Couch: Cubs Ownership Strategy Is Creating More Fans ... For The White Sox

The Chicago Cubs would sell Mordecai “Three Finger’’ Brown’s other two fingers if they could find them. Tom Ricketts and the Ricketts family that owns the Cubs are like the guy who won the Powerball and then blew it all in six months.

And you’re wondering: What happened? How did they do it? Where did the money go?

The Ricketts family has insisted they aren’t tearing things down now, four years after the Chicago Cubs won the World Series, the greatest sports story ever told. Instead, the Ricketts say, they are rebuilding on the fly, whatever that means. 

The truth is, everything is for sale, which was finally made clear Monday when pitcher Jon Lester, the face of the Cubs’ World Series, signed with Washington for just $4 million. According to David Kaplan and Gordon Wittenmyer of NBC Sports Chicago, Lester, no longer an ace at 37 but still among the league’s better starting pitchers -- and also the heart and soul of the Cubs -- called the Cubs and told them he didn’t want to leave. He asked them to please make him an offer, whatever they thought was fair. 

The Cubs made Jon Lester beg. And then they insulted him.

So he’s gone now too, part of the same garage sale that dumped Yu Darvish, the best starting pitcher in the league, last year. They dumped catcher Victor Caratini. They dumped most of their starting rotation. They dumped Kyle Schwarber and Albert Almora. They signed former MVP Kris Bryant and catcher Willson Contreras to one-year deals, presumably to control them long enough to find someone willing to trade prospects for them.

The Cubs are embarrassing themselves. Everything’s marked down!  Everything’s for sale! 

They are a major market team with the most loyal fans on the planet, willing to wait more than a century to win a World Series, filling the stadium and buying hot dogs whenever they can and watching on TV when they can’t. And they are coming off a division championship and five playoff appearances in the past six years.

The Ricketts family, heroes four years ago, have blown it. Billionaire business people didn’t know how to cash in on the most impossible accomplishment in sports history.

Oh, they tried. They gobbled up land around Wrigley Field for a hotel and rooftops. They changed the area from a neighborhood feel to a carnival of Cubdom, from Wrigleyville to Rickettsland.

They also tore up the Cubs’ and Chicago’s forever-long relationship with local WGN-TV, a station that had deep, heartfelt meaning to Cubs fans. They grew up watching Bozo’s Circus, Ray Rayner and Garfield Goose as training wheels to seeing Harry Caray or Jack Brickhouse calling games for decades.

Instead, the Ricketts created their own channel, the Marquee Sports Network, which is basically a disconnect because it doesn’t even understand what a Cubs fan is about. Here’s a tip for the Ricketts: Cubs fans barely even remember most of the ex-Cubs you keep putting on.

The Ricketts leveraged their championship. They dumped more than 100 Cubs employees. And in fairness, because of COVID, they didn’t have ticket revenue this year to help pay down their debt service for Rickettsland. And I’ll believe the 2021 season comes off with fans the minute a fan walks into Wrigley Field.

That’s the best explanation I can come up with. Four years. The Ricketts must have thought they would be legends in Chicago forever. Four years later and it’s all gone.

The Ricketts bought the Cubs 11½ years ago for $900 million. The team is now worth $3.5 billion, according to Forbes. How about this, Ricketts. Rather than breaking a city’s heart, why not sell 25% of the team? You pay off your debt, keep control and still turn a massive profit?

In the meantime, the Ricketts are rich enough to foot the bills until they find a co-owner. Cubs fans deserve better than this. They’ve earned it after 108 years of waiting patiently -- too patiently -- since Three Finger Brown’s inexplicable curveball (the first knuckle curve?) won it for them. 

The Ricketts have enough money in their couch cushions to have paid for Lester.

He was the most important free agent signing in Cubs history when he arrived in 2014. Signing a stud like Lester signaled that the Cubs were now for real, and done with the whole lovable losers routine. In six years, he was everything anyone could have hoped for. He saved the Cubs in the World Series when they trailed Cleveland three games to one. Lester shut down the Indians to put things back on track.

If this is how the Ricketts are going to treat Cubs fans, then there’s an easy solution for Cubs fans: Become White Sox fans. Look at what they’re doing. They’re buying all the pieces necessary to compete for the World Series. The Sox are going for it, even though they didn’t have ticket revenue last year either.

In a role reversal, the Sox are the big market while the Cubs are crying poor.

The Cubs are like that old legendary athlete you haven’t heard from in years until you see him selling his old championships belts, rings, trophies, gloves, balls and whatever else on eBay.

If you’re patient, you’ll be able to bid on two fingers.


Written by
Greg earned the 2007 Peter Lisagor Award as the best sports columnist in the Chicagoland area for his work with the Chicago Sun-Times, where he started as a college football writer in 1997 before becoming a general columnist in 2003. He also won a Lisagor in 2016 for his commentary in and The Guardian. Couch penned articles and columns for Report, AOL Fanhouse, and The Sporting News and contributed as a writer and on-air analyst for and Fox Sports 1 TV. In his journalistic roles, Couch has covered the grandest stages of tennis from Wimbledon to the Olympics, among numerous national and international sporting spectacles. He also won first place awards from the U.S. Tennis Writers Association for his event coverage and column writing on the sport in 2010.