Gov. Bruce Rauner is trying to hitch his reelection wagon to the Cubs, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. It’s the same impulse that sends officeholders scurrying daily to the nearest feel-good photo op. Success by association is one of the oldest tricks in the political handbook.
Rauner has produced a digital ad comparing his struggles as Illinois’ leader to that of the Cubs before they turned everything around and finally won a World Series. Stick with me, the governor says, and we’ll eventually skin that squirrel, or something similarly folksy.
“There’s a lot of similarities to what the Cubs have done in recent years and what we need to do in Illinois,’’ Rauner says in the ad, which was filmed outside Wrigley Field. “You know the Rickettses took over the Cubs in 2009. And it took ’em seven years to build a world champion.
“Well, we’ve been turnin’ Illinois around for three years. We need four more years, seven years total, and we’ll turn around Illinois the same way. More jobs, lower taxes, excellent education and endin’ the corruption with term limits. We’re gonna do this together.’’
I don’t want to get into a Rauner-vs.-J.B. Pritzker scouting report because I’d prefer not to spend the next 24 hours getting flogged on social media. But how much thought has the Republican governor given to the Cubs’ current issues? Does he see that those issues might not lend themselves to a campaign rallying cry?
Let’s look at the “hot-button’’ campaign topics:
Spending: The Cubs signed Yu Darvish to a six-year, $126 million contract in the offseason, and in return they’ve received a 1-3 record, a 4.95 ERA, two trips to the disabled list and the revelation from friend and teammate Chris Gimenez that Darvish thinks Cubs fans hate him. Not good.
But it’s not just Darvish’s contract that’s threatening the team’s ability to pay some of their young stars later. The Cubs continue to feel the effects of the eight-year, $184 million contract they gave outfielder Jason Heyward three years ago.
It’s sort of hard to tighten the fiscal belt when there’s a massive belly hanging over it. A seasoned politician will laud Heyward’s recent success at the plate while transferring him and his measly .247 career average with the Cubs to the Illinois Department of Oceanic Research.
Crime: The Cubs chose Darvish over Jake Arrieta. This could involve federal prison time.
Radicalism: A true conservative wants to root out subversives, which is why Rauner should be raising an eyebrow at Joe Maddon. The Cubs manager loves change, sometimes for change’s sake, the proof being in his Tilt-A-Whirl lineups. He spins out a different batting order every day, introducing anarchy and extremism to an otherwise wholesome American experience. You’ll also recall Maddon’s tie-dyed hippie shirt a few years back. Something tells me “groovy’’ isn’t in Rauner’s vocabulary.
Health care: What’s up with Darvish’s physical state, and how much are Cubs players’ insurance premiums going up because of his trips to the DL? He has been hit with the flu, and now he’s battling triceps tendinitis in his throwing arm. Also not good.
Welfare: What is it that conservatives say? Ah, here it is: No more handouts! No more free rides! No more people on the dole! I give you Cubs pitcher Tyler Chatwood, who leads the majors in free passes. He has walked 49 batters in 53.2 innings. Governor, do you really want to be associated with this?
Trade policy: Team president Theo Epstein sounds like a man who is content with the players he has on his roster, despite the Cubs’ still trailing the first-place Brewers in the National League Central. He also sounds like a man who is reluctant to trade some of the talent that helped the team win the 2016 World Series. You never want to fall deeply in love with your own players, but the Cubs’ brass sure seems smitten with Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber, even with Baltimore superstar Manny Machado likely on the trading block.
Environment: Rauner will love the monument to capitalism that Wrigley and the surrounding area have become. A Ricketts family-owned hotel has sprung up outside the park, a new club for big spenders is open inside the stadium and an outdoor plaza has been renamed after an insurance brokerage and risk management firm.
Is there an aesthetic disaster looming in Wrigleyville, one brought on by an oil spill of corporate cash? Who cares!
Unemployment: John Lackey is still out of a job. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
You can see that Rauner has a lot on his plate as it concerns his new best friends. He has some hard thinking to do about his association with the team. Unfortunately, it might be too late. What will downstate voters who see Illinois as a red (Cardinals) state think about Rauner pandering to the Cubs’ blue bloc?
Looks like he has some explainin’ to do.
Sun-Times sports columnists Rick Morrissey and Rick Telander are co-hosts of a new podcast called “The Two Ricks: Unfiltered.” Don’t miss their candid, amusing takes on everything from professional teams tanking to overzealous sports parents and more. Download and subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts and Google Play, or via RSS feed.