I’m no Ronnie ‘Woo Woo’ fan, but Cubs’ treatment of fixture is dumb PR
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I’ve never understood the Ronnie ‘‘Woo Woo’’ Wickers phenomenon. An adult puts on a full Cubs uniform, walks around Wrigley Field chanting about the team with regular ‘‘woos’’ thrown in and turns himself into a recognizable superfan around town for decades. OK, if you say so.
But it really doesn’t matter what I think. Plenty of people think he’s wonderful — wonderful enough to want their photo taken with him, wonderful enough to yell out his name as he passes by on Chicago streets and wonderful enough to consider him part of the culture and fabric of the franchise.
The Cubs ejected him from Wrigley on April 19 because they said he didn’t have a ticket to the game. Wickers’ friends said he did have a ticket, a digital version on someone else’s phone. The incident became big news last week after Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell wrote about it.
The Cubs reacted to the Sun-Times’ front-page photo of Wickers on their Twitter account, which has 1.8 million followers: ‘‘@Suntimes Anyone else you want us to let in without a ticket?’’
But here’s the most important part of the story, the part the Cubs can’t seem to get through their corporate heads: It doesn’t matter whether Wickers had a ticket.
To put it another way, are the Cubs completely out of their minds?
You’re really going to go there? You’re drawing a line in the sand over this? How thick can you be, public relations-wise?
It makes one wonder how far the Cubs would have been willing to go to get Wickers out of the ballpark. Would they have dragged him down an aisle, the United way?
Perhaps the Cubs have market research that shows that people don’t like Wickers and his act. Perhaps that emboldened them.
But it can’t be worth the Free Ronnie ‘‘Woo Woo’’ pickets that are sure to pop up around Wrigley at upcoming games. It doesn’t matter how small the effort is. It will draw TV cameras and reporters, and it will look awful.
I’m trying to understand the Cubs’ rationale for turning this into a crusade. It’s possible they want to control every bit of the entertainment at Wrigley. Maybe Clark the mascot is sulking over attention he thinks should be going his way. Or maybe, having finally won a World Series, the Cubs want to wipe out every last vestige of the losing culture that came before. I’ve been agitating for that for years. But not like this.
The problem for the Cubs is that if Ronnie ‘‘Woo Woo’’ was a distraction, something should have been done about him a long time ago. They can blame past ownership groups for allowing the Wickers show to flourish, but this ownership group inherited him. It’s like letting someone pitch a tent on your property for 40 years. Somewhere along the line, you lose claim to that land — if not legally, then at least emotionally.
In essence, Wickers has been grandfathered in, which makes sense because, at 75, he’s old enough to be a grandfather.
The Cubs are portraying this as a fairness issue. Wickers couldn’t produce a ticket on command for the guest-services staff, so security escorted him out of the ballpark. If everybody else has to plunk down good money for a ticket, so should Ronnie ‘‘Woo Woo,’’ the team argues.
More likely, the Cubs are embarrassed by the idea of him. He doesn’t fit the sleek, winning, cutting-edge image they’re selling these days. They want to build hotels and raze those things that don’t bring in money.
Again, I understand the puzzlement over Wickers’ celebrity. I can’t explain how it happened or what fans see in him. It’s probably the same instinct that attracts them to David Ross, a former backup catcher who is hugely popular in retirement for no apparent reason. But at least he played two whole seasons on the North Side.
If you’re the Cubs, you just go with it. It’s the easiest thing in the world to do. You can smile at Ronnie ‘‘Woo Woo’’ when you see him or roll your eyes at him. However you react, though, it’s important to understand that he’s gone a moment later, off to the next group of fans, a ‘‘woo’’ or two still hanging in the air.
This really does come down to what I mentioned before, and it’s something the Cubs need to think about: Is it really worth it to get your back up over a former homeless guy who likes to don a Cubs uniform, get attention and make people happy?
Do the right thing and let it go, Tom Ricketts. There are bigger things to worry about. Such as the Cardinals.
Follow me on Twitter @MorrisseyCST.