Siberian Baseball

Friday, June 06, 2008

Mark Cuban still sniffing around sale of Cubs

For those who don't listen to much sports talk in Chicago for whatever reason - living out of town now / working a job inside a concrete bunker at a suburban office park / warden took away your radio privileges after shanking fellow inmate over a pudding cup - you probably missed the discussion on ESPN Radio today with Mark Cuban.

Cuban confirmed that he is an approved buyer as far as MLB is concerned and that he was still very interested in the prospect of owning the Cubs.

In addition to the usual show of respect for the owners already in place, Cuban made attempts to reach out to the population within a few blocks of the ballpark:

Does Sam Zell owning the Cubs help your bid?

Cuban: Well it really depends on what the other bidders do. You know, Sam's obviously a smart businessman and he's gonna do what's best for him. Major League Baseball has survived a long time without Mark Cuban and they can survive a long time without me and so they'll do what they think is best for them.

And my job is to convince everybody involved that not only is it a good financial move to sell to Mark Cuban but it's also, you know, a good partnership move that I can add value beyond just my checkbook to not just the Cubs, to not just the city of Chicago, but also to Major League Baseball. Because to me one of the thing's I've learned with the Mavericks is when I thought I bought the Dallas Mavericks when I wrote the check eight years ago, and in reality even though I wrote the check the city of Dallas and Fort Worth still own the Mavericks and it's about being a good citizen, it's about contributing to the community and to me that's viewed to be just as important as Major League Baseball or the Tribune company, you know, what can I do for Wrigleyville, what can I do for the community, and what are the ways that I fit in and add value.

Because, you know, part of the issue that's been apparent to me in looking at all this is that, you know, the previous owners before Sam Zell bought the Tribune, you know, the Tribune and the Wrigleyville area around Wrigley Field didn't always get along so well and so I think there are a lot of things we can do community-wise that can enhance my chances and so, you know, I'm gonna pull out all the stops, that's about the best way to describe it.

In the past, I've been pretty lukewarm on the prospect of a superstar owner breezing into town to "save" the Cubs. While it would be nice to have one person to hold accountable - being able to point fingers at one person in their luxury box for a poor product on the field instead of a faceless board of directors at Tribune Tower would be nice - the possibility of a strange, unconcerned tyrant isn't all that appealing, either.

Perhaps it's been my reading of God Save the Fan this week and its laundry list of horrible owners who do little to nothing in terms of keeping a team competitive that make me a little more skittish than usual about this interview.

Still, if I go back one more book on my summer reading list to One Day at Fenway, I start to feel just a bit better. The book was written based on one Yankees/Red Sox game in 2003 when a team of reporters followed fans, players, management and staff members at Fenway, the book patches together a game experience from multiple angles.

Obviously, Theo Epstein, John Henry and Larry Lucchino were part of the story and it was Henry's portrayal that gives me some hope in the whole sales process on Addison. It's no stretch to compare the Cubs with the pre-2004 Red Sox and two World Series championships later, that ownership group has proved themselves in Boston.

While it remains to be seen whether or not a new owner for the Cubs would be able to turn the franchise around so quickly, a change of pace certainly couldn't hurt. Say what you will, but I feel that one person who takes the heat for a futile season feels more obligation to change course and try to build a winner than a small group that goes largely unnoticed by the fans.

Chicago's future owner faces a similar punchlist that Henry's ownership group did when they took control of the Red Sox. This includes:

* A World Series drought spanning many decades
* A team known more for losing than winning
* The perception that the fan base is more than comfortable backing a loser every season
* A crumbling relic of a stadium that is "historic" but is more accurately falling apart
* A large, but unfocused payroll
* A popular team that makes boatloads of money almost in spite of itself
* A perception that the team will never, ever win the World Series because of a cursed history

Much of the book plays out like a love letter to baseball, so I suspect there's a degree of artistic license woven in there somewhere, but Henry comes across as being a man who wants to win. Taming the beast that is 100 years of false starts, late season collapses and teams that didn't stand a chance is a major challenge, but comes with immeasurable rewards as well.

An owner that prizes winning and makes an effort to connect with the fan base is what the Cubs should be hoping for above all - an owner who paces a bare patch into the carpeting in his box when things turn south and puts together a strong plan to turn the page on the team's history of losing by aggressively addressing the team's shortcomings.

Epstein even has a twin brother - someone should get his number, just in case.

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