ST. LOUIS — Crane Kenney explained his relationship with Theo Epstein in an unforgettable quote for Bloomberg Businessweek’s cover story on the Cubs.
“Basically, my job is fill a wheelbarrow with money, take it to Theo’s office and dump it,” Kenney told the magazine before this magical season began.
The business vs. baseball tension between the team’s two presidents won’t go away — because it always exists in professional sports — but both sides clearly need each other.
The Cubs hope to keep riding this tidal wave of momentum and lift the major-league payroll closer to where it should be for a big-market franchise.
A team that relies heavily on box-office sales has already drawn 2,566,057 to Wrigley Field with 10 home games remaining, including two weekend series against the two teams ahead of the Cubs in the National League Central — the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Cubs haven’t hit the three-million mark in attendance since 2011, or right in the middle of what turned out to be five straight fifth-place finishes.
“I expect that it will (translate),” general manager Jed Hoyer said Tuesday at Busch Stadium. “The lack of success on the field pushed the attendance number down, and I think we’re getting that number way back up.
“It’s been a lot of fun (to) go to the ballpark and know there’s going to be roughly 40,000 people there every day. It’s been a great atmosphere — and that atmosphere should translate into increased revenue.
“I think it will definitely go into the product on the field.”
The rough shorthand for this year’s major-league payroll is $120 million — $100 million plus the $20 million leftover from the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes. The Cubs already have internal forecasts for 2016 that would certainly be boosted by a strong playoff push.
“We don’t know exactly yet,” Hoyer said, pointing to a three-game sweep of the Diamondbacks that drew 118,005 before the Labor Day holiday. “Weekends like that against Arizona can’t hurt us going forward.
“It only helps our projections for next year. We have an idea, but the better we play …”
Though the Wrigley Field renovations will also create steady, incremental revenue, Epstein has repeatedly identified the upcoming TV megadeal as the game-changer for the baseball-operations budget (assuming the cable bubble doesn’t burst).
There are also complications with the leveraged partnership between the Ricketts family and Sam Zell’s Tribune Co. That $845 million deal closed in October 2009 and included a piece of Comcast SportsNet Chicago, which holds exclusive cable rights through the 2019 season.
Selling minority non-controlling ownership shares to six investors helped finance the Wrigley Field renovations. Internal valuations of the franchise — including real-estate plays in Wrigleyville and the potential for multimedia growth — are estimated at north of $2 billion.
So are the Cubs going to make a splash again this winter?
Whether or not it’s David Price, Epstein’s front office will be in the market for another frontline starter to join Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta in what would be a powerful playoff rotation.
“What you really want is the flexibility to make good decisions,” Hoyer said. “Whether it’s one move or a series of moves, I think that’s what you ultimately want — the ability to continue improving something that we think has a really good future.
“But, obviously, we’re not a finished product. The ability to go out and make some moves to continue improve areas of weakness would be great. And I think we expect that.”