Chicago Tribune columnist Phil Rogers has written some not-very-smart things before about why he thinks the Cubs need to renovate Wrigley Field, but yesterday’s column is just awe-inspiring. From the title, “Key to Wrigley renovation: Will it lead to a title?” (spoiler: Rogers isn’t making any promises), we head straight to the opening lines:
Quaint ballparks are cool, no question about it. But they don’t win championships.
That’s why the Yankees did an ugly overhaul on the House That Ruth built in the mid-1970s and scrapped the original Yankee Stadium altogether five seasons ago.
Read that again, all together now. Yep, he said the Yankees. Yankee Stadium had to go, because it didn’t win championships. This is an actual argument made by an actual sports columnist on the actual payroll of an actual newspaper.
Now, I’m the first to acknowledge that money makes a difference in who wins championships. Though less so in MLB, where there’s so much randomness to the postseason scramble. (Consider that the Florida Marlins have won more World Series in the last 20 years than the New York Mets, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Los Angeles Angels combined.) And while more spending money helps lead to more wins, more stadium revenue doesn’t necessarily lead to more spending money — that’s going to be about how much money your shiny new free agents can generate in additional income, which is going to be more of a matter of the size and wealth of your market than how new your stadium is. (When Pittsburgh and Cincinnati built new stadiums, that didn’t suddenly mean the Pirates andReds could earn back a $30 million a year outlay on a new slugger by selling $2,000-a-pop seats like the Yankees could.)
But anyway, back to Rogers: What does he say about the Cubs in particular, and why they need a renovated Wrigley?
[Cubs owner Tom] Ricketts is dead on when he says the business side of baseball and what happens on the field are “two sides of the same coin.” Spending money doesn’t guarantee success, but it is impossible to sustain it without revenues that rank at the top of the game.
Right, and the Cubs have been suffering along with revenues that are, according to Forbes, fourth out of all 30 MLB teams. That’s ahead of the San Francisco Giants, who won the World Series last year, and the St. Louis Cardinals, who won the year before that, and the Detroit Tigers and the Texas Rangers, who won the A.L. pennant those years. It’s behind the Yankees, who have won one championship in four years at their new stadium after winning four in the last thirteen years at the old one, and the Boston Red Sox, who play in a park two years older than Wrigley (albeit recently renovated), and the Philadelphia Phillies, who indeed won one championship in their new stadium, but are currently playing almost as badly as the Cubs.
There are certainly reasons to consider a Fenway Park-style redo of Wrigley: If the Cubs can shift some of the back-office and food-prep functions to an adjacent building as the Red Sox did, freeing up room for fans to get around and buy stuff and not crowd each other in the restrooms quite so much, that can only be good both for fans and for the bottom line. A 6,000-square-foot electronic scoreboard sounds like less of a win-win, especially for a park whose main attractions are its old-time feel and its view of the surrounding neighborhood. (Forget for a moment the griping of the rooftop owners across the street from Wrigley; will Wrigley still be Wrigley if you can’t see out of it because there’s a giant replay-and-ad board in the way?)
A new scoreboard will, undoubtedly, allow Ricketts to make even more money than he does now from Wrigley. But Chicago has no vested interest in that, unless you believe that a richer owner means a more successful ballclub. Which bears no resemblance to what baseball history has shown — but apparently knowledge of baseball history isn’t a prerequisite for being a Chicago Tribune baseball writer.