The latest target on the Cubs’ “Let’s Alienate Everybody Tour’’ is a group that apparently has had a free ride for too long: wheelchair users. This a bold move, one that few business entities are willing to make, but when you’re hellbent on getting everyone to hate you, as the Cubs seem to be, you do what you have to do.
We need to point out right from the start that just because the U.S. Attorney’s office in Chicago has sued the Cubs for a failure to remedy Americans with Disabilities Act violations at Wrigley Field, it doesn’t make the Cubs guilty of the accusations. The team might be the victim of an overzealous prosecutor. The renovated ballpark might have exceptional accessibility for the physically disabled.
At best, though, one can reasonably assert that the Cubs have a very bad habit of hacking off their faithful fans. At worst, one can imagine the Cubs being willing to relocate a convent of nuns if it meant an extra dollar. Either way, one ends up shaking one’s head at this franchise.
The government’s suit says that when the Cubs renovated Wrigley Field last decade, they removed the best wheelchair seating and shuffled the disabled to less desirable areas of the stadium, where sight lines aren’t good and standing patrons block views of the action.
If you’re a betting person, you might be tempted to wager that the franchise is trying to see how far it can go to disaffect its fan base. If you’re a betting person, you’re in luck: DraftKings is building a two-story sportsbook at Addison and Sheffield that will allow fans to wager on sporting events to their heart’s desire.
The $100 million the Cubs are making from that deal hasn’t been going into the pockets of talented baseball players, a fact that has angered the team’s fans. The Cubs are going through their second rebuild in 10 years while still raking in massive amounts of revenue. They might be lacking in a lot of areas, including victories, but not in gall.
In the broadest sense, that’s really what this is about. At every turn, the Cubs seem intent on making money and ignoring fans, and if they can do both with one swing, all the better. It remains to be seen if the government’s suit has merit, but everything about it smells like the team from the North Side. New premium seats pushing wheelchair users elsewhere in the ballpark? Smells about right.
“The whole enterprise with regard to ADA seating was pure greed over the rights of ADA patrons,” said David Alberto Cerda, who filed a 2017 lawsuit against the team on behalf of his son, a Cubs fan who has Duchenne muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair.
Since winning the World Series in 2016, the franchise’s focus has been on making oceans of cash. The Rickettses built a hotel across the street from Wrigley, started their own subscription TV network and have gotten into the gambling business. They’re not much into the baseball business anymore, but let’s not quibble.
In ownership’s eyes, the organization’s most valuable player is club moneyman Crane Kenney, who is in charge of filling coffers and pockets. Kenney once famously promised “wheelbarrows’’ of money for the baseball side of the operation, but in the end, Crane’s Chicago business turned out to be about earning profits for the Ricketts family.
Again, the lawsuit will decide who was right or wrong in the accessibility dispute, but anyone who has been paying attention to the Cubs over the last decade would have to surmise that wheelbarrows have much better views at Wrigley these days than wheelchairs do.
“The renovation of Wrigley Field greatly increased accessibility of the ballpark and was completed in accordance with applicable law and historic preservation standards consistent with the ballpark’s designation as a national and City of Chicago landmark,” the team said in a statement.
The Cubs have lost the benefit of the doubt, and that’s an amazing development. If you had told me in 2016 that, six years after the World Series title, the Ricketts family would have squandered all the goodwill it had built up, I would have called you crazy. Ownership had done the seemingly impossible — it had broken a 108-year championship dry spell. Yet here we are, with a frustrated fan base that feels used.
That might partly be a reflection on our what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world, fueled heavily by social media. But mostly it’s the authentic anger of a loyal group that’s tired of commerce, not baseball, being the Cubs’ No. 1 goal.
Try telling those fans that the feds’ case against the team is bogus. The boos drowning you out will tell you all you need to know.