I’m not sure whether Tom Ricketts was thinking about Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong or Pocket Full of Kryptonite, but the tune he sang Tuesday had him sounding an awful lot like a spin doctor. In an “exclusive” interview with ESPN’s Jesse Rogers, Ricketts tried to set the record straight on team and league finances. Quotations are used above because the Cubs chairman really didn’t say anything he hasn’t already shared publicly at least once over the past few years.
The issue at hand is that, while Major League Baseball generates increasing higher revenue totals each year, that doesn’t necessarily result in giant piles of liquid assets. Not after most of that money is pumped back into buying or building properties, including ballpark construction and renovation.
Super-agent Scott Boras acknowledged that last week when he urged players not to bail owners out from their highly-leveraged positions. Ricketts brushed aside Boras’s comments, citing a lack of insight into the team’s balance sheet — kind of a self-own when you think about it — and touting the $750 million invested in making Wrigley Field the best possible venue for players and fans.
That talking point is one we’re all familiar with by now and it’s certainly valid, though there’s also the small matter of those costs running approximately 100% above budget. Then there’s Ricketts’ claim that the Cubs have continued to be among the top organizations in on-field spending, which is a bit of a red herring when you look at the last two seasons in terms of new spending.
The stagnant winter leading into the 2019 season coincided with ownership ducking its traditional Saturday morning panel at Cubs Convention, a pattern that repeated this past offseason. Ricketts actually told a group of fans, myself included, during an impromptu encounter leading up to the earlier of those two CubsCon weekends that owning a sports team is kind of like owning a home. It’s not an annual money-maker, so the real value is in appreciation.
There was also a rudimentary explanation of arbitration, but the moral of the story is that the Cubs weren’t a cash cow. But wait, if it’s more about long-term appreciation of the asset than pulling in profits each year, wouldn’t owners be a little more comfortable taking a bath this season? Apparently not.
“The league itself does not make a lot of cash,” Ricketts shared with Jesse Rogers. “I think there is a perception that we hoard cash and we take money out and it’s all sitting in a pile we’ve collected over the years. Well, it isn’t. Because no one anticipated a pandemic. No one expects to have to draw down on the reserves from the past. Every team has to figure out a way to plug the hole.”
That hole can’t really be plugged by bringing on new investors, Ricketts said, because of the uncertain financial environment. Hence the plan to fleece the players, er, invite the players to share in MLB’s revenues as a means by which to mitigate losses for now. It’s almost like building an ark to survive a flood or something.
“The scale of losses across the league is biblical,” Ricketts said. “The timing of the work stoppage, the inability to play was right before the season started. We’re looking at 30 teams with zero revenue. To cover the losses, all teams have gone out and borrowed. There’s no other way to do it in the short run. In the long run, we may be able to sell equity to cover some of our losses but that’s in the long run.”
Interestingly enough, this wasn’t the most eyebrow-raising church-adjacent comment made by a member of the Ricketts family over the past couple days. During a meeting with a group of Omaha’s black leaders, including pastor Jarrod Parker of North Omaha’s St. Mark Baptist Church, Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts reportedly opened a statement about protests by saying, “The problem I have with you people…”
‘I walked out on Governor Ricketts … he called us ‘you people’’ — Nebraska Pastor Jarrod Parker is calling out the governor for using a racist remark in their private meeting pic.twitter.com/KSGUqxirWM
— NowThis (@nowthisnews) June 3, 2020
The governor subsequently attempted to walk it back by clarifying that he said “you guys,” but other attendees have confirmed the most loaded phrasing in the viral version of the statement. Ricketts apologized for the offense caused by his poor choice of words and has since offered to meet with Parker, who has said there’s room for reconciliation.
Tom Ricketts also offered a briefly addressed his brother’s misstep, but I’ve seen softer pedaling from a toddler trying to ride a tricycle for the first time.
“He is a very respectful person and if he offended anyone I’m sure he did not mean to,” the Cubs chairman said.
The whole “if he offended anyone” business puts it on the people who heard the words rather than the one who spoke them and doesn’t address the very obvious fact that such words would obviously be offensive given the circumstances. Even if it was just a slip of the tongue, Freudian or otherwise, a man charged with heading a state’s executive branch should have known better.
This is not the first time Tom Ricketts has had to respond publicly to such things, either. The team had to perform some serious PR gymnastics after a leaked series of emails from family patriarch Joe Ricketts in 2019 contained bigoted comments and jokes. If you subscribe to the idea that the ear of corn doesn’t fall too far from the stalk, it’s very difficult to give Pete the benefit of the doubt on this one.
Look, this is admittedly some low-hanging fruit — which now makes me think I shouldn’t have changed the earlier metaphor to better fit Nebraska — but it’s germane to the topics of both MLB’s resumption and the nationwide protests of inequality. As a result of this site’s focus, then, the Cubs are at the nexus of the news world in more ways than we’d typically experience.
To that end, I sincerely hope the organization as a whole makes good on the call to “END RACISM” being displayed on the marquee Wednesday afternoon. Words matter, we’ve seen that from the Ricketts family already, but actions matter far more. And while the action of the baseball season will help many to forget some of what’s going on right now, it’s important that we hold the Cubs and other powerful organizations responsible for making good on their claims.
Update: An audio recording of the meeting between Pete Ricketts and local activists confirmed that the governor did indeed say, “you guys,” though Ricketts has maintained that his comment was insensitive. Ricketts and Pastor Parker met to reconcile and agreed to work together moving forward.