Thursday, April 12, 2012

Wrigley Field a battleground, but that’s not really new politically-speaking

I have found it amusing in recent weeks to hear the political rhetoric related to Wrigley Field.

Government officials want to help the Chicago Cubs with the overhaul of their 98-year-old building that would be required for the ball club to keep playing there for another few decades.

Will a renovated Wrigley resemble this by much?

YET NOBODY WANTS to appear to be helping.

Which is why we get the rhetoric from Mayor Rahm Emanuel such as, “I will not put my money in their field so they can take their money and invest around the field.”

Implying that the real money to be made is not by operating a ball club and staging ball games, but instead running the taverns and souvenir shops that peddle to the people who feel compelled to watch a ball game live – instead of on television.

Part of what I find funny about that line is Emanuel’s description of “my” money, when it is really city taxpayer dollars at work. Emanuel may be the chief executive of Chicago city government, but he works for us.

EMANUEL: Fighting for No. Side like ...
BUT WHAT I really find amusing is the fact that certain things never really change.

Because getting government involved in sports is really more about government than sports. The Cubs are having to do business with our government, just like any other entity.

Only the Cubs, like any other sports franchise, has a certain cachet they can feed off of. There are people who would be very ticked off if the ball club were not to continue to stage its games at Clark and Addison streets as they have every year since 1916.

They would be more than willing to take it out on Emanuel come 2015, or any year in the future that he were to try to run for another political post; just in case there is any truth to the rumor mill that has Emanuel seeking the Democratic nomination for U.S. president in ’16 – which is more likely to be the year that Wrigley Field reaches its 100th anniversary without having a single winning World Series team.

WASHINGTON: ... fought for Sout' Side.
EMANUEL KNOWS THAT fact, too. He may not care much personally for baseball. But he knows that being perceived as the North Side mayor who let the North Side’s baseball club of choice get away would condemn him politically.

It was the same back in the mid-1980s when it became obvious that Comiskey Park (opened in 1910, and never as well-maintained as Wrigley Field) was seeing its final days.

If the ball club had had its wishes, the Chicago White Sox would be the team of DuPage County, or just about any location other than 35th Street and Shields Avenue.

But that was where the political people of Chicago wanted the team to stay (Cubs to the north, Sox to the south, Bears in Soldier Field and the Bulls/Blackhawks combo on Madison Street).

THEN-MAYOR HAROLD Washington was just as South Side-oriented as Emanuel is to the North Side. The Hyde Park resident knew that the Sox couldn’t be allowed to leave the city.

I’m sure he also knew that if they did leave, he’d be the one who got the blame from his critics – including the descendants of the South Side Irish who were always looking for something, anything, to blame on him.

He was the one who ensured that talk of a new stadium centered around the lots located across the street from the old ball park – whose eventual price tag of about $160 million is about one-third of the estimated $500 million renovation cost for Wrigley.

Even though the city’s finances were such that they didn’t have the money to think of constructing such a facility themselves, it was Washington who made sure that state officials (including then-Gov. James R. Thompson) didn’t think of trying to shift the team to a new Chicago-area location.

How will a Wrigley political fight compare to the Battle to replace Comiskey, circa '88?

WHICH MIGHT HAVE actually made it an easier sell politically across the state – particularly to those rural political people who root for the St. Louis Cardinals, cared less about the South Side, and would have taken a perverse pleasure in turning the White Sox into the equivalent of the St. Louis Browns – and eliminating Chicago’s baseball status as a two-team town.

Somehow, I have a feeling we’re not going to get the drama of ’88 – when the White Sox political battle came down to the final seconds in the Illinois House and where some political whiners still insist that the deadline for approving a deal was blown.

Any deal to renovate Wrigley Field to ensure that the grandstand and its upper deck don’t come tumbling down on the fans in the middle of a Cubs/Houston Astros game will likely get rammed through with Emanuel’s “unique” brand of “political diplomacy.” He’s already going around saying a deal is in its “final stages,” despite disagreements elsewhere about that characterization.

Then again, such a moment might be preferable in the sense that it would put those fans out of their misery of watching such dreadful-quality baseball. Although maybe we could arrange for politicians to be attending that ballgame. In which case, we’d be doing society a favor.


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