Though it was an innocent joke that got everyone riled up this past weekend, some more serious statements about a political adversary struck an entirely different nerve. Rather than funny business, we can just call it Tunney business. As in Tom Tunney, alderman for Chicago’s 44th Ward and frequent nemesis of Cubs ownership and business operations.
The mutual disdain between organization and politician has been public knowledge for years, but the Ricketts family recently ramped things up by bankrolling a challenger for Tunney’s seat. They’ve also turned up the volume on a PR campaign meant to undermine the alderman and strengthen their own position in the eyes of fans and local residents. Thing is, their methods of late have left a lot to be desired.
As part of his lengthy exposition of the initiatives falling under his purview as president of business operations, Crane Kenney went in on the man who has frequently stood in the way of their plans for Wrigley Field and the surrounding area.
“It seems like we’re always on the other end of the spectrum with this guy,” Kenney said. “When we talk about building a park (now known as Gallagher Way), he talks about it being a nightmare. Why are we so far apart? Why can’t we find any common ground with this guy?”
In fairness, the Cubs have ended up getting most of what they’ve asked for. Maybe not in exactly the manner or ease with which they’d have preferred, but it’s hard to look at what’s happened at the corner of Clark and Addison over the last handful of years and think they’ve been handcuffed.
Julian Green, who previously served as Barack Obama’s press secretary during the former president’s time an Illinois senator, objected to the idea that the Cubs were opposing Tunney as part of a right-wing agenda. Rather, he assured fans that it was a matter of Tunney being more concerned with fighting the Cubs than focusing on crime and education in the area. As for the curious timing of the criticism, Kenney later clarified that he’d received multiple emails from fans about it.
That sounds strangely like the reason given for the Ricketts family not participating in their customary Saturday-morning panel. In that case, it was a matter of fans purportedly saying the ownership group was just too boring, which is weird because they’re not St. Louis. Rather than going so far as to call BS on all this, I’ll just say that the logic seems very…convenient.
It also seems very calculated, like Tom Ricketts appearing on two major morning radio shows the day before the convention. After addressing the payroll and Addison Russell’s future with the team, Ricketts used his platform to launch into an anti-Tunney tirade.
“Tom Tunney has always seen himself as someone who is against the Cubs,” Ricketts said on 670 The Score’s Mully & Haugh. “And on top of that, it’s not just a high-road, we agree to disagree — we got approvals from the city and he stood up and just made vulgar insults to the family.
“At some point, we just want to make the point that we can do better. I mean, Tom an old-school politician, an old-school alderman, and I think you can look at his record and see what you think about it. But I think that anyone who lives in the 44th Ward should ask themselves, ‘Why can’t we do better?’
“And there’s a couple candidates that are running and take a look at them, is what I would say. And I just kind of think I like to imagine a ward and maybe a city with some new leadership and some better leadership. And it can be a better place.”
So does The Score now need to offer Tunney equal air time to express his side of the situation and stump for re-election? That’s how political advertising works, right? And does anyone else find it strange that the Cubs have been more publicly critical of a political adversary than a man who’s been suspended 40 games for domestic violence?
To be fair, Mike Mulligan asked the question that led to those statements, so it’s not as though Ricketts just took a hard left all on his own. And this isn’t the first time the Ricketts or the Cubs have sparred with Tunney publicly. Cubs fans outside Chicagoland probably couldn’t name any of the city’s other 49 aldermen, but more than a few of them know who’s responsible for the 44th Ward. Until now, however, the adversarial tone hasn’t been actively attached to an effort to oust Tunney.
Which is why the discussion at Cubs Convention hit a sour note. This was literally about reading the room, which probably contained few, if any, actual residents of the 44th Ward. Most of the fans in attendance couldn’t care less about a pissing contest between the team and a local politician, especially not an an event meant to accentuate the bright and sunny side of the organization. So to use that gathering as a means by which to sway public opinion felt underhanded.
That’s why more than one person has raised concerns about the Cubs’ potential choice as partner on a new broadcast network. Though it won’t be announced for another month or so, Sinclair is seen as a heavy favorite. If the right-leaning media giant is able to acquire some or all of the 22 FOX regional sports networks currently up for sale, a subsequent deal with the Cubs seems all but assured.
Some have complained about the mere mention of Sinclair’s political bent, questioning why it’s there at all or why other potential partners were not similarly labeled. It’s not uncommon at all for fans to request that politics be kept separate altogether. Even if you’re in that camp, it’s pretty easy to understand how someone might be concerned by the idea of a very influential conservative ownership group getting into bed with a broadcast partner that has distributed must-read political propaganda to its local network affiliates.
And the fact of the matter is that the Cubs are the ones making it political at this point by openly opposing alderman Tunney. Mind you, I’m not saying I don’t understand their opposition; it makes sense from a business perspective. Well, except that Tunney has a decided advantage in the polls and going after him could result in losing both money and leverage. But hey, what do I know?
While the notion that politics can be fully separated from sports is silly, many fans see their favorite team as an escape from other things going on in the world. As nice as that it in theory, it becomes much more difficult should the Cubs’ open courtship of political offices continue. And this isn’t just about supporting a local candidate for alderman. Pete Ricketts is currently serving as governor of Nebraska’s and the whispers of Todd Ricketts eyeing the same position in Illinois have gotten quite loud.
Given all that’s going on with the team right now and the ways the Cubs have chosen to spin those various topics, this whole Tunney business is a misstep. There was no need to leverage their respective forums the way they have recently. Tom Ricketts and Crane Kenney owe it to the fans to avoid using them as political capital, which is to say they should stick to sports. Publicly, anyway.
Maybe I’m wrong and fans are all about the plucky underdog Cubs taking on their big, bad bully of an alderman. Maybe this post jumps to the top of Ricketts’ list of the worst pieces of s— he’s ever read. If I’m being completely honest, though, I really don’t care. It’s just that for a team that has long engendered a sense of timeless nostalgia and an owner who’s touted himself as the most accessible in sports, this latest gambit could prove costly in terms of both cash and goodwill.
And unlike the snafus of the Dumpster Cake or the Lindbergh mural or even the botched announcement of Clark the Cub, this public melding of sports and politics might not be so easy to bounce back from.