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Exposing Wrigley Field and 'Undercover Boss'

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Exposing Wrigley Field and 'Undercover Boss'

Monday, Nov. 8, 2010
9:06 AM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

Todd Ricketts still hadn't seen the final version before it finally went to air Sunday night, after a long lead-in from NFL programming and "60 Minutes." That was a negotiating point between the Cubs and CBS.

There was Ricketts in black glasses and a full beard selling hot dogs, working grounds crew and the parking lot, and being "fired" from his job hosing down the bathrooms.

By the end, an ownership group that can be guarded with the media didn't have anything to worry about with "Undercover Boss," which amounted to a huge advertisement for Wrigley Field.

"They needed to have full editorial control," Ricketts said Sunday night at Harry Caray's in Wrigleyville, where he watched the episode with his family and Cubs executives and staffers. "Inevitably, there would be something that we wanted to change or add (or take out). And so we caved and we let it go.

"I never felt nervous that it would turn out poorly. You just want to have control over what gets exposed and CBS was like: 'This is a feel-good show. We're not out to make anybody look bad. You're the narrator. The employees are the stars. That's how it will be.'"

Actually owning the Cubs does not come with an easy-to-follow script. This season would have seemed like a reality show even without the cameras following around a member of the team's board of directors.

There was the enigmatic pitcher in anger-management counseling (Carlos Zambrano), the rookie outfielder laying in a hospital bed (Tyler Colvin), the manager going home to take care of his family (Lou Piniella) and the Hall of Famer estranged from the organization (Ryne Sandberg).

They served caviar in the clubhouse and put a yellow noodle steps away from Wrigley Field's iconic marquee. And it didn't matter -- fans wanted their picture taken next to both.

"Undercover Boss," which has profiled executives from NASCAR, Frontier Airlines, and the hotel and resort industries, stayed away from the biggest names in the organization and gave a behind-the-scenes glimpse at its workers.

It gave a brief biographical sketch of Ricketts, the youngest of the four siblings who control the team. Tom is the chairman and face of ownership. Laura is an attorney and active in Democratic politics. Pete once ran for the U.S. Senate in Nebraska on the Republican ticket.

Todd, whose investments include a chain of bike shops in the northern suburbs, admitted that his role is undefined within the organization. He used to sit out in the bleachers as a Loyola University student, and for this he moved back into a Wrigleyville apartment, like he did some 20 years ago.

The White Sox had their reality show on the MLB Network, but Ricketts indicated that the Cubs don't have any other television projects currently in development. And whatever he learned filming during those several days near the end of a disappointing season won't really influence some of the big-picture issues surrounding the stadium.

"I don't know if anything will be really dramatically changed based on the stuff we found here," Ricketts said. "It's really just getting to know the people that work at Wrigley, exposing to the country how great they are, and (getting) Cubs fans to get a good inside look at what happens at Wrigley when they're not around."

Those employees work seasonal jobs that are not glamorous on nights and weekends. Ricketts found one a paid internship in the marketing department. Another got his classes paid for, and the one who cut loose Ricketts will receive a vacation to spring training with his family.

It has been a little more than a year since the Ricketts family purchased the Cubs and Wrigley Field -- and a stake in Comcast SportsNet -- from Tribune Co. for approximately 845 million. The group has been strategic and deliberate.

In a soft economy and a difficult political climate, the Cubs campaigned hard enough to get plans for new training facilities approved by voters in Mesa, Ariz.

After a 75-87 season that could have been much worse -- and heading into Year 103 without a World Series title -- they managed to add a new, more expensive pricing tier for select home games without a backlash because their message was that overall ticket prices would essentially remain flat in 2011.

In their final analysis, the exposure from CBS, and what it could mean to the brand, outweighed the perception of what it might look like.

"We didn't jump at it right away when they came," Ricketts said. "The big hang-up we had at that moment (was) we were concerned that it might be taken negatively that the team's not performing well, but yet we're filming these TV shows around Wrigley.

"My explanation to that is: I'm not out there pitching. I'm not playing."

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Kyle Schwarber finding his niche in Cubs' leadoff spot: 'He’s really morphed into the hitter we thought he could be'

Kyle Schwarber finding his niche in Cubs' leadoff spot: 'He’s really morphed into the hitter we thought he could be'

After two seasons alternating table setters atop their lineup, the Cubs may finally have found a consistent leadoff hitter in Kyle Schwarber.

“It’s one of those things you have to believe it to see it,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said before Friday’s game against the Reds. “And sometimes there’s other folks that have to see it to believe it. I just thought it was the right time.”

Schwarber started his 11th-straight game on Friday, hitting leadoff in the last nine games of that stretch. Unlike his abysmal tenure leading off in 2017, though, Schwarber is getting into a groove hitting first for the Cubs this season.

In 2017, Schwarber hit leadoff 37 times; not only did he slash a woeful .190/.312/.381 with seven home runs, but he walked 24 times compared to 48 strikeouts. The Cubs went with a leadoff-man by committee approach the rest of the season, as 10 other players hit leadoff at least once.

Schwarber has flipped the script as a leadoff hitter this season. Although the sample size is small, he’s slashing .265/.372/.618, (34 at-bats) with three home runs and seven walks compared to 12 strikeouts.

