Ricketts on Ricketts: The Cubs’ damage-control team rolls on

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Chicago Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts answers questions during a news conference at a spring training baseball workout Monday, Feb. 18, 2019, in Mesa, Ariz. (AP Photo/Morry Gash) ORG XMIT: AZMG103

This Cubs mess about the leaked anti-Muslim and racist emails of ownership patriarch Joe Ricketts makes one ponder several things.

The first is that, in this internet era, nothing we say, read, buy, send, watch, search for or joke about online truly disappears. I’d argue that half the things people are charged with these days are caused by inadvertent self-incrimination.

As Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts said at a news conference Monday in front of assembled baseball writers in Arizona: ‘‘I don’t know how those emails got out. I have no idea.’’ Only the people at the upstart opinion site Splinter News, which broke the story, know for sure.

The next thing that comes to mind is whether the opinions and actions of one member of an organization should reflect on all in that organization and the business itself. The Cubs aren’t some bland manufacturing plant, remember, cranking out widgets. They are a public, customer-needy entertainment enterprise in something like a cartel, Major League Baseball. What the Cubs stand for is a lot different and more noteworthy than what, say, a pipe-laying or oil-rigging company stands for.

Tom Ricketts has tried to put distance between the Cubs’ front office and his father’s emails. But the money all trickled down from Joe Ricketts. To purchase the Cubs in 2009 for around $850 million, Joe Ricketts reportedly sold 34 million shares of TD Ameritrade stock, the company that he founded and that has given him a net worth of close to $3 billion.

‘‘My father has no direct role or economic interest in the team,’’ Tom Ricketts said.

But the family of six is involved in a financial family trust, and the man at the top didn’t get rich by not caring about how his money is spent.

Nor has Joe Ricketts been silent about his political views, supporting conservative causes that mainly protect his big-business interests. He reportedly contributed a large amount to a dark-money support group for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and supported the ‘‘birther’’ lies about then-President Barack Obama. A super PAC that he funded — but that never came to fruition — was going to paint Obama as a radical connected to firebrand minister Jeremiah Wright.


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And it’s hard to dance away from an email like this: ‘‘Christians and Jews can have a mutual respect for each other to create a civil society. As you know, Islam cannot do that. . . . Muslims are naturally my (our) enemy.’’

Tom Ricketts always has portrayed himself as a friend of the fans who throng to Wrigley Field, even taking a ritualized walk along the upper deck before each home game to mingle with the crowd, shake hands with folks and pat little baseball-cap-wearing kids on the head.

It’s a nice thing to do. So was winning the World Series in 2016, fixing up Wrigley Field, buying those rooftops and even building the Hotel Zachary just across Clark Street from the ballpark. But those things also have meant great wealth accumulation for the Ricketts family, with the value of the franchise rising to somewhere around $2.9 billion, according to Forbes magazine.

When I wrote last summer about Tom Ricketts’ $18 million house in Wilmette, pointing out that the rich are different from you and me, it upset his PR folks so much that his fixer, Dennis Culloton, wrote a letter to the Sun-Times to defend the Cubs’ charitable works and the family’s good deeds, noting that Tom Ricketts once even worked at Burger King. The letter, which we published, also outed me about the sale of my house, which I guess meant that the $100,000 profit I made after 32 years in the home made me kind of like a Ricketts person.

If so, I’ll take my cut from the $9 Wrigley beers, please.

What this finally leads to, of course, is the issue of power and money. The wealth in this country is so concentrated in the minuscule percentage at the top that those people basically can rule our country, depending on where the cash nozzle is pointed.

‘‘I’ve never heard my father say anything that was even remotely racist,’’ Tom Ricketts said. ‘‘That just isn’t our family values.’’

But how do we really know? Yes, everybody has apologized. But there’s this to remember: It was the Ricketts family that politicized the Cubs. Joe sprays his cash on right-wing causes. Tom’s brother Pete is the governor of Nebraska, elected after the family purchased the Cubs. Tom’s brother Todd was President Trump’s nominee to be deputy secretary of Commerce and now is the finance chairman of the Republican National Committee. Tom’s sister, Laura, is a Democrat who is highly active in LGBT causes.

The Cubs are about baseball, but they’re also about image. Their leaders are doing penance now for their old man’s screed.

Let’s see if they mean it.

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