. The good news is that even though it's a
dream job, it's still a business. It's a great team, but the
challenges of managing business will be similar to the challenges
of managing other businesses."
Tom Ricketts was a market maker at the Chicago Board Options
Exchange and a finance executive before starting investment bank
Incapital LLC in 1999. He will serve as chairman of the board, one
that will include brothers Pete and Todd and sister Laura, who
joined him Friday.
Business principles will apply to baseball, Tom Ricketts said. "You got to watch your expenses, you got to be careful with your payroll, you've got to look for ways to improve, improve your relationship with the fans and to keep growing the business," he said. "I think those are challenges that we're all ready for."
He said his management style will be to hire qualified people,
let them do their jobs and yet hold them accountable.
"You're not going to see me or anyone else in this family
calling the dugout during the game," he said.
General manager Jim Hendry, criticized for offseason moves after
the Cubs failed to make the playoffs for the first time in three
years, has earned the chance to lead the team into next season,
Ricketts said. Hendry has a contract through 2012.
"Everyone was disappointed with the performance of the team in
2009. Expectations were very high and they weren't met," Ricketts
said. "In the big picture, Jim has taken us to the playoffs three
times in the past seven years after a team that only went three
times in the previous 57 years. So I think he has a track record
that affords giving him the chance to take us into next season."
Ricketts said he also wants manager Lou Piniella to return for
the 2010 season, which would be the final year of his four-year
"I'm not going to speculate about 2011," Ricketts added. "I
think we'll just take it one year at a time."
The Cubs had a payroll of approximately $135 million this past
season and Ricketts said he anticipates it increasing slightly this
year. He wouldn't comment on the future of mercurial outfielder
Milton Bradley, who was suspended by Hendry for the final two weeks
of the season for conduct detrimental to the team after he
criticized the atmosphere surrounding the Cubs.
Bradley, who struggled mightily in his first season in Chicago,
still has two years left on his contract for $21 million.
"It's Jim's decision, it's his responsibility to put the best
team on the field next year and that will be his decision on what
to do with all the players," Ricketts said.
He also confirmed that Crane Kenney, who was the team's chairman
under Tribune's ownership, will stay on as team president and be
responsible for the business of the team.
Tribune announced on Opening Day in 2007 that the Cubs and
Wrigley Field would be sold at the end of that season. But the
process was slowed by the recession and Tribune's 2008 bankruptcy
filing. At one point, a second bidder emerged late, fueling
speculation that the Ricketts family would not be the new owners.
Ricketts said he never negotiated directly with Tribune CEO Sam
"Just with people from his organization and they were fine.
They are hard bargainers, I suppose, but it was just a complicated
negotiation," he said.
Did Ricketts ever have second thoughts? "I would say it was a little more difficult than we imagined and certainly the environment that existed when the transaction began was not the environment that we had when the transaction closed," he said. "It was a very volatile capital market that also led to months of delay as we worked through the issues we had with the financial side of the transaction."
Ricketts called the work ahead "daunting," particularly the
work on Wrigley.
One option is to build a building next to the stadium with more
food choices and chances to learn about team's history. Improving
the clubhouses is also possible, and he wants to immediately
improve things like the restrooms and concourse congestion.
In the long term, Ricketts said the family is exploring several
options and will try to make an improvement each year at Wrigley,
which opened in 1914 and is the second oldest park in the majors.
He said that plan will last about five or seven years.
Any changes, Ricketts said, will not tread on the atmosphere
that makes Wrigley Field unique. He knows that from being a fan
himself, and he met his wife at a Cubs game long ago.
"We can't mess with that special feeling," Ricketts said.