ARLINGTON, Texas — Another email dump from Joe Ricketts’ inbox — this time published by Deadspin — appears tame compared to the racist and Islamophobic content that Splinter News published this past winter.
But the emails and accompanying documents, covering roughly the 15 months leading up to the Ricketts family’s purchase of the Cubs in late 2009, offer insights into some of the blurred ethical lines in that process. They also are a glimpse into behind-the-scenes family conflict and how Cubs business president Crane Kenney seemed to be assured a job with new ownership even as he worked on the other side of the negotiating table.
The family even had a code name for their pursuit of the Cubs: “Project North Side.”
The Deadspin article, published Friday and titled “The inside story of how the Ricketts family schemed and feuded their way to owning the Chicago Cubs,’’ doesn’t break much new ground in understanding the heavily leveraged deal to acquire the team from Tribune Co. But it does add detail about such things as the family’s unflinching willingness to abide by Tribune’s debt-heavy “partnership” scheme to help Tribune avoid paying capital gains taxes on the $845 million sale.
The Cubs appear clear of any liability, but Tribune Co. has since been hit with a tax bill of more than $200 million that it plans to fight in court.
The emails also make it clear that despite the family’s efforts to distance patriarch Joe Ricketts’ interests from the team, he was and remains a significant figure in the family’s ownership through his initial financing and oversight of the purchase and his role in family holdings associated with the team.
Details from the emails and documents suggest Cubs fans’ willingness to tolerate annual ticket price increases regardless of the quality of the team was part of the calculus in determining how aggressively to bid. And personal seat licenses and stadium naming rights were apparently seen as potential revenue sources from the start — perhaps explaining public trial balloons floated on those subjects in the early days of Ricketts ownership.
How the family’s public image was managed in the media was a sore subject for siblings Laura and Todd Ricketts at times, as family front man Tom Ricketts, their brother, often was portrayed during the process as the sole family member involved in the purchase.
In one email to the rest of the family, Todd implores again that the media be made aware that all four siblings are equally involved:
“My reasoning for this is that my kids live in the same neighborhood and go to the same school as Tom’s kids, and I don’t want them to have to constantly [be] explaining that there are equal owners when they are told that their uncle owns the Cubs. The reason I am so sensitive to this is that even today I feel as though my input and ideas are disregarded among our family, just as they were when we were kids. This is not the feeling I ever want my kids to have, and because they are the beneficiaries of the education trust that is proposed to finance the deal, I take it very seriously.”
That might lend context to Todd’s appearance, with much fanfare, in an episode of “Undercover Boss” filmed at Wrigley Field during the first season of Ricketts ownership.
One small detail in the Deadspin information dump involves a June 2009 demand by Tribune Co. that has ramifications in Cubs team operations a decade later. In one of its counterproposals during an especially contentious point in negotiations, Tribune reinstated an earlier requirement that new ownership assume the obligation for Kenney’s employment contract. Kenney had operated as a point man for Tribune owner Sam Zell during much of the sale process. The Rickettses eventually agreed, and Kenney remains one of the most polarizing figures in the Cubs’ organization.