Who’s to Blame for the Cubs’ Bungled Business Decisions?

Who’s to Blame for the Cubs’ Bungled Business Decisions?

I’d write even if no one was there to read it, which is probably what many of my readers would prefer. But as it happens, I’ve got a bit of an audience from time to time, a fact that never ceases to humble and surprise me.

One reason I’m thankful is that my readers often help me to come up with topics, which was the case after my last piece, “It’s a Jungle out There.” I had created a metaphysical conceit that related the Cubs rebuild to an incident I witnessed in a meat-packing plant and some questions were raised afterward.

One reader, jack [sic] commented: “But my question was, who is the individual responsible for messing up the business side. It has to be Tom Ricketts. If he couldn’t have figured out that he was dealing with an abattoir before he bought, he is ultimately responsible.”

I don’t speak French, but I’m reasonably sure that abattoir is frog-speak for slaughterhouse. Of course, given the debt load involved in the purchase, I think albatross is a more fitting term.

Now, I know what Rob Pilatus and Fab Morvan would tell us, but I don’t think blaming it on the rain -- even the evil, freezing variety currently pelting my house -- is either accurate or satisfying.

In thinking about the business side of the Cubs’ situation, I’m reminded of my attempt to install a replacement garage-door opener. This shouldn’t be confused with the ill-fated dishwasher installation that occurred a couple years earlier, though my wife inevitably ties the two together.

In any case, the opener went bad and I thought it would be a simple home-improvement project for a Saturday afternoon. After all, the old one was mounted and the track secure; how hard could it be?

So I got a new model and set about my task. Upon closer inspection, the “mount” was all kinds of jury-rigged to the garage ceiling. But did that stop me? Of course not. I reasoned that this was still pretty much a plug and play deal with little actual work required.

Needless to say, I was not feeling the same after nearly 12 hours of work and fingers that felt raw and arthritic. And even then, the belt drive was still too long and the carriage device that actually lifted the door was not running the proper length.

I spent the better part of two days trying and re-trying the device, frequently shaking my fist at it and screaming: “You think yer better’n me?!” The stoic machine mocked just mocked me, its silence a resounding “Yes!”

I eventually discovered that there was a small gear mechanism inside the opener that controls the travel length of the lift carriage, and that said devices individual pieces had become detached from the housing.

With dexterity that would have impressed Lang Lang and Antonio Alfonseca, I maneuvered the little pieces back into position and finally adjusted the opener. Of course, I still had to cut the drive belt down to size and order a new piece for it, but I’ve already wasted enough of your time.

So, c’est la vie and caveat emptor, right? Well, sort of. I had a reasonable expectation that I’d be able to use the tools at my disposal and that I had been supplied with a fully-functional machine. But that wasn’t really the case.

I got it all up, only to find that some of the inner workings were corrupted and needed far more additional cajoling and maneuvering than I could have imagined. Still, I could have paid the $100 or so at Lowe’s and had someone put the thing up for me, saving me tremendous time and effort.

So what in the blue hell did any of that have to do with the Cubs? Good question. The point is that I probably should have done a little more recon before setting about my Sisyphean task.

The Cubs seem to be in virtually the same situation at this point; Tom Ricketts knew, or should have known, exactly what he was getting into from a financial standpoint. However, the issue with the rooftops has proven to be a bit more difficult that he could have imagined.

Other PR issues have cropped up along the way as well: Ron Santo memorabilia being chucked in a dumpster, Clark the Cub’s inglorious introduction, etc. So where do we point the finger?

As the President of Business Operations for the team, Crane Kenney’s name is at the top of the list. After all, he’s been the one overseeing all of these moves. But his continued employment seems to indicate that the Cubs don’t feel the same way.

Kenney’s an easy target, but then again, so is Tom Ricketts. But since you can’t fire the owner, no amount of finger-pointing is going to resolve anything. And the Cubs’ neighbors and business partners across the street must share some of the blame as well.

It might be a huge cop-out, but I can’t lay the flaming pile of blame at any one pair of feet, whether they belong to an individual or a collective. That said, I think everyone involved could have done a hell better job of making this all happen in a smooth manner.