“Again, I liked it back then, I did. However, he did not react to it well in that moment,” Maddon said. “But if you look at his overall abilities as they stand right now, for me, that’s the perfect spot for him, especially in our lineup.

“He’s made some adjustments recently, he’s more mature as a hitter, he’s understanding it better. All of those things are involved. I like it; I could’ve done it earlier this year, but he really wasn’t doing what he’s doing right now earlier this year.

“I think this last three weeks or so, he’s really morphed into the hitter we thought he could be.”

Schwarber certainly has been trending upwards since the calendar flipped to May. In April, he slashed .211/.282/.338 with 25 strikeouts and seven walks. While he’s hitting .224 this month, he holds a stellar .389 OBP (.837 OPS), walking 19 times compared to 21 strikeouts.

“There’s things that he’s doing right now that are permitting him to be more consistent,” Maddon said. “Like the other day, that first at-bat walk against [Max] Scherzer in what was such a big at-bat. There was like four pitches all over the place and he didn’t swing.”

Schwarber walked in both of his at-bats against Scherzer on May 17 on a combined 10 pitches. He took four pitches out of the zone the first time around and four more the second at-bat. On the latter instance, the only strikes came on foul balls.

All of this is not to say that the days of Schwarber hitting for power are over. He has four home runs in May, three of which have come in the leadoff spot. And while RBI chances aren’t as prevalent for leadoff hitters, Maddon mentioned how Schwarber has room to grow.

“To this point, he hasn’t really been the RBI guy that you might envision. He’s been more the table setter,” he said. “I think as he learns his craft better, of course he can drive in runs more consistently.

"He’s on the verge of doing that right now. The benefit has been for him to set the table more than cleaning it up to this point, but I think he has the abilities to do both.”

Following the Cubs’ 6-5 loss to the Reds on Friday, Maddon reiterated his confidence in his latest No. 1 hitter. Schwarber went 1-for-4 with a home run, a walk and a strikeout.

“I like his at-bats right now in general,” he said. “That’s kind of why I did what I did, because I think that it’s become a more mature at-bat and the more the stays up there, the more comfortable he’s going to get.”

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The bullpen's rough stretch continues as Cubs blow two saves in series opener

The bullpen's rough stretch continues as Cubs blow two saves in series opener

Sound the alarm, the Cubs’ bullpen issues are back. 

Friday afternoon’s culprits were Brad Brach and Steve Cishek, who together allowed three earned runs on five hits over 2.2 innings of work in the Cubs’ 6-5 loss. It was the second blown save of the season for both pitchers. 

“I was locked in today, I really was,” Cishek said. “It was just a lack of execution. I’m not going to make any excuses.” 

After spending much of the last six weeks being one of baseball’s most reliable groups, the Cubs’ bullpen has hit a rough patch of late. Over the last two weeks, only the Red Sox have more blown saves than Chicago. In that span they rank 21st in ERA, 16th in FIP, and most foreboding of all, 4th in BB%. 

“The last couple times around we’ve had shorter outings from our starters, and I think that’s kind of caused us to use them more recently,” Joe Maddon said. “But they’re fine. They’re fine. It’s just one of those days, man.” 

It’s true that the Cubs’ bullpen is still relatively fresh; they’ve pitched 168.2 innings in 2019, more than only eight other teams. Over the last two weeks, however, they’ve pitched 48.2 innings - which is 8th most in the league. They came into Friday’s game shorthanded, as Maddon noted that they were looking to avoid using Brandon Kintzler, Carl Edwards Jr., Tyler Chatwood, and Kyle Ryan. 

“[Cishek] probably didn’t have a full tank,” Maddon said. “Probably ¾ maybe. So the stuff wasn’t as clean or crisp.”

Cishek declined to comment about how energy he felt he had on Friday. Only Tyler Chatwood has thrown more relief innings than Cishek over the last week, and both Chatwood and Kintzler rank among the top-20 most-used relievers going back to mid-May. 

“Those guys always get it done,” Kyle Hendricks said. “They’ve been being used a lot in the last few days, so they can’t come in every time and get the job done. But they’re making their pitches, and attacking, and there’s nothing more you can ask for. We know they’re going to be there for us, and they have been all year.”

Late innings have been especially difficult to navigate over the last few series. After the two blown saves today, the Cubs are now 9-for-20 in save situations on the year. There are internal reinforcements coming, though, as Pedro Strop is close to returning from his hamstring injury. 

“It’s more experienced guys coming back into the fold,” Maddon said. “Guys that have done that.

“When Strop comes back, then all these guys get pushed back. It’s just lengthens your bullpen. It lengthens it. By having him there, with what he’s able to do in the last inning or two. Stropy will lengthen us out.”

And while the noise to go get another proven reliever grows, and the date that signing Craig Kimbrel without losing a draft pick nears, the Cubs are confident that a few rough outings from a good group, going through a tough stretch, is no reason to panic. 

“I still think we’re in a good spot,” Cishek said. “As the fans ride the roller coaster, we do too. There’s ups and downs throughout the long season. We started off slow, then we rode a hot streak for a long time. It’s going to happen again, we’re going to be fine.”