By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) When the Tribune Company initially put the Chicago Cubs on the auction block back in 2007, I recall telling a friend how I was leery about someone as unpredictable as Mark Cuban ending up with the winning bid for the franchise.
“Who knows what he might do,” I said about the Dallas Mavericks’ mercurial owner. “He might put up a roller coaster in the Wrigley bleachers, or something.”
Well, it turns out that the Ricketts family – those so-called “fan owners” who ended up buying the Cubs instead of Cuban – want to end up doing that anyway.
On Friday, CBSChicago.com reported that a jumbo-sized sticking point has emerged in the negotiations over the rehab of 99-year-old Wrigley Field with the Cubs wanting to erect a giant video screen beyond the bleachers that would measure 6,000 square feet.
That’s about three times the size of the iconic centerfield scoreboard – or probably about as big as a roller coaster.
And at least as gaudy.
CBSChicago.com reported that city officials have suggested a video screen about half that size, but the Cubs have said no, with team spokesman Julian Green telling the Chicago Tribune, “We are exploring adding a video board at Wrigley Field as part of opportunities to increase revenues for the baseball club. One of the points at issue is the size.”
And with that statement, I say to the Ricketts family: Enough.
In many ways, I sympathize with the Cubs owners. The rooftop operators do effectively steal their product, and Ald. Tom Tunney is so deep in their pockets that he could be lint. The neighborhood does handcuff the team and should let the Cubs have things like a street fest on Sheffield Avenue, which is already closed to traffic on game days. And the organization should also have the freedom to put up some additional signage around Wrigley – as long as it’s tasteful.
But a monster Jumbotron at Wrigley? That’s not tasteful.
That’s tacky. No, it’s worse than that. It would be a tragedy.
It’s bad enough when you field teams that lose 101 games for about $101 a ticket. But when you start messing with my personal Wrigley Field experience as a Cubs fan, you’ve gone too far. I don’t think I’m the only fan who feels that way today in light of Friday’s news about what would be a jumbo-sized mistake.
A monstrous squawking and flashing video board looming beside the timeless hand-operated one goes against everything that makes Wrigley Field what it is. The ballpark’s unique authenticity and simplicity are huge reasons why millions of fans are drawn to the Friendly Confines each season – heaven knows it isn’t to see the product on the field. If fans want to see exploding scoreboards and flashy video displays, they can head down to the South Side.
Wrigley doesn’t offer that. I don’t want it to, either.
Ever since the ballpark began to crumble, I’ve said that if the Cubs were forced to tear down the Wrigley Field grandstands for a complete rebuild and had to play a season elsewhere for a year, I could live with it. I could, at least, if the ballpark was rebuilt at the corner of Clark & Addison and its bleachers, ivy and scoreboard were preserved intact at Sheffield & Waveland.
After all, what makes Wrigley Field so special isn’t just the ballpark. If it was located in, say, Rosemont it wouldn’t be nearly as cool. Rather, Wrigley’s positioning in the heart of real, vibrant Chicago neighborhood makes it unique. And the sweeping vista of the bleachers and the antique scoreboard that rests high atop them are what make the ballpark as beautiful in the world of sports as the Rocky Mountains are in nature.
I understand that the Cubs want to further monetize the Wrigley Field, but a Jumbotron bastardizes it. According to Forbes, the Cubs were the most profitable team in baseball last year – without a monster video board, although I’m sure the Ricketteses say they need one to pay for the ballpark renovations.
But as a friend astutely pointed out on Twitter on Friday, ruining the timeless feel of the ballpark in order to renovate means that the operation was a success.
But the patient died.
So, kill the Jumbotron idea, Cubs. Not Wrigley Field’s charm.
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com. Follow him on Twitter @wischlist and read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.