Do not Zell out Wrigley’s tradition

By Kyle Betts

Depending on where you get your sports news, you might have noticed the civil unrest that is manifesting on the corner of Clark and Addison.

If you read the Chicago Sun-Times or any of the numerous Chicago sports blogs (especially Cubs blogs), then you would think the apocalypse is upon us.

If you subscribe to the Chicago Tribune, then all is well. There’s no problem. Why is everyone acting so crazy?

And if you read a national paper or Web site, then you might of heard something about a Wrigley Field name change that may or may not happen.

On Tuesday, Cubs owner Sam Zell – although recently he seems more like an auctioneer – said in an interview with CNBC: “Wrigley is an obvious worldwide icon, and Wrigley Field is worldwide known. But, in the world of economics, when I bought the Tribune, I didn’t get a discount because I wasn’t going to use the naming rights that field represents.”

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We’ve known for a while that Zell was mulling whether to sell the naming rights to Wrigley Field, but his statement seems to suggest that he will certainly sell the name for the right price.

Then all Zell broke loose.

The message boards and blogs exploded with anti-Zell rants and raves, the headline on the Sun-Times’ Thursday front page read “It’s Tribune vs. Chicago,” and Jay Mariotti, probably seeking an opportunity to gain some favor back with a fan base that already despises him, wrote a column calling for a Cubdom uprising against the “evil” Zell.

And while the Sun-Times continues to lead the crusade to save the Cubdom holy land of Wrigley Field, the Chicago Tribune practices responsible local journalism by reporting on the issue with only one 130-word story written by the Associated Press … and nothing more.

While I personally feel that the issue should be settled by a “Highlander”-like sword fight in a parking garage between Zell and Ernie Banks – preferably while I watch, yelling, “There can only be one!” – I find that I have mixed emotions about the issue because its coverage is confusing and disorienting.

When I first heard about Zell wanting to sell Wrigley’s naming rights, I was irate like most of Cub nation. I wanted to voice my outrage to anyone who would hear it. Zell doesn’t have any understanding of tradition. He doesn’t know what Wrigley Field means to the fans, and after Zell destroys this part of baseball history, he’ll take his money and run while leaving us with Taco Bell Park or Viagra Field.

On the other hand, I didn’t want to overreact. I thought that maybe everyone is blowing this situation out of proportion. There is no guarantee that Zell will sell the naming rights to Wrigley, he’s just suggesting that it’s a possibility. Perhaps after he gets some feedback from the fans and from the Cubs’ front office, he’ll realize the importance of the name and decide not to sell it because part of the value of the Cubs is the stadium and the surrounding neighborhood named after Wrigley.

So after some deliberation, I came to this conclusion:

Mr. Zell, do what you want with the naming rights – after all, they do belong to you. But be prepared to live with the consequences.

Selling out one of baseball’s few unblemished traditions will cause you to not only become another villain in the long history of the Chicago Cubs, but also yet another evil owner destroying the purity of the game that we love. You will be remembered more for this than anything you will ever do with your money.

I understand that baseball is a business, and a baseball team is essentially a corporation with color-coordinated uniforms and cleats, but the Cubs have been more than that to their fans. I don’t need to lecture you on the specifics, but this team has provided more than entertainment.

So you can change the name of Wrigley Field, but we’ll still love the Cubs and you’ll still be hated. Nothing will ever change that.

There is going to be a lot of concerns presented in the coming months about Cubs ownership and the naming rights to Wrigley, but the only opinion that should matter is the fans’.

We have more power to change things than they think, and while Sam Zell might own the Cubs corporation, the fans own the team. Nothing will ever change that.

Kyle Betts is a senior in Communications. He can be reached at [email protected].