GEORGE CASTLE: Ricketts' to-do list starts with Piniella

2009-08-22T00:00:00Z GEORGE CASTLE: Ricketts' to-do list starts with PiniellaGeorge Castle - on the Cubs nwitimes.com
August 22, 2009 12:00 am  • 

It's true incoming Cubs owner Tom Ricketts and family can't do anything about the umpteenth August collapse that has sent the Clark and Addison club again careening out of contention.

And the online brokerages whizzes from Omaha would be true wizards of odds if they can move the megabucks contracts of Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Zambrano and Milton Bradley that seem no more than gilded albatrosses strangling Wrigley Field.

Yet baseball owners have that title because they have power, plenty of it. So while all the Ricketts kin celebrate over finally completing the sale from Tribune Co. Friday for about $845 million -- pending formal approval from Major League Baseball and a bankruptcy court -- they also should be quickly formulating a battle plan for turning around the latest mess to envelop the star-crossed Cubs.

Here's a lucky No. 7 to-do list starting with:

1. Query Lou Piniella about whether his heart and soul are truly into his job with one year to go on his contract. Brought in as the new, no-nonsense sheriff late in 2006, Piniella appears to have dramatically loosened his grip this season. Tom Ricketts must ask Sweet Lou if, at age 66, he can still summon the laser-focus and energy that are a staple of Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, just one year younger. If Ricketts doesn't get the right answer, he should ask Piniella to retire.

2. Survey the player development and scouting system to find out why the Cubs simply can't produce position players, particularly a 30-homer, 100-RBI type.

None such home-grown commodity has graced the Cubs' lineup since ... you won't believe this, Ron Santo and Billy Williams came up to stay in 1960. Once again, too much attention is focused on just one prospect, this time third baseman Josh Vitters. The quality farm systems of recent vintage, such as the Braves, Twins and Blue Jays, bring up multiple players without a ton of hype, and expect them to produce.

3. Look closely at the Cubs' major-league scouting department. GM Jim Hendry is not getting the best information about a lot of players he has signed. Some holes in evaluation of big leaguers are apparent, and I wonder if Hendry is a bit too loyal to a couple of people with whom he is close.

4. Survey the staffing levels of the entire Cubs front office. A recession is no excuse to cut. Rather, the Cubs need to add on. They ranked 29th out of 30th in front-office staffing under penurious former president Andy MacPhail.

They've improved since then, but probably not enough to properly run a big-market franchise.

5. Commission designs of a rebuilt Wrigley Field grandstands and player facilities. The place is 40 years out of date, and is holding the Cubs back competitively and financially.

6. Negotiate with the city of Chicago to increase night games, including playing after dark on Fridays. Starting times now are all over the map, hurting the team and confusing fans.

7. Ask why few Cubs are out in the community doing charitable work or running their own foundations. Most other teams encourage community involvement and proudly advertise that fact.

George Castle's "Diamond Gems" baseball show airs at 6 p.m. Saturdays on WIMS-AM (1420).

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at DGemsNet@aol.com.

Deal with Ricketts finally happens

CHICAGO | Media conglomerate Tribune Co. announced a definitive agreement Friday to sell all but a 5 percent stake in the Cubs and Wrigley Field to the billionaire Ricketts family, capping a tortuous selection process that began nearly 2 1/2 years ago.

Tribune valued the transaction at about $845 million.

"Our family is thrilled to have reached an agreement to acquire a controlling interest in the Chicago Cubs, one of the most storied franchises in sports," said Joe Ricketts, who founded the Omaha, Neb.-based online brokerage TD Ameritrade Holding Corp. "The Cubs have the greatest fans in the world, and we count our family among them."

Tribune had announced on Opening Day in 2007 that the marquee baseball franchise and historic ballpark would be sold at the end of that season. But the process was slowed by CEO Sam Zell's efforts to maximize sale profits, including a failed attempt to sell Wrigley separately, along with the collapse of credit markets and Tribune's 2008 bankruptcy filing.

The Rickettses agreed when they were tentatively selected as the winning bidder last January to pay about $900 million for the team, Wrigley and a 25 percent stake in Comcast SportsNet Chicago, which broadcasts many Cubs games. -- AP

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