So there you have it: I just spent 900 words to not really answer the question. Now I feel bad. You know what? Kenney always seemed a little smug to me, kind of like a slimmer version of Spaulding Smails.

So I’ll say it’s his fault. Yeah, that feels better.


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  • From my viewpoint, Crane Kenny has a short list of failures and no list at all of successes. I'm frankly surprised he's still around.

  • I see that you acknowledged that I posed the question; let me throw a few more things out there.

    As far as Ricketts getting into a mess, there is such a thing as due diligence. Some baseball bloggers asked "why didn't the Cubs fetch the $2 billion that the Dodgers did?" while Mark Cuban, popularly thought to have no chance with the other owners anyway, said "this wasn't worth over $500 million." If Ricketts didn't calculate in advance the bad condition of the structure, the bad player contracts he assumed, the rooftop contracts, and probably little help from City Hall, he was a bad businessman. Steve Rosenbloom had tapes of Joe saying that Tom said "we can't lose, because the fans will come out regardless," but that wasn't the case either.

    While Ricketts can't fire himself, he certainly can fire Kenney and any other PR doufi, as cubsin implies.

    And if the obstacles are so bad, he can use Rosemont's offer, at least as leverage, but won't do that.

    Regardless of whether Theo and Jed's rebuilding plan works, and they are responsible for that, it was clearly ownership that told them that the "revenue streams" have to come in before they can spend real money, unless they really had an unlimited checkbook to, say, sign Tanaka. There seem to be a lot of obstacles in generating those revenue streams, though.

    It isn't any different in other types of business. Sears is a mess because Eddie Lambert may know how to run a hedge fund, but not a merchandise business. Same with Sam Zell and a newspaper. The responsibility starts at the top, even though people said to get rid of Randy Michaels and Pig Virus.

  • In reply to jack:

    I stopped reading when you quoted Steve Rosenbloom as a source for your opinion.

  • In reply to Rbirby:

    To the extent my opinion is based on anything, I did not quote Steve Rosenbloom, I quoted a tape with Old Joe on it.

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    Oh, I'm with you. I'm honestly very surprised that Kenney has maintained his job this long, particularly since he was there prior to the current regime. He's either got very compromising pictures of someone or he's being used as a human shield. After all, if you fire him, you make him a scapegoat. That means the pressure falls squarely on the rest of the brass, which might not be something they're ready for yet.
    Maybe Kenney's much more shrewd that I believe him to be, but you'd think he'd have something to show for it in that case. Or perhaps I'm just failing to give him credit for successes.
    In my situation, I was in such a rush to get the garage door working again that I didn't even think that it would be possible for the machine to have been defective. And there was no reason for me to have even thought to look for the specific flaw I found. I'm not even sure where I'm going with this at this point, but I guess the issue is that the Cubs have encountered problems, yet don't seem to have the fortitude to just push through them and make it work.

  • Evan, always enjoy your posts on here. I get what you're saying but I think a more apt analogy is that this is like building a house. You have so many factors that go into it that you can't control. You build a house by planning everything out in advance, hoping against hope that you've thought of every conceivable impediment to the completion of the project. And then your electrician breaks his leg and can't work for a month. Or your flooring guy has a warehouse fire and your new floors are destroyed. Or the contractor forgets to get a permit because he's got his wife's idiot brother working for him and he said he was positive he got the right permit.

    I seriously doubt Ricketts didn't do his due diligence. If you can accept that he knew what was getting into, then the only possible reason for this delay is that no one could have predicted, for instance, that one particular rooftop owner was going to be a total hard on and derail the process at every turn. It's hard to predict that level of assholish irrationality.

    On the other hand, I'm good with just blaming Todd Ricketts or Crane Kenney

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    In reply to Mikethoms:

    Thanks, Mike. The more global analogy of building a house is indeed apt, since even the best plot of land and the most skilled builder can run into unforeseen issues. However, I've never built a house, so I wanted to stick with what I knew. In doing so, I sort of put myself in Ricketts' shoes...I think. I did my due diligence in researching the make and model of my opener; it was just the updated version of the one I'd had. but the little internal gears were like the rooftop holding up the deal; it was not something I could have anticipated and it required in inordinate amount of effort for what should have been a simple deal.
    Ideally, this will work out like my garage door and be fine once this mess is all in the rearview (even if said view is obstructed by new signage).

