Nobody Wants To Hear MLB Owners Cry Poor

Dan Bernstein
June 04, 2020 - 4:20 am
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If Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts is deciding to pick up his phone to talk to reporters at the moment, he's probably better served sticking to doing damage control for the latest racist family member. Anything beyond that is just more misreading of the room.

Ricketts took time Tuesday to continue making his case as an economic victim of the COVID-19 pandemic, telling ESPN that the league's losses are "biblical" and are particularly painful for the Cubs because they never really made all that much money to begin with. It's yet more evidence that he suffers from a disconnection of some kind, living somewhere the rest of us don't, that same place that got him blindsided by the viscerally negative reaction from fans when he invoked the Marquee Network at Cubs Convention.

"What do you have against the Marquee Network?" he asked in response, set back on his heels.

It turns out that fans had plenty against it, not only in the new expense they would bear and the carriage conflicts that could black out games for the majority of the city. It was also its symbolism of gentrification and accelerated catering to elite corporate clientele, against the backdrop of self-imposed austerity in player spending. 

Ricketts in no way saw that reaction coming, and that's how we get to him choosing to beg for sympathy Tuesday.

On one hand, it's just not the time. A record number of Americans are out of work and scrambling to pay rent, buy food and make sure they and their families have access to medical care. Others have been placed on furlough or are enduring pay cuts that are either temporary or permanent. And that's not even to mention our current national mood, with so many thousands seeking justice for black people murdered by police. Nobody should be advising Ricketts that it's opportune for him to be trying to win hearts and minds for his own personal cause at a moment like this.

On another, his facts are in dispute. There's a reason why Ricketts and the other MLB owners are refusing to open their books to the players' union, and that's all the money they have piled up from ventures categorized outside of actual baseball dollars. While it's obvious that they have taken a sizable hit in gate revenue and the ancillary streams associated with people in and around the park, Ricketts' claim that all of their profits have been plowed back into spending on the team doesn't quite hold up. 

Agent Scott Boras provided a lucid and still un-rebutted explanation of the financial shell game teams play, using revenue to pay back the loans they took out to upgrade and purchase assets that make them wealthier. "Spending on the park" isn't altruism, it's business -- owners buy rooftop complexes, hotels and restaurants in the immediate area and convert space within to private clubs and party venues that let them charge higher prices and membership fees and operate in the offseason, the better to raise money for favored politicians to deregulate banking while slashing taxes by dismantling the social safety net that could help people not as fortunate as they are.

It must be hard to be the owners of a franchise now worth $3.2 billion after purchasing it for $700 million.  

It must be hard to be part of a family estimated to be worth $5.3 billion.

Tough times.

Dan Bernstein is the host of the Dan Bernstein Show on middays from 9 a.m. until noon on 670 The Score in Chicago. You can follow him on Twitter @Dan_Bernstein.

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