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David Protess

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The Scapegoating of Cubs Owner Tom Ricketts

Posted: 05/31/2012 11:48 am

"For the sins of your fathers you, though guiltless, shall suffer."
--Horace, "Odes," III, 6, 1.

My father and I rarely agree about anything besides his grandchildren. Our political views diverged as he drifted to the right. He has become increasingly intolerant and foul-tempered, sometimes offending others who disagree with him about any subject.

But I'm also proud of him. At age 94, he still manages well in assisted living, foregoing a wheelchair for the occasional walker. A brilliant entrepreneur who provided steadily for our family, he is honest as the day is long.

And, he's always up for a good argument. Barack Obama? "A corrupt Chicago politician. He hangs out with that preacher who hates white people," he declared recently. Wrong-headed, but that's my old man.

This reminds me of the current plight of Chicago Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts, who refuses to throw his right-wing father under the bus, even when he says or does crazy shit like my dad.

As has been widely reported, Joe Ricketts, the family patriarch, does not like the leader of the free world. The elder Ricketts, a Romney supporter, attended a meeting in which an ad campaign was pitched that would have once again linked Obama to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

News of this meeting has caused apoplexy among some black leaders and prominent Democrats. It infuriated Mayor Rahm Emmanuel to the point that he wouldn't return Tom Ricketts' conciliatory phone call and walked out of a news conference when the subject was raised by reporters, dousing gasoline on already hot media fires.

Spokespersons for Da Mare -- Obama's former chief of staff -- have pointed out that Tom Ricketts may ask for $150 million in tax incentives for the renovation of Wrigley Field at a time when taxpayers are tapped out. Why should Democratic public officials support a ball club whose ownership got its money from a wealthy Republican who wants to play the race card in this year's presidential campaign?

To those officials, my friends in the black community and fellow media commentators: Chill, people.

You know that Joe Ricketts has no financial interest in the Cubs, right? You know that he rejected the Rev. Wright ad campaign, yes? You know that the Ricketts kids are independently successful businesspersons? You know they have publicly repudiated any form of racism, and Tom Ricketts' sister Laura (a Cubs co-owner) has been a major donor and fundraiser for Barack Obama? You know all this because it has been reported in the media, though not as widely as it should have been.

Here are facts you may not know, perhaps lost in the storm of stories that have rained out nuance and context:

  • The team's owners held fundraisers at Wrigley for Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkel and Ald. Carrie Austin (34th), both prominent Democrats. Invitations to the events identify "The Ricketts Family" as co-hosts for the Preckwinkel benefit, and "Mayor Rahm Emmanuel & Laura Ricketts" for the Austin fundraiser.
  • Tom Ricketts hired former Obama campaign media hand Julian Green as the team's vice president of communications, and Jahaan Blake, an African-American woman, to head the team's fan experience program.

Turning to the real issue, here's another indisputable fact: Wrigley Field, a 98-year-old iconic ballpark, has markedly deteriorated. Even if you dislike the team that plays there, you have a $650 million stake in ensuring the lights work and the structure is sound. If you are a Cubs fan, as I have been for 45 years, you're probably tired of peeing in metal troughs and enduring claustrophobia in the concourse.

Under the circumstances, the $150 million to renovate Wrigley is a great deal. It's also a fair deal since the funding will come from growth in amusement taxes generated at Wrigley, and Cubs ownership will pay for at least as much to complete the renovation.

If you think otherwise, that's fine. Reasonable minds can differ. But don't scapegoat -- or Billy Goat -- Tom Ricketts. That is, unless you're willing to accept blame for all the goofy things your parents once did -- or, more relevant, considered doing.

(Memo to Mayor Emmanuel's kids: Are you responsible for every off-the-wall option your father considered when he worked at the White House? If so, go to your rooms at once and don't come out until you're ready to apologize.)

I was talking to my old man on Sunday about the insults being hurled at Tom Ricketts, even by respected opinion writers and sports commentators.

"Sons of bitches," he growled, before quickly adding: "But your team stinks."

On both points, my Dad and I agree. At last. But his second comment makes me wonder: Would there be nearly as much fuss if the Cubs were in first place?

 
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