If you haven’t read Deadspin’s exposition of the Ricketts family’s messy purchase of the Cubs, allow me to save you a lot of time and eyestrain.
The good parts are that Joe Ricketts’ adult kids reverted to emotionally needy 8-year-olds during the process; that the family has no idea how to deal with the big, bad media; and that a consultant seemed to suggest to the Rickettses that, no matter how much they raised ticket prices, Cubs fans would always buy them.
Joe Ricketts, the clan’s patriarch, already dragged the family name through a sewer last month with the uncovering of his Islamophobic and racist emails. So the emails and documents that Deadspin has collected are mild by comparison. I’d call them child’s play, but that might conjure up Hitler Youth, so, uh, no.
Siblings Tom, Laura, Todd and Pete do not come across well at all in the report. A mewl from one corner of the Rickettses’ playpen, this one from Todd in 2009, sums up the tension that runs throughout the story over concern that Tom Ricketts was being viewed as the club’s potential owner during negotiations to buy the team and was therefore getting all the media attention. It showed up in a Jan. 27, 2009, email from Todd to his father and Pete:
Laura and I, again, expressed our concern about the public perception on the deal. I expressed my thought that it is crucially important that we try to keep the press clear on what the new ownership of the Cubs will look like. 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 explaining (sic) that there are equal owners when they are told that their uncle owns the Cubs. The reason I am 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.
Laura had been particularly sensitive to early media portrayals that Tom, who would end up being the Cubs chairman, was running the show. She fired off an email to Tom about it on Sept. 18, 2008:
This Crain’s article is a positive and very flattering piece about you. But, to be quite honest, it makes me irritated and disappointed, particularly in light of the discussion we had during our family conference call last Monday. I realize that we cannot control the media. But in this instance you provided input at least in as far as you steered the reporter in a certain direction. I find it irritating, and it makes me feel either unheard or just disregarded.
I suggest that we, as a family, talk further about this and the media generally. What is the schedule and agenda for tomorrow’s meetings? Will we have time for the five of us to have a private meeting aside from all the lawyers and bankers?
She was at it again several months later in a family email:
FYI, ESPN TV just did a whole segment on Tom buying the Cubs. They even interviewed a Tribune reporter who also referred to Tom as the purchaser.
There was a solution to all of this, but it would have involved time travel to their childhood and intense family counseling.
Pete chimed in about his dealings with reporters during a failed 2006 campaign for U.S. Senate, and if I had to boil it down to a few words, it would be: Media bastards!
I appreciate the concern to make sure the PR stays on message but I would also like to remind you that, based upon my experience for 14 months during my campaign and all my time at (TD Ameritrade), the press says any damn thing they feel like if it will get them audience.
After the family bought the team in 2009, Tom Ricketts made the Chicago media rounds. In a session with Sun-Times editors and writers, he insisted he did not want to be the focus of coverage about the new ownership group, then proceeded to talk about meeting his wife in the Wrigley Field bleachers and living in Wrigleyville. So maybe Laura and Todd had reason to think Tom wasn’t quite as spotlight averse as he was letting on.
The Deadspin report on the sale process was not without good news: The Rickettses were going to continue to be extremely rich! In 2008, a consultant’s investment analysis for the family indicated that even when the Cubs stunk, which was often back then, fans still flocked to Wrigley. There was a suggestion that the Cubs could sell seat licenses, a possibility that should still put a shudder through their fans.
“Attendance has been consistently strong despite inconsistent on-field performance, a testament to fans’ affinity for the team,’’ the report stated.
The Rickettses are businesspeople. That’s it. The image they’ve tried to foster, one of wholesomeness, has taken a beating the past few months. The siblings have spent years pushing the idea that, although the purchase of the team was the result of their billionaire dad’s financial success, they were in charge during the acquisition process. The Deadspin report further rejects that idea.
If you had the impression that the Ricketts children were linked arm to arm in their love for the team and each other, that idea has officially left the ballpark. However, good seats are still available.