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Who’s up and who’s down in Chicago sports? Somehow, some way, Tom Ricketts does the impossible

Five years after winning the World Series, the Cubs’ chairman has become an antihero.

Chicago Cubs Victory Celebration
Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts speaks to the crowd during the team’s 2016 World Series victory celebration in Grant Park.
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

It never would have occurred to me that an owner of the Chicago Cubs could win a World Series and then, somehow, in the space of five fast years, turn into a villain. In a similar vein, it never would occur to me that a banana could turn into, say, a grenade.

Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts, his siblings and their dad’s money won a championship in 2016, breaking a 108-year Saharan dry spell. You want to talk about earning a lifetime of goodwill! Tom Terrific had done what had been considered impossible. Chicago was his.

As it turned out, though, winning the World Series and ending that curse was not the impossible part. Ricketts began testing all that goodwill by putting a price tag on anything that moved. Also anything that didn’t move. So Wrigley Field and the surrounding area became the maniacal focus of his attention. It was a theme park devoted solely to making money off Cubs fans.

That wouldn’t have been so bad if an organization purportedly built for multiple championships didn’t start slipping, thanks, in part, to an owner who refused to increase spending on the team that played inside the ballpark. It all hit rock bottom recently when the Cubs traded fan favorites Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Javy Baez in the name of not doling out a lot of money.

Tom Terrific had become Tom the Terrible.

Ricketts doesn’t see himself that way because self-awareness doesn’t often visit the fabulously wealthy. He clearly believes he deserves better from fans for winning the World Series, and you can’t help but sense in him a bit of rich-kid resentment that the townies don’t appreciate what he has done for them.

In an attempt to explain why the club had moved Rizzo and the others, Ricketts wrote a letter to Cubs season ticketholders. It was a bunch of nonsense. He signed it “Tom,’’ in keeping with his man-of-the-people opinion of himself. If you don’t know already, he mixes with everyday folks in the stands. It’s why he calls himself the most accessible owner in sports, even though he’s been treating the media as if it’s COVID-19 contagious for 12 years.

It’s not always easy being an owner in a town as demanding of its sports teams as Chicago is. But some owners make it harder on themselves than would seem humanly possibly. This is a good time to take a look at the people who own the teams in Chicago. It’s a nice exercise in “my how things have changed.’’

Whose arrow is up and whose is down? Let’s take a look.

Tom Ricketts, Cubs. Arrow: down.

As if getting rid of three icons weren’t bad enough, news broke Thursday that the Cubs had received permission from a city landmark commission to build a two-story sports book next to Wrigley. There is no such thing as unfortunate timing. There is only aptness. If it looks like the Cubs are money-grubbing, bottom-line, sell-their-soul capitalists, I’m here to tell you that there’s nothing wrong with your vision.

Ricketts wants your cash. The rest is incidental.

Jerry Reinsdorf, White Sox and Bulls. Arrow: up.

Everything is going right for Reinsdorf, whose Sox have legitimate World Series aspirations. Despite some recent struggles, they still have a huge division lead over second-place Cleveland. Even the uproar over the chairman’s decision to hire older-than-God Tony La Russa as manager has been blunted by the team’s success.

Reinsdorf’s Bulls, although still firmly lodged in NBA mediocrity, made some moves recently that, at a minimum, are intriguing. Team vice president Arturas Karnisovas added Lonzo Ball, DeMar DeRozan and Alex Caruso. The Bulls have our attention.

If it’s any consolation to Ricketts, Reinsdorf used to be considered a scoundrel by Bulls and Sox fans alike. So there’s hope.

Rocky Wirtz, Blackhawks. Arrow: down.

Wirtz has a mess on his hands. Chicago and the hockey world are watching to see how the Hawks respond to a former player’s lawsuit. It says the team ignored his claims that a former video coach sexually assaulted him during the 2010 Stanley Cup championship season. Another lawsuit claims that the Hawks failed to notify a Michigan high school of the accusations against the video coach, Bradley Aldrich. After the school hired him, he allegedly sexually assaulted a 16-year-old student. The lawsuit also alleges that the Hawks gave Aldrich a “positive review and/or employment verification’’ when he applied for a job at the school.

The Hawks have hired a prominent Chicago law firm to investigate the claims, and an outraged fan base will not settle for the affair being swept under a rug. As it stands now, some of the shine of team’s Stanley Cup era has been removed. Reputations, which have taken a beating during the scandal, seem like the least of the Hawks’ problems.

Oh, and if that’s not enough, decisions by the Washington Football Team and the Cleveland Indians to do away with names and images offensive to Native Americans place more of a spotlight on the Blackhawks and their logo. Is a day of reckoning coming?

George McCaskey, Bears. Arrow: sideways.

Other than the surprising addition of quarterback Justin Fields, whom the Bears traded up to get in the 2021 draft, there hasn’t been a whole lot of change to a team that has gone 8-8 each of the past two seasons. And no one can be sure when Fields will play this season or if he can play.

Somehow, general manager Ryan Pace is still here, as is coach Matt Nagy … so why isn’t McCaskey’s arrow pointing down? Because there’s still talent on this team, especially on the defensive side. And, given that everything is relative in life, McCaskey doesn’t look nearly as bad as Ricketts right now. A jaundiced observer’s response: Let’s talk again in January.