By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) Something pretty amazing happened over the weekend.
Or rather, didn’t happen.
Amid the usual, goofy hokum of the annual Cubs Convention came the announcement of a proposed redesign of Wrigley Field’s right-field bleacher area. The plan includes a rooftop-style party deck, premium seats like those atop Fenway Park’s left-field wall, and – what’s significant here – a rectangular, 75-foot LED screen set just above the basket.
You can imagine the blowback from traditionalists: the howls over technology defiling pastoral bliss, cries against the creeping commercialization of a baseball cathedral, fears that precious memories of simpler times are being trampled by greed. Phone lines blinking, websites abuzz, and wormy, over-sentimental media members leading the charge.
And you’ll have to imagine all of it, since none of that materialized.
A decade ago, this would have been cause for endless debate, particularly since the news came at a relatively quiet time in Chicago sports. Now, however, it merits either a nonchalant shrug or outright approval. “Giant television right above the ivy? Cool. Who’s this guy the Bears are interviewing? How’s Rose’s toe?”
It was even handled cleanly by the Cubs themselves, a signal that they may have learned from previous public stumbles. They plan to formally seek city approval for the changes to the park, even though permission from the Landmarks Commission is not required. They have deftly maneuvered Rahm Emanuel into a position to back the plan, since he has to let them do pretty much whatever they want to the park if he’s digging his heels in on not forfeiting amusement-tax money. According to a report in the Sun Times, 44th-ward alderman Tom Tunney (who fought the left-field Toyota sign) will not oppose this effort.
Usually these kinds of shifts are incremental and generational. It’s only in hindsight that we can pinpoint significant moments of evolution.
But the hiring of Theo Epstein and his high-tech troops, apparently, has catalyzed and accelerated the process. It’s like the whole thing has been power-washed, with decades of built-up nostalgia and sluggishness removed like so many barnacles – blown off the hull of a creaky ship.
Waves of progressive good will continue to cascade from Tom Ricketts’s bold stroke, and he knows it. They are trying to move ahead quickly before some of the feeling dissipates amid the cold truth of rebuilding the organization. This on-field product will not be pretty for a while, yet, and the grumbling will begin when fans really start to understand the scope of what Epstein has been asked to accomplish. Naming-rights to the park will be sold at some point, public money will be requested, all while patience is preached. It’s a tricky political calculus.
It’s not perfect: the Cubs could have been more sincere about the purpose of the new screen, telling us it will create valuable advertising inventory rather than hiding behind the idea that it’s for displaying the same pitch-count data we can all get on our phones. The Ricketts-driven decision to re-sign Kerry Wood for $3 million smacks of the Old Ways (and the reaction of the assembled conventioneers to the announcement of that deal was cringe-inducing. One could actually hear Epstein gritting his teeth above the din).
Still, the Cubs are finally on the right side of history, and they are ready to act on it.
I’m hopeful, now, that the same can be said of their fans.
Dan Bernstein joined the station as a reporter/anchor in 1995, and has been the co-host of ‚ÄúBoers and Bernstein‚Äù since 1999. Read more of Bernstein’s columns, or follow him on Twitter: @dan_bernstein.
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