Can Ricketts family repair damage to well-cultivated public image as Cub owners?
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MESA, Ariz. — Cubs’ ownership has spent almost a decade trying to cultivate an image as benevolent, fan-friendly custodians of its iconic franchise and storied ballpark since buying the club from the cold, corporate clutches of the Tribune.
On Monday, chairman Tom Ricketts stood before a room packed with media to spend 35 minutes trying to repair an image seriously tarnished in a matter of months by a series of off-field issues that have alienated fans one demographic at a time.
But the front man for the Ricketts family ownership group said he does not believe the team’s image will be altered by those issues, including the ongoing public storms of shortstop Addison Russell’s continued employment through a domestic-violence suspension and fallout from racist and Islamophobic emails from family patriarch Joe Ricketts’ inbox that were exposed this month.
“We set out almost 10 years ago now to be the best organization in sports, and to do what is right for our fans,” Ricketts said of that image, citing the three-part Ricketts family mission statement to win the World Series, restore Wrigley Field and be a good neighbor.
“And we’ve crushed it,” he said. “We’ve absolutely executed against all three of those goals.
“The distractions that occur off the field don’t deter from that. And we continue to move forward. I don’t see these things changing us in any way.”
Of course, public image is about the public’s perception.
Cubs ownership already walked a fine line between the image demonstrated in Tom’s friendly, conversational interactions with fans during games, and the fights with the city, the local alderman and private businesses over public funding, tax breaks and the rights to breach existing agreements to block rooftop views and add night dates and concerts.
And Ricketts didn’t dispute that the family has been able to use the profile and brand of the Cubs to further political ends — with board member Pete Ricketts winning the Nebraska gubernatorial race and board member Todd Ricketts taking a prominent fundraising position in Donald Trump’s re-election effort.
The email flap followed the Russell saga, which followed last summer’s backlash over trading for Daniel Murphy a few years after he made headlines for homophobic remarks.
“I can’t go back and change an inbox from 12 years ago or eight years ago, and I can’t unpublish emails,” Ricketts said. “But what I can do is, we can use this as a chance to do more positive things, and I think that’s something that, as Joe [Maddon] said today, we own it.”
Before the news conference, the Cubs announced outreach and inclusion initiatives in cooperation with the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
‘‘We have to go out and do what we can to repair the damage that may be created by those emails,’’ Ricketts said, “and I think we’re off to a pretty good start.”
NOTE: Veteran Ben Zobrist did not report with the rest of the full squad Monday because of a personal issue. His timeline for arrival is unclear.