GEORGE CASTLE: Are you listening, Tom Ricketts -- fans will accept youth movement.

2011-06-16T22:00:00Z GEORGE CASTLE: Are you listening, Tom Ricketts -- fans will accept youth movement.By George Castle on the Cubs
June 16, 2011 10:00 pm  • 

If the typical Cubs fan is not put upon enough, then he's got an additional decades-long burden -- he's under-rated.

Phil Wrigley figured his fans would settle for a picnic-like atmosphere at Wrigley Field if they had little else. Tribune Co. viceroys added some pizazz and modern marketing to that equation, deciding babes, beer and Harry singing in the seventh would sate the masses.

And, more recently, team chairman Tom Ricketts believed his underlings' analysis about the fans accepting ticket-price increases that included bleacher tickets of up to $81 apiece.

Worse yet, White Sox fans -- diamond purists they are -- look down on their North Side counterparts' baseball IQ. They snicker Cubs fans don't know the game and would show up to watch a Little League team just to enjoy bucolic, if crumbling, surroundings at Clark and Addison.

Trouble is, all the above are stereotypes and gross misinformation in the same ballpark as the billy-goat curse that got revived this week via Cubs players' profane T-shirts later banned by Ricketts for public consumption.

Cubs fans always wanted to win, first and foremost. If they thronged to Wrigley Field to the tune of 3.3 million each year after three post-season appearances from 2003-08, well, what else did you want them to do when a home game was scheduled? Go to the mountains? Surf on Lake Michigan?

But the fans had their limits after 1 1/2 seasons of spectacular losing. The bleachers were not jammed to the gills for Thursday's game against the Brewers in beautiful weather. And tickets were still available this week for the ballyhooed inter-league series against the Yankees starting today.

The typical method of Cubs roster construction -- a hodgepodge -- is not selling anymore to the paying customers. So why not try something radically different that's worked elsewhere with the Twins, the Braves, the Rays and others. The fans are eager to see something that has a discernible future.

Tear it all down. Build around a talented core of kids. A youth movement.

That can sell to the fans if communicated properly. Especially if there's a talented group of youngsters, including potential impact players, moving up. If the Brewers produced Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, Corey Hart and Rickie Weeks, surely the Cubs could do the same with superior financial resources -- if they had the will and guts to act.

The bottom-line guys and baseball traditionalists have always run for cover when starting over is suggested.

Larry Himes, Cubs GM from 1991-94, said he couldn't tear the team down and build it back up again as he did with the Sox in the late 1980s because of the perceived negative effect on WGN-TV ratings and sponsor income.

Andy MacPhail, who took over as Cubs president in '94 and worked as a kind of "executive GM" over Himes successor Ed Lynch -- who retained the official title -- refused to crash and then resurrect the Cubs with kids because the franchise already had taken too many "broadsides."

But if the franchise had taken too much water two decades ago, consider the Titanic-sized gashes present today with albatross contracts taking the team straight to the bottom -- despite that nice three-out-of-four performance against the Brewers.

Trade all marketable Cubs for prime prospects if the farm system cannot provide those commodities. An Albert Pujols or Fielder alone with a mega-bucks contract won't win you anything.

And trust the fans to accept a direction for which they've been clamoring, to deaf ears, for ages.


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