If you’re a Chicago Cubs fan, you have our sympathy.
Like the Boston Red Sox, the Cubs lived with “the curse.” It’s a part of Chicago Cubs lore, and the tale begins with game four of the 1945 World Series, played at Wrigley Field between the Chicago Cubs and the Detroit Tigers.
Legend has it that Chicago tavern owner Bill Sianis arrived at Wrigley Field with a goat named Murphy, who was wearing a covering that reads “WE GOT DETROIT’S GOAT.”
Chicago Cubs owner P.K. Wrigley allegedly denied the goat’s entrance. Wrigley is said to have claimed the goat “smells.” The Cubs lost that game, and Sianis reportedly sent a telegram to Wrigley, asking “Who stinks now?”
Cut to 2013, when some sicko Cubs fan had a goat’s head delivered in a box outside Wrigley Field. The box was addressed to Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts.
Joy in Wrigleyville?
It’s been 105 years since the Chicago Cubs won a World Series, earning them the name, among other sympathetic sobriquets, “loveable losers.” But there could be change in the air say the franchise’s family owners.
In four years the Ricketts have invested more than a billion dollars into the luckless club to bring in young talent and chase out the apathy embodied in that loveable losers label.
“We hate that [label],” says Tom Ricketts, one of the owners interviewed by Armen Keteyian in a feature on the family and its plans for the Cubs for the next edition of 60 Minutes Sports, tomorrow/Wednesday, April 2 at 9:00 PM ET/PT on SHOWTIME.
“The ‘loveable losers’ hits a raw nerve for everybody in the family,” says Tom. He and his siblings, the successful offspring of billionaire Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts, bought the club in 2009 for $845 million. It was sinking then under the weight of pricey contracts and a poor farm system. Under the Ricketts, the team has continued its futility on the field, losing close to 100 games in each of the last four seasons. Fan attendance to the aging ballpark has also declined.
The Ricketts’ plan to change all that meant refurbishing Wrigley Field for its centennial celebration this season, investing in a facility in the Dominican Republic, where most of Major League Baseball’s stars have come from over the past decade, and a brand new $84 million spring training facility in Mesa, Ariz. They gutted the team of aging talent to focus on its farm system, which is now rated one of the best. Still, it’s been four years and the Cubs remain in the cellar. Is Tom Ricketts just selling hope? “It’s selling a process,” he insists, saying you can’t take short cuts. “You can’t buy a championship team. You have to build a championship team.”
One key to the “process” is President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein, whom they lured away from Boston, where he helped that franchise win two World Series Championships after an 86-year drought. With no magic wand, Epstein has taken his share of criticism from writers and fans. “There’s a real dichotomy between how we’re perceived from the outside looking in, which is fair,” he tells Keteyian. “And then they assume we’re depressed…we can’t wait to get out of here. Nothing could be farther from the truth…morale…is fantastic,” says Epstein.
Laura Ricketts echoes that sentiment. “When we took over ownership of the Cubs, it was, ‘If we ever win a World Series,’” says Laura, the only openly gay owner of a major professional sports team. “Now the whole…culture of the organization has changed to…‘when.’…The Cubs are coming back.”
Opening day approaches and the team will begin the season without a nationally known star player. But for long suffering fans, the Cubs are still their beloved Cubbies. 60 MINUTES SPORTS cameras recorded the enthusiasm of thousands of Cub fans at the 29th Annual Cubs Convention held at a local hotel over the winter.
Says Tom, “The Cubs aren’t a team people just watch. They’re a team that’s really part of their family,” he says. Tom is often the Ricketts family member who spends the most time with those fans at Wrigley. Winning the big one is deeply personal for Tom, but winning for the fans takes it to another level. “When you think about all these people giving all this love to this one team, for all this time, it just really makes you want to win that World Series,” he tells Keteyian.