Cubs’ fate in hands of future owners

By Se Young Lee

The biggest story so far in this 4-day-old season is the news of an impending sale of the storied Chicago Cubs, a franchise mostly known for its almost century-old championship drought.

But the announcement should come as no surprise. Rumors of an ownership change have been floating around in recent years, even before the shareholder revolt forced the Tribune Company to sell itself. If it wasn’t Sam Zell who snatched up the media chain’s 23 television stations and 14 papers, somebody else would have.

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What is interesting is that Zell did not want ownership of the Cubs in exchange for his minority stake in the White Sox; league rules prohibit an owner from having a stake in more than one team, so he had to choose between the two. Perhaps the idea was to simply avoid the headache.

Regardless of the circumstances behind the sale, Tribune Co. should get a handsome return out of the $20.5 million investment it made in 1981. Forbes magazine appraised the club to be worth $448 million, excluding the value of Wrigley Field, in 2005, and some speculate that the payout could exceed $600 million. Yet there is no shortage of buyers for this club; after all, there is more money being pumped into baseball than ever before, and we ARE talking about the Cubs.

So what’s in store for the Lovable Losers’ future??

It’s hard to see the new ownership getting rid of the core players, although ace Carlos Zambrano might not be in a Cub uniform come next year because the sale may not be put together until 2008. And it’s also hard to see how the new owners could do worse putting together a winning franchise than the Tribune. In the 26 seasons under Tribune management, Cubs fans have seen seven winning seasons, 16 managers and seven general managers. This instability and futility suggests a failure to develop and execute a concerted, philosophical approach to building and sustaining a winning team.

The Tribune was probably one of the worst stewards of a baseball club in the history of the game. The nature of a publicly traded company dictates that all of its holdings be primarily considered as assets from which value is derived. I never felt that there was a passion for the game or a commitment to winning emanating from this ownership that would make me think the Cubs were anything more than something to make money off of in its grand scheme of things.

Say what you will about White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, but there is no doubt that winning is important to him: He has said in the past that he would gladly trade in his NBA Championships as owner of the Bulls for a World Series title.

And while it wouldn’t be smart to use these statistics as proof of superiority, it is worth noting that the White Sox have failed to win at least half of their regular season games only three times from 1996 to 2006.

Cubs managed to win more than half of their games four times in that time frame. And, although both teams have been almost equally inept, the current White Sox management has delivered something that the Cubs still have not – a championship season.

I sincerely hope, for the sake of Cubs fans, that the franchise is handed off to an owner/group of owners who will make a serious commitment to putting together a winning club – and one that’s smart enough to know that it’s not enough to buy up the best players on the free agent market to patch together a contending team.

At least three generations of Cubs fans have gone through their existence without witnessing a World Series game in Wrigley Field, not since the Oct. 10, 1945, Game 7 against the Detroit Tigers. No fans deserve to suffer for this long, and I’m sick of people arguing about a rivalry that doesn’t really exist.

It’s just not a fair fight when all I have to do is point to my ring finger.

Se Young Lee is a senior in Communications. He can be reached at [email protected]