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NOT SURE WHY RICKETTS IS DISLIKED, BUT HERE’S $40 MILLION FOR COUNSELL
Politics always have made him murky in Chicago, but compared to other sports owners in that godforsaken town, the Cubs boss won the last championship and just landed a great manager from up the road
Would you like bodily harm in Chicago? Defend Tom Ricketts. In a city wrecked by decades of the McCaskeys and Jerry Reinsdorf, he and his family are known as Republican forces, which makes him a worse sports owner than the others. You’ll have to explain it all as Ricketts, only seven seasons after buying the Cubs from Tribune Company lollygags, finally won a World Series in a 108th year of waiting.
This is what happens in a city lost amid politics, racism and an epicenter. The people clobber him because he isn’t of their Democratic ilk. If I lived there, as I did for 17 1/2 total calendars, the teams win so rarely that a Scientologist would do.
Should it matter to any management schlub if Chicago, preparing to host the Democratic National Convention, has 3,000 migrants living outside police stations while 20,000 arrived in the last 15 months? Wouldn’t a fan be concerned about who won the last championship, which would be the Cubs in 2016 — 11 years after the White Sox, 18 years after the Bulls and 31 years after the Bears? Yet the town has a loathing for Ricketts because of who and what he is, never mind the balderdash pulled by Reinsdorf and the McCaskeys through time.
The stunning arrival of Craig Counsell as manager should remind one and all that Ricketts cares about winning, somewhat, at least more than the others. Maybe he turned Wrigley Field into his own playground and made the Marquee Sports Network an oddballish component for the old WGN crowd. And he’s still keeping more money than he must — see how he responds when Cody Bellinger wants bank and even Shohei Ohtani takes a look — but he allowed Jed Hoyer, his president of baseball operations, to replace David Ross and forget his all-time ’16 legendhood. Hoyer and Ross weren’t getting along during a late-season collapse, the kind survived by the Series champion Texas Rangers, and when Counsell needed more from his Midwestern existence than another lowball Milwaukee contract, he made his way 90 miles down the interstate and met with Hoyer.
What did Ricketts approve? The highest salary ever paid a major-league manager, more than $40 million for five years. Gone are the years when the Brewers, led by one of the best dugout leaders, overachieved and forced the Cubs to part ways with Joe Maddon and Ross. This is Ricketts’ way of countering the loss of Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez and Kyle Schwarber from the title team. He’ll need more talent, but why would Counsell say no to the New York Mets and Cleveland Guardians if the owner isn’t budging?
Welcome to the big time, Chicago. Forget what it felt like?
“Today we made the difficult decision to dismiss David Ross,” Hoyer said in a statement. “On behalf of the Cubs organization, we express our deep gratitude for David’s contributions to our club, both on and off the field. First as a player and then as a manager, David continually showcased his ability to lead. David’s legacy will be felt in Chicago for generations and his impact to our organization will stack up with the legends that came before him.”
Nice comment through a difficult moment, which included a trip to Florida to deal with a distraught Ross. Counsell’s remarks, through a Chicago-based agent, were better. “Having represented Craig Counsell for almost 30 years and having lived in Chicago all my life, I am thrilled to see Craig embracing a new challenge,” Barry Meister said in a statement. “Cubs fans are getting a terrific manager and an even better person. Craig has great admiration and respect for the Brewers ownership, general manager and fans and for all of Milwaukee, where he makes his home. He will retain lifelong friends and memories made as part of the Brewer family. He is excited about Chicago and is happy that multiple teams have begun to embrace the enhanced valuation of the job of major-league manager!”
The championship heroics of Bruce Bochy, who won his fourth Series in Texas after sitting out three seasons, proved Counsell’s point that managers deserved much more money in the ecosystem. He was paid what he wanted despite the interest of Mets money machine, Steve Cohen, who settled for Carlos Mendoza, 43, from the Yankees. It was Counsell’s idea to leave his Wisconsin allegiance for the Cubs, loyal to two sons playing college baseball at Michigan and Minnesota and two high-school-age daughters in Milwaukee. Said Brewers owner Mark Attanasio, not happy about his divisional loss: “We’re all here today because we lost Craig, but I’ve reflected on this — Craig has lost us and he’s lost our community also. It’s really a special place to be.”
Counsell knows that. Chicago is a better place to be … if a team ever wins. Ricketts is despised because of politics, though it was his father Joe who wrote so horribly: “Christians and Jews can have a mutual respect for each other to create a civil society. As you know, Islam cannot do that. Therefore, we cannot ever let Islam become a large part of our society. Muslims are naturally my (our) enemy due to their deep antagonism and bias against non-muslims.”
And they hate Ricketts even after he criticized Donald Trump, who spoke about his mother when she spent $3 million against him years ago. “It's a little surreal when Donald Trump threatens your mom,” he said. “The fact is whether it's my mom or my dad on his Ending Spending stuff or my sister on marriage equality issues or my brothers and what they do or what we do with the team, we are pretty much are an open book. We stand up for what we believe in. We support the causes we think are important. That is what America should be. That is who we are. ... If we had something to hide, you people would have found it by now.”
What we know is how the White Sox lost 100 games and have won one World Series in 106 years. What we know is how the Bears still have no quarterback — and will miss on Caleb Williams and Drake Maye — and won’t come close to a Super Bowl with the McCaskeys in charge. What we know is how the Bulls are always plagued by Reinsdorf’s Last Dance billy-clubbing. But we also see the Blackhawks, with blessed luck or planned trickery, land Connor Bedard.
Now, here comes a major move in one of sport’s puniest towns. You can abhor Tom Ricketts, if you must, but he’s paying the $40 million.
Jay Mariotti, called “without question the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes general sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts and shows in production today. He is an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and talk/podcast host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects.