Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts met with media for about 15 minutes today to go over topics ranging from the “Cubs tax” on spring training tickets to the futures of GM Jim Hendry and manager Lou Piniella.
Q: What’s the latest on the spring training move? Have you picked a site yet?
TR: We haven’t picked a site yet. We’re still working through the process down here to try to find the best answer for everybody. But I’m very, very confident that with everybody kind of rowing in the same direction we’ll get there.
Q: What do you think of Major League Baseball stepping in to help with the process?
TR: I’ve talked to the commissioner frequently on a lot of different topics. And their help in trying to find a good solution down here will be valuable. I think they were helpful from Day One really. But I think now they’re giving us a little extra emphasis to try to get to a conclusion. And that’s very useful.
Q: You don’t need the “Cubs tax” ticket surcharge to get your new spring stadium done (as president Crane Kenney suggested earlier this spring)?
TR: It’s not determined what financing package will be the final package. And you would have to ask the legislators where they’re at on all that stuff.
Q: What’s the latest on gaining city approval for the lighted Toyota sign for left field at Wrigley?
TR: We’re working through the process with the city, and we’re pretty optimistic that we’ll get something that gets some kind of resolution on that in the near future here.
Q: By Opening Day (April 12)?
TR: I don’t know when we finally get that resolved. I would hope it would be Opening Day. We’ll do our best.
Q: There’s a perception that front office jobs, including general manager Jim Hendry’s, could ride on the outcome of this season. Is that a fair perception?
TR: First of all, it’s been a great six months to start to get to know these guys better in the front office. As I’ve said many times, it’s been the most pleasant surprise that we’ve had, how good the people are on the baseball side, how well the organization appears to be running and developing players and getting toward putting a great team on the field. And on the business side, too, the dedication and the commitment of the people there and what they’ve been able to accomplish.
With respect to this season being any more important than any other season in their careers, I don’t ‘think so. It’s a matter of everyone knows that they have to perform at a high level every year, and we really do want a very high level of performance out of everyone in the organization, and we want to make them accountable. There’s nothing about this year that’s any different than years past in terms of how important it is, but it will be really enlightening for us. We’ll learn a lot about everybody this year. But so far so good.
Q: If the people in the organization have been the pleasant surprise, is the unpleasant surprise how long it takes to get stuff done?
TR: Yeah, the length of the sale was a completely unpleasant surprise. That was difficult. I told my wife it’s the closest I’ll ever get to childbirth. She said, `How do you know? You were at Starbuck’s.’ … But actually since taking over, I can’t isolate a really unpleasant surprise. All these things, all these issues that you have to work through to get changes made, were something that we kind of expected.
Q: Any anxiety over the home opener?
TR: I just want to fast-forward. I’m so excited about that day. The only anxiety I have, really, about it is I want the weather to be nice, so we don’t invite hundreds of friends and families and VIPs and sit in a tend in the rain.
Q: As a fan, what do you think of the bullpen and your corner outfielders?
TR: I think we’re in good shape, I really do. It’s obviously Jim’s responsibility to make sure the right players are there and Lou’s responsibility to make sure he uses them in the way that brings us the wins. So I think we’re in good shape. … As a fan.
Q: What went into the decision to erect a statue of Cubs great Billy Williams?
TR: It’s something that’s kind of been simmering. While we look forward to the future of the team, we want to always honor and respect the past. And when you have a player that was not only that great a player but that great a person and who stayed as a valuable member of the organization for so many years, I think it’s just the right thing to do.
Q: Will Jim Hendry have the wherewithal to add to the payroll near the July 31 trading deadline if you need a bat or an arm?
TR: Yeah, we’ll keep an eye on that. Obviously, things change between Opening Day and midseason. So if there are needs, I think we’ll be able to address that.
Q: How hands-on are you? Do you like knowing everything that’s going on before it happens?
TR: What’ll happen is if it’s something on the bigger side, Jim will typically run it past us just so we know. If it’s maybe a less dramatic decision, then he just goes ahead. But the information flow has been great. [Hendry] is accessible, he’s straightforward, he tells you exactly what he’s thinking. So that’s worked really well.
Q: Does winning determine how long the honeymoon lasts?
TR: It’d be nice to get off to a good start and keep all this positive energy going. But I think we have the right team. You guys [media] are around here every day. You know the clubhouse feels good, that Lou and Jim feel really good about the team this year. As long as we stay healthy I don’t see why we’re not going to bring back the playoffs.
Q: Crane Kenney said earlier this spring that if Lou is healthy and wants to come back next you’d all have an “interesting conversation” after the season. What are the chances that conversation could come sooner and Lou would be offered security beyond this season?
TR: That’s between Lou and Jim. It’s Jim’s responsibility to put the winning team on the field, both players and managers. I think that if you insert yourself into that discussion you’re not adding value, for one thing, and secondly, you want accountability. It’s Jim’s responsibility and he knows it. He and Lou will tell me if there’s anything else they want to add to the discussion.