Friday, January 30, 2009

An Ivy Chat Cubs-Blagojevich Tale

There is a family story that surrounds ex-Governor Rod Blagojevich and the Cubs. On July 29th, 1992, the Cubs were hosting the Pittsburgh Pirates in Wrigley Field. The odds didn’t seem to be in the Cubs favor as the pitching matchup was Bob Walk versus Frank Castillo. Watching the game from the comfort of a skybox was The Mother, a guest of a law firm that had rented the box for the day.

As she chatted up some of the other guests in the box, a young man approached her. "What do you do?" he asked.

"I sell advertising specialties," she replied.

"You mean buttons and bumper stickers?" the young man queried. "I could use some for my state senate campaign. My name is Rod Blagojevich."

Three weeks later, The Mother had a sale for about $500 in campaign swag. Two weeks after that, Rod received his swag.

The Mother now waited for payment.

And waited, and waited, and waited.

Repeated letters, faxes, calls and various other demands for payment went ignored for years. Rod moved on from the Statehouse to Congress. Still no payment.

Then, on the 4th of July, 2002, The Mother was at the Evanston 4th of July parade. Guess who was walking the parade and shaking hands? Candidate for Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. The Mother pushed the edge of the sidewalk to shake his hand. When he approached and stuck out his hand, she grabbed it and said up close to his face, "YOU OWE ME $500 FOR SOME BUTTONS SINCE 1992!"

Rod was taken aback and shouted for an aide to come over. The aide ran up and asked The Mother for the story. He listened for a second and jammed a business card in her hand with the name ALONZO MONK on it. "Call me!" screamed the aide and ran away.

The next day, she called.

Three weeks later, she had a check.

End of story.

P.S., the Cubs won the 1992 game on a homer in the 11th by Sammy Sosa.

Like We Said

Over at, Jason Stark Rumbles, Grumbles and buries the lede:

But does that mean (the Jake Peavy trade) can get revived sometime soon? Not necessarily, because there are still major ownership issues. And no matter how much the folks at MLB might want to get the Cubs' sale approved by Opening Day, the timetable isn't solely in its hands.

"I don't think we're anywhere near as close to resolving the ownership situation as it looks," said one baseball man with knowledge of those machinations. "You have to remember [the seller, the Tribune Company] is in bankruptcy court. So if somebody comes along and says, 'We offered more money,' the court can say, 'You have to take the most money.' So there's no way of saying right now whether this gets resolved in two to three months or six to eight months."

So why does that matter? Because the Cubs can't add a $63 million contract without ownership approval. And there's still no assurance they'll have an owner before Opening Day. So how can they move forward on a deal?

Right now, they can't even get a tentative go-ahead from prospective owner Thomas Ricketts because he's still, technically, negotiating. And even after those negotiations are completed, the court still has to sign off.

The Tribune, in its final insult to the Cubs fans, has delayed the sale of the team for two years in an attempt to avoid taxes. The result has been a diminished purchase price and handcuffs on the baseball operations people from doing all they can to put the best team on the field.

One wonders how much cash the Trib would have netted had the Cubs sold in 2007 and paid full taxes compared to what has been offered today and no tax paid. Apply a two year time horizon to that and the costs of a bankruptcy filing and hard to see how waiting has helped the Trib.

But, again, the real story here is that the sale is not a done deal. Despite the outpouring of love for Owner-Designate Tom Ricketts and family, there is still a very strong possibility that the deal won't close. Courts, bankers and possibly other bidders still have voices that are yet to be heard.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Two Newer Blogs

Now on the Links section:

Corn Cob Dress from the late-great 1060 West blog has started scribbling at Wax Paper Beer Cup. CCD was always a rational voice, albeit without the eloquence of Gaius, but with the capitalization.

Another acquaintance, Dylan J, has started a Flame Blog (Flog?) named Fire Al Yellon. There's a lot of bile there, and sometimes without the touch of humor needed to keep such sites straight. And getting Al fired might just take an act of Congress at this point (but SBNation has connections we hear). But there's very little to argue about the inanity exposed.

This Picture is a Snoozer

A cool picture from the Inauguration is getting some web-play today. You can see the whole thing here. If you zoom in on the podium, you get a very clear shot of the governmental leadership.
Four score and seven Blago indictments ago...

Visible is President Obama, President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Sen. John McCain, Sen. Diane Feinstein, and most of the members of the Supreme Court.

But wait... What's Clarence Thomas doing in this moment in history? Is he transfixed by the uniquely American orderly transition of power and the additional historical cultural significance of the moment?

