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Cubs official urges city to allow 11 more night games at Wrigley Field

The Chicago Cubs stand along the third base line during the national anthem before the their home opener against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Wrigley Field in April. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Cubs President of Business Operations Crane Kenney on Monday urged Mayor Rahm Emanuel to lift the cap on night games at Wrigley Field to allow the league average of 54 games under the lights.

“It should be lifted. . . . We’re one of the few teams that not only has to beat everyone in our division, we also have to beat the city that we play in to try and win games,” Kenney said during a live interview on WSCR-AM (670).

“Four times a year I go to the owners’ meetings, and the other team presidents and owners watch what’s happening in Chicago, and they can’t understand it. In those cities, they’re getting new ballparks built for them, and they’re getting street closures and . . . there’s no night game limitations. They look at Chicago and say they just can’t understand it. . . . At some point we’d love to not be handicapped, as no other team in baseball is by the number of night games you play.”

Kenney has long been a thorn in Emanuel’s side for going toe-to-toe with City Hall in the bargaining that preceded the landmark deal that paved the way for the Cubs to renovate Wrigley Field and develop the land around it.

Wrigleyville residents have accused Emanuel of going too far by giving the Cubs the go-ahead to put up two video scoreboards, four other outfield signs, extend the Wrigley footprint onto public streets and sidewalks without compensating Chicago taxpayers, and play more night games.

At Emanuel’s behest, the City Council also approved the Cubs’ ambitious plan to develop the land around Wrigley Field with a hotel, an office building and open-air plaza with even more signs.

On Monday, Kenney opened a new front in his ongoing battle against City Hall during a radio interview that preceded the opening game of the Crosstown Showdown against the White Sox.

It happened when Kenney was asked why the first two games between the Cubs and Sox at Wrigley Field were day games.

“The answer is the same answer it’s been since I’ve been here, which is we don’t have enough night games,” he said.

Kenney went on to explain that the ordinance revised in 2013 allows the Cubs to play 35 “scheduled night games, plus up to eight games that get basically scheduled by national broadcasting contracts.”

Since Sunday night’s game against the Cardinals was televised nationally by ESPN, it counted against the eight floating night game dates.

“It’s a real jigsaw puzzle every year for us to try and figure out where we use our very precious night games,” Kenney said, pointing to team travel, the time of year and the team’s desire to hold more concerts that allow the Cubs to keep all of the revenue instead of sharing it with other teams.

“We can have up to 43 total night games. The league average is 54, so we’re still 11 short from what the rest of the league plays,” he said.

In an emailed statement, Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) said: “The ordinance governing evening activities inside Wrigley Field was negotiated by the Cubs, the community, myself and the Mayor’s office and has another seven years before it expires. The Cubs have chosen to schedule concerts in instead of night games.”

Four years ago, the Cubs got the go-ahead Tuesday to play up to 46 night games per season and stage four concerts under a deal that pleased neither side.

The Cubs complained about four last-minute tweaks that failed to appease Lake View residents.

They required the Cubs to foot the bill for security and sanitation costs tied to more than 40 night games per season and forfeit a night game after any season that includes more than four “non-baseball events,” including concerts or college football games.

“The Mayor has been clear all along that the Cubs had to be good neighbors,” an Emanuel spokesman, Adam Collins, said Monday afternoon. “That’s why we refused to force taxpayers to subsidize the stadium work and it’s why there have been restrictions on the number of nighttime events at Wrigley for decades. We did increase the number of nighttime events the Cubs could hold, but the team chose to have more concerts instead of more night games and that was their call.”

The team also is unhappy with Emanuel’s decision to cap the number of Saturday night games at two per season and give the city “unprecedented” control over when rained-out games are rescheduled.

The Cubs weren’t the only ones who walked away unhappy. So were Lake View residents, who raised many of the same arguments that peppered the epic battle over installation of lights at Wrigley.

They argued that allowing the Cubs to stage up to 56 “night events” at Wrigley “places too much of a burden” on congested Lake View and “materially decreases the quality of life” for area residents.

On Monday, Kenney acknowledged that the Cubs could have held more night games at Wrigley this season if they hadn’t chosen to host nine concerts.

“I got myself into trouble more than 10 years ago when I said that Elton John was going to help us win baseball games,” Kenney said.

“But the truth is, all these revenues go back to the baseball operation. These are really important dollars to us because we don’t share them with the league.”