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Sparking Chicago’s Great Baseball Fire

From the Saturday, Oct. 1, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.)

Sparking Chicago’s Great Baseball Fire

The WISCH LIST

Oct. 1, 2011

With a combined winning percentage of .463 – or should that be a combined losing percentage of .537? – the 2011 baseball season wasn’t exactly one that the Cubs and White Sox will frame to hang above their fireplaces for posterity.

Although, I suppose it could make for some nice kindling.

Not that Chicago will need it. After all, the windfall of on-field struggles and front-office sideshows on both sides of town should provide plenty of fuel for a sizzling Hot Stove League this winter.

And to help spark baseball’s Great Chicago Fire, I had a few thoughts about the Cubs and White Sox that I wanted to share today …

A South Side burnout

Earlier this week after Ozzie Guillen had managed his last game for the White Sox and general manager Kenny Williams bid him a less-than-fond farewell, a friend of mine wrote: “The strangest part of all this is that at the end of this lost season, the Cubs are somehow not the most dysfunctional Chicago baseball team. Go figure.”

Go figure, indeed.

Rational people can disagree about who’s more at fault in the White Sox’s broken home – Guillen or Williams – but I’d argue that it doesn’t really matter. Ozzie taking his talents (and temper) to South Beach was simply for the best.

It was time.

Now, that doesn’t mean I don’t consider Guillen to still be a talented manager (I do). But I’ve always viewed him as someone you can only take so much of, as well as someone who can only take so much of you. And I think that after eight topsy-turvy seasons, White Sox players likely had seen – and heard – enough. They’d tuned Ozzie out.

The big question is, without Guillen – and perhaps free agent Mark Buehrle – will Sox fans tune in to watch the team in 2012?

And will any of them will actually come out to the ballpark?

A North Side turnout

If you hadn’t noticed, the Cubs have issues, too.

They already need a new general manager (hire Tampa’s Andrew Friedman). They’re going to need a new manager (hire Ryne Sandberg). And signing a bunch of new players wouldn’t hurt, either (start with Prince Fielder).

But if the Cubs aren’t careful, some day they’re going to need a new ballpark, too. Because Wrigley Field won’t stand forever, you know – not without some major work.

So far, the Cubs have struck out when asking for state funding to help rehab Wrigley, even though I think the franchise deserves its share of cash. After all, tax dollars have been spent to build new facilities for both the White Sox and Bears, and the Cubs generate more tourist revenue than either of those two franchises.

In any case, that’s why I found the idea posed this week by Chicago Tribune columnist Phil Rosenthal to be so interesting.

“Heaven knows Cubs fans are invested in their team and in the baseball shrine it calls home, Wrigley Field,” Rosenthal wrote. “So why not actually, you know, let them invest?”

The notion Rosenthal pitched involved the Ricketts family separating the ballpark from the team, at least on paper, and then selling shares of Wrigley Field to fans to help finance its rehab.

Even if it’s an investment that doesn’t pay off in profits, I think Cubs die-hards would jump at the chance to “own” Wrigley Field. And the fan support likely would help convince state lawmakers to kick in some cash, as well.

Wrigley isn’t just the Cubs’ treasure, after all. It’s a jewel for the city and state, as well.

Now, if they can just find a better team to put on its diamond.