By Bill Barrows
Like a lot of baseball fans, I watched as the Chicago Cubs celebrated their first championship in 108 years, raising the 2016 banner one night and then watching the ring ceremony a couple nights later. They did it right, by involving their “diehard” fans who had suffered through all of the lean years. I grew up watching the Cubs almost daily on WGN out of Chicago on cable here in Wabash as early as the late ‘60s. My only regret in watching the recent ceremony was that Ernie Banks and Ron Santo didn’t live long enough to see this all happen.
OK, let’s stop right there. Baseball history is something that I am truly immersed in. Baseball tradition, statistics and trivia are things that I am interested in. I follow my teams, the Red Sox, Dodgers and then the Cubs, but in all three of these cases, fans live and die with yearly results, just like any of the others, but there is a case to be made as to why teams succeed or fail in the short term. But in Boston, Brooklyn, then Los Angeles and most certainly Chicago, there are long droughts that are as historic and, looking back, very clear reasons as to why they happened -- ownership.
The Dodgers had a long journey of putting together good teams that succumbed to the Giants and the Yankees during the golden age of baseball when New York City was the center of the baseball world. They left Brooklyn for L.A. because ownership said they couldn’t draw enough fans to continue to finance the team. On the West Coast, they achieved the dreams, winning consistently until an owner, Frank McCourt, helped himself to the spotlight and almost ruined the franchise by under financing the team in favor of his personal agenda.
In Boston, a beloved owner, Tom Yawkey bought the team in 1933, changed the culture and made the Red Sox the beloved “Old Towne Team” that it still is today. However, a previous owner, Harry Frazee, sold off their biggest star, a young, left handed pitcher turned outfielder named Babe Ruth who changed the face of baseball in the ‘20s and ‘30s so he could finance a Broadway show. The Red Sox never recovered until an ownership group came along that was willing to spend money on facilities, scouting and personnel. That along with a lot of grit and some luck changed their fortunes due in part to a young Ivy League general manager named Theo Epstein.
In the Cubs case, ownership went deeper in becoming the epitome of why the team didn’t win for 108 years. Charles Murphy owned the team when they won the 1907 and 1908 World Series. He was disliked by other owners in the National League and sold the team to Charles Phelps Taft, who was the brother of President William Howard Taft. Charles Weeghman became the principal owner, and is credited for erecting what is now Wrigley Field before selling out to William Wrigley, who became principal owner in 1921.
From that point through three generations of generally absentee ownership, the Cubs floundered. The Wrigley’s were the owners of the world’s largest manufacturers of chewing gum. But the Cubs franchise was not their focal point. In fact, William Wrigley III, was a benefactor of the arts, enjoyed the American cinema, and was on the board at the University of Southern California's School of Cinema Television, now called USC School of Cinematic Arts.
The Wrigley family sold out to the Tribune Company, owners of the Chicago Tribune, WGN as well as other media holdings in 1981. The Cubs were infused with funding, but over time, were not the focus of the industry. In 2009, along came the family of Tom Ricketts, an investment banker who is a lifelong Cubs fan. The family bought the team, infused more cash, hired smartly and invested in the fan base by listening to them and making improvements to the team, facilities and the future of the franchise. Hiring Epstein from Boston was a thread to success as all Red Sox and Cub fans now know.
Bottom line -- all 3 of these franchises have gone through large periods of failure on the field, mostly due to the fact that management either mismanaged personnel and assets, refused to be progressive in changing times or let the team flounder in disrepair. The teams went through periods of being noncompetitive because of it. So when Cub fans, whether celebrating or lamenting what could have been, (1969 or 1984) can now in retrospect, understand the reasons why.
Back to the celebration -- I noticed that the Cubs rings are said to have 108 diamonds in each to commemorate the 108 years of cursed baseball. Does that mean that if they were to win again this season there would be only one diamond in each ring to be handed out next spring???
Follow Bill Barrows on Twitter @bbarrows17webtv or email at email@example.com