Saturday, January 24, 2009


Bruce Miles goes with a summary of the Tribune's tenure today as owners of the Cubs. He picks a few choice people to quote.
"It's good to see the Tribune go," said Chuck Gitles, who runs the blog Ivy Chat. "I'm sure that a lot of past CEOs like Denis FitzSimons and Stanton Cook wanted to win. But ultimately they were responsible to stockholders. The big plus to private ownership is that a new owner can run the Cubs like a private yacht. It's their luxury item to show off and brag about.

"Who cares how much it costs to maintain? The Trib as an owner with stockholders always had to care about costs."

Hard to disagree with that.

There are other people quoted in the article, people who deserve to be ripped for what they say in the article and how it conflicts with what they've said in the past and how it shows how clueless they are about the nature of business.

But we'll save that for another day.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Down The Stretch, It’s Ricketts In The Lead

Splashed everywhere is the news that the Ricketts family of Omaha has won the bidding to be the next owner of the Chicago Cubs. That’s not entirely accurate. What the Ricketts family has won, with Tom Ricketts as the point person for the family, is the exclusive negotiating rights to close on a purchase. There are several hurdles that still need to be cleared before a sale can actually close.

First, there seems to remain the hurdle of financing. From the Tribune article on the sale:

The appeal of the Ricketts bid was that it featured more cash up front than the other bids, promising roughly 50 percent in equity and the rest of the $900 million financed with debt, a source said. Sources said the structure was favored by Tribune Co. and creditors since it meant more cash in the bank on closing day, money that no longer would be at risk.

That's really kind of shocking that the financing isn’t nailed down given how long all the bidders have had to get credit lined up. In these times, walking into a deal and only bringing 50% of your offer to the table as locked down is a good way to see your deal get blown up.

(This also confirms Mark Cuban's position in all this. It certainly appears that he was willing to go with a 100% equity offer - cash up front with no financing contingency.)

The second place this can get blown up is in the courts. Yes, the Cubs are not part of the bankruptcy filing. Doesn’t matter. There are over 1,000 Tribune creditors who need the Trib to get that $900 million in cash to pay off delinquent debts. There are probably no grounds for a judge to reject the Ricketts bid outright. But there’s still a chance the judge could approve the bid subject to a final round of open bidding. Given that the Ricketts bid still seems to need $450 million in debt, if a new bidder were to step forward with a larger cash offer, creditors could push a judge to accept the higher cash-up-front bid. If the Trib owes you $100,000 and they offer you Option A of $50,000 now and maybe $50,000 in 6 months but no guarantee of that, or Option B of $75,000 now and that's it, which one do you take?

As to Tom Ricketts himself, how he would be as a managing partner remains to be seen. What you want in a deep pockets owner is a guy with the massive ego that wants to win, but without the radical passion of an emotionally invested fan. A combination of ego and emotion yields Dan Snyder of the Washington Redskins. Sure, Snyder throws money around at the best free agents, but his rabid fandom interferes with a the organization’s ability to develop a long term strategy for growth and development of on-field talent.

The Tribune as owners had neither ego nor passion. They were purely profit driven. And that's a big reason why the Cubs never won under their ownership.

Tom Ricketts clearly has a Cub fan's passion. The question is if he can keep it in check and allow his new president and general manager to truly build an organization that the Cubs haven’t had since the Trib fired Dallas Green? Will his ego to win heighten his passion or will intelligence rule? We shall see.

But first, over to you, judge.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Closing Time

Not much has been written on this blog about the local radio shows of late. That's partially because Robert Feder is no loner writing in the Sun Times. But it's also because the current local shows make banality exciting by comparison.

Sure, the occasional "Who You Crappin'" can have some funny stuff in it, but there really is no "appointment radio" on the air in Chicago these days. Not unless you call counting the number of times a minute Dan Hampton says, "And again..."

The ESPN 1000 afternoon show is being killed right now. The first exit was Dan McNeil who was summarily booted last week. John Jurkovic and Harry Teinowitz will follow very shortly. Can't say that this show will be missed.

There was a time when they actually talked sports. The last year or so, every time I turned the show on, they seemed to be talking about some personal anecdote that had nothing to do with anything interesting. You hear that and it's an easy push of the button to Roe Conn or the multi-CD changer.