  • In reply to Mikethoms:

    I suppose that you build a house without a good set of architectural and engineering plans. You can always get another electrician. That happens all the time.

    Also, if it is just "one rooftop owner," you modify your plans around that one rooftop and move on. They built hotel towers on Michigan Ave. around some tobacco shop. No excuse provided here for not buying out that one owner, nor getting the clubhouse renovations going.

  • In reply to jack:

    Hiring a new electrician causes a delay, that was my point. All those things cause delays. They don't prevent the project from being completed it just takes longer because of unforeseen circumstances. Another unforeseen circumstance is Ricketts' crackpot dad and his anti-Obama ad. That came out of left field and caused a delay. Even without that issue, you have had plenty of other municipal and state-level delays. Now if you look at Illinois and Chicago you see a lot of stadiums funded with public money. In fact it's kind of the norm. Ricketts had a creative way to public finance that didn't involve a Jerry Reinsdorf-esque long con. Maybe his only fault there was not having an immediate back up plan

  • In reply to Mikethoms:

    Your last sentence may have summed it. In essence though, anyone doing project management has to take contingencies into account. That many contingencies couldn't have been unforeseen. It wasn't, for instance, like the Fordham Spire being halted because the mortgage market unforeseeabily went into the toilet in 2008. Flack from politicians and contract parties was foreseeable.

    And, so far, he has dismissed the back up plan of Rosemont. The rooftop owners admit that they do not have a defense to that.

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    Tom did mention in an earlier post that a buyout appears to be in the works. My main gripe with Ricketts, also in an earlier post, is that he seems to be indecisive. I mean, I'm just some schmuck with a few random tools and a building trades education that came from my 8th-grade Industrial Technology class. But Ricketts is running a big business; so no logical analogy can really be drawn between my lame handyman skills and the Cubs, but it's as close as I can get. Plus, I got to make fun of myself a little, which was cathartic.
    But in my case, I owned the mistake and fixed it; I don't think Ricketts is moving quickly enough toward fixing his.

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    Ev, would you trust a guy to make plans that involve millions of dollars of family money who actually called in a "holy man" to exorcise demons that have haunted the Cubs in the past.? Well he did. Our Guy Crane with the blue blood name. Remember the schluck in the dugout acting like he was actually capable of chasing away evil spirits. He also was the guy who forced management to have his wife squeek the national anthem before a game. Your talking Michael Mc Caskey with out a mother to send him to his room and take away his matches. He by the way was the one who originally talked the Tribune into that deal with roof top owners thats now got a strangle hold on the Rickets plan for Disney World Midwest. You got it right. The CRANE boy is the culprit.

  • In reply to goldglover:

    The CRANE boy can be fired. However, we don't have Mike Murphy's "and --- is still on the payroll."

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    There is definitely plenty of blame to go around, but it really shouldn't suprise anyone that it hasn't taken this long to get anything done in Chicago. City Government is not exactly the model of efficency. Besides the one name you didn't bring up that actually hurt them the most in the rebuild was the Father. He who decided to fund ads bashing the former boss of the Mayor, whom the Cubs were trying to work with on the renovation project. That is what brought everything to hault in the first place. Then came the reboot with the Cubs footing all the bill and along with it a need to generate more revenues out of the Stadium to make up for those costs. So while i'm no fan of Crane, I have to put the blame on the Dad for starting this downward spiral.

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    In reply to Richard Madsen:

    Joe is, indeed, a huge pain. And we could logically draw the conclusion that it's ultimately his fault as Tom's father too. That whole anti-Obama thing couldn't have come at a worse time for the Cubs. But in the grand scheme of things, I didn't want to stray too far from the dealings in-house. Daddy's conservative political bent didn't help, but he's far from the worst offender.

  • In reply to Evan Altman:

    Joe was ahead of the curve. He should have waited for the buyers remorse like the rest of the country.

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