Today in the Sun Times, McNeil says "farewell for now" in a column he wrote. Not much news there but for this piece:

I'm not sure if Jurko or Harry would agree, but I think (station manager Jim) Pastor pulled the plug at the right time. And I don't begrudge him for not affording us a ''goodbye show.'' I've heard those before. They're ugly. Neither management nor talent wins.

That's correct, Dan. It's also true that this column is a mini version of just such a goodbye show. While this column isn't ugly, it's hard to see how this helps you win.

So, sappy goodbye shows bad. Sappy goodbye columns ok. Dan McNeil, who you crappin'?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Hope He Means It

However long we are keepers of the public trust we should never forget that we are here as public servants and public service is a privilege. It's not about advantaging yourself. It's not about advancing your friends or your corporate clients. It's not about advancing an ideological agenda or the special interests of any organization. Public service is, simply and absolutely, about advancing the interests of Americans. - Barack Obama

Said today, addressing his staff. How refreshing to hear. Now do as you say.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

American Express

While a good time was had by nearly all last Friday evening, mostly at the expense of yours truly and Flannj, the Cubs convention remains just short of your nearest Star Trek convention in terms of the attendees. Just walking through the lobby suffices for the experience and buying a ticket is completely unnecessary.

The Inauguration of Barack Obama, a White Sox Fan, did bring a few e-mails to the in tray. One of them showed a graphic for the new Presidential Limo. Some interesting quirks.

Nice ride

Under the box "Defence Accessories" is this bizarre factoid: Bottles (plural) of the President's blood are kept on board the car. Now, how do you have this conversation with the President? "Sir, we need to take two units of your blood for the car." And how often do you refresh what's kept in the car? Do they siphon him like Hawkeye and Trapper did to Frank?

The other fun one is in "Driver's Window."

The only window that opens - by just three inches - so the driver can pay a toll or talk to agents.

Excuse me, but "pay a toll"? We spend $500 million a year on the Executive Office and they don't have a fricken' I-PASS or EZ-PASS?

I see a Sonny Corleone scenario in some terrorists future.

Maybe in the age of all working together we can get tollway bureaucrats to band together to waive tolls for the President. We reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Later and Later and Later...

We're way beyond overtime. Sudden death is in a rear view mirror. The shoot out went through every player. Hell, even Herb Brooks back in Oslo would have given up by now. But, "Denny" Crane Kenny says that the sale of the Cubs should be complete by Opening Day. To be clear, he means 2009:

"I think if we could get some assistance with the commissioner, there's a vetting with the ownership committee, and then there would be a full vetting with the ownership groups," Kenney said as he arrived for a meeting of major league owners at a mountainside resort. "But I think everyone wants this thing to come to a conclusion, including the commissioner. So if we can get a little assistance there, we can maybe get there by April."

As always, there's a subtle little nugget buried in the article:

(I)t's not clear whether Tribune's more than 1,000 creditors would agree to leave such a prized asset outside the bankruptcy court's control.

Kenney said he hopes the sale won't be tied up in court.

"We've had such an open process," Kenney said. "It's been so long in the making, with originally 10 bidders. I don't know the courts, especially in this economy, will think they need to do sort of a market check to see if there is a higher bid than the one that results from the Tribune process."

In other words, there are over 1,000 parties that need the Tribune to maximize the proceeds from the sale. And that means that a party outside the "Final Three" could still parachute in at the 11th hour with a higher bid.

Wouldn't it be fun if that bidder was unacceptable to Bud Selig but very acceptable to a judge and 1,000 creditors?

With the Cubs season really not starting until October (the 162 game schedule is a dismal failure without a playoff appearance), this could be the best sport the Cubs provide all summer.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A Fine Corinthian Leather Lined Casket

Ricardo Montalban (1920-2009)
I hope he doesn't spend eternity as a building contractor. That would be so vicious.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Two Hall of Fame Angles

Now that Ricky Henderson and Jim Rice are ensconced in bronze for eternity in Cooperstown (or, at least until Hersch Klaff converts the Hall into office condos), the issue of the purpose of the Baseball has Hall of Fame comes to mind. There are two valid ways for how the Hall should manage new inductees and baseball can’t seem to make up their mind which one they want to choose.

This first way is to make the Hall as exclusive as possible. Only the best of the best would ever get in. Players like Phil Rizzuto, Gary Carter and Ozzie Smith? No chance. Sure, they were good players, but not good enough to be considered the greatest of all time. There are plenty of guys in the Hall of Fame that are not even the greatest of their time.

The second way to enshrine players is to make it more of a celebration of the players of the game over time and not an exclusive club. Such a Hall does not promote career accomplishments of exceptional players. Instead, it focuses on the memorable moments of the game itself and the players who made those moments.

The NFL clearly follows the second path. Every year they enshrine no fewer than four new members and no more than seven. Clearly, minimum numbers of inductees dilutes the quality of the players enshrined. But the NFL gets a marketing bonanza every year by letting in so many people. Having so many men standing around in yellow blazers and tying the announcement of new inductees to the Super Bowl annually gives the NFL the opportunity to promote its present and past all at the same time.

Major League Baseball, an organization that despite its success, never seems to miss an opportunity to generate positive publicity, could use a dose of NFL marketing savvy when it comes to its Hall of Fame.

Either that, or button this thin up tight and not only won’t Andre Dawson ever get in, but neither would Kirby Puckett, Tony Perez, or even Ryne Sandberg.

Frankly, it’s baseball’s Hall. They can run it the way they see fit. Right now, they seem to be running it half-assed.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Holiday Travels

Recent airport experiences brought this back to light.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Top Feeders

While the shark that is Mark Cuban circles and waits for the Cubs bidders' deals to fall apart due to strained credit markets and refinance risk, the final three identified bidders are being told by the Tribune to "polish" their finals offers. Translation: Increase your bid.

As we've known since December Tom Ricketts, Marc Utay and Hersch Klaff are the main candidates to complete a purchase. Fans should probably rank their rooting interests is the order of the names listed above. While none of these guys have ever owned a sports franchise themselves before, giving us no track record on which to base what kind of owner they would be (fan friendly, hands off, Dan Snyder-esque whacko, etc.), Ricketts is likely the best bet.

The subtle piece of the Trib bio was this line:

Tom Ricketts wanted to make it on his own and never worked at Ameritrade (the Ricketts family business)

What you want with an owner is a guy who wants to show that he's smarter than everyone else and has the disposable cash to treat a sport franchise as their personal yacht, not a profit center.

That Tom wants to make it on his own suggests just such an ego. The question is, does he have a Mark Cuban ego which has learned that good GM's make good teams? Or does he have the Dan Snyder ego where you go get the best, shiniest toy and throw it into your pile?

If it is to be Ricketts, let's hope it's more Type A than B.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

The Ups and Downs of Milton Bradley

The good things about the Milton Bradley signing include that they guy can hit and his contract. His career OPS+ is 118, but his last four years have all been above that. The last year his OPS+ was below 100 was 2002. That's a nice trend.

His contract, if broadcast reports are correct, is really only a two year deal at $10 million per year with a third year vesting on a minimum games played clause. So long as that number is higher than about 275 games, this is a good deal in today's market. There are still a lot of good players out there who are unsigned and the economy is down. High supply plus low demand should yield cheap contracts. In this case, it certainly appears that happened.

Milton's downside? The main one appears to be that he doesn't play very much. He has one 500 AB season in his career (516 in 2004) and only 2 seasons with over 400 ABs (414 in 2008). There's little reason to expect him to give the Cubs 1,000 ABs over the two guaranteed years of his contract.

Yeah, he's also on track to make Kent Mercker look calm and collected in his media relations and he makes Carlos Zambrano look like a Xanax pitchman. But that's Lou Piniella's problem. Thank god it's Lou and not the guy before him to have to manage this guy.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Shalom, Jason

It's official. Jim Hendry outbid himself for Jason Marquis in 2006 to get two years of mediocre pitching and one year of Luis Vizcaino.

I guess this means the Rockies will make the playoffs in 2009 while Jason watches from the bench.

In the deal, the Cubs save $5 million in salary by not paying Marquis. Now, if only Jim Hendry can find a taker for Vizcaino and save the full $10 million.

Exit One Bidder

As the Trib narrows in on FINALLY selling the Cubs, Mark Cuban goes public on his involvement in the sale process.

His angle seems to be pretty simple. Cuban is cash rich. There is a credit crisis making cash more valuable. He did not want to take refinance risk on buying the Cubs with debt. The amount of cash he was willing to spend to buy the Cubs was far lower than the amount of cash plus debt he was willing to spend. If Sam Zell wants to sell to him, it's going to be at Cuban's price, not Zell's. And Cuban has that check ready if Zell needs it.

This all sounds pretty smart.

Then again, maybe Cuban just doesn't want to deal with Milton Bradley.

Oh, and a quick note to the various writers covering the Cubs new right fielder and, one guesses their #3 hitter: Can we please stop with the awful, awful board game puns?

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