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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.

Why Cubs GM Jed Hoyer thinks a playoff bubble could be in MLB's 'best interest'

Why Cubs GM Jed Hoyer thinks a playoff bubble could be in MLB's 'best interest'

Instituting an MLB “bubble” for the postseason would make sense to Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer.

“The first round this year, you would just travel once,” he said Monday. “But once you get into later rounds and sometimes, you're traveling multiple times a week. And I think what we've learned so far is that travel is a difficult part of this.”

Less than three weeks into the regular season, MLB has dealt with outbreaks on two different teams. The first positive COVID-19 tests in both the Marlins’ and Cardinals’ outbreaks were taken on the road. MLB has already committed to an expanded 16-team postseason. So, the question becomes, if Major League Baseball can make it to the postseason, how can it increase its chances of finishing the playoffs?

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Other leagues have had success with quarantined bubbles. Last week, the NHL announced zero positive COVID-19 tests since its teams reported to the league's two hub cities. 

Both the National Women's Soccer League and Major League Soccer had teams drop out of their tournaments before competition began, due to team outbreaks. But the NWSL completed a month-long tournament without a COVID-19 case in its Utah bubble, and MLS' participating teams have produced all negative tests since July 10. 

The WNBA has not had a positive COVID-19 test since the initial round of testing, as players arrived at the clean site. Last week, the NBA reported its third consecutive batch of weekly tests without a new positive.

"We're only as good as our weakest link," Hoyer said. "And this thing spreads."

Even just this weekend there were examples of players and teams violating health and safety protocols.

Cleveland pitcher Zach Plesac  left the team hotel to go out in Chicago during the team’s series against the White Sox.

The A’s and Astros had a benches-clearing brawl after Houston pitcher Humberto Castellanos hit Oakland’s Roman Laureano with a pitch. It was the third time that Laureano had been hit in the series and second time in that game.

From the Astros dugout, hitting coach Alex Cintrón began jawing back and forth with Laureano, until Laureano charged. The benches cleared.

“Frustrations are going to boil over,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “… As a coach, we have to contain our emotions, a little more than probably the players. Players do the best they can, but as coaches we have to stay professional in every aspect.”

Both incidents happened after Major League Baseball tightened health and safety protocols and postponed the Cubs’ weekend series at St. Louis in response to more positive COVID-19 tests from the Cardinals. The Cardinals have played an MLB-low five games due to their coronavirus outbreak. At least 16 St. Louis players and staff members have tested positive.

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he believed there was still time for the Cardinals to play enough games to be considered a “credible competitor.” Whether they can fit a whole 60-game schedule in remains in question.

“I think there's going to be real decisions about how to reschedule those games and what to do,” Hoyer said. “But at this point I think that the focus is on making sure that those guys are all healthy, the staff and players, and stopping the spread. And who knows how long it’s going to take.

“I think we all expected to play this weekend, and now, I don't know if they'll be able to play Thursday, Friday or until after the weekend. So, at this point there's no point in speculating (on if the league would shut down a team) because we just don't know when they're going to be able to take the field.”

A few hours later, MLB announced that the Cardinals' Thursday doubleheader against the Tigers had been postponed.

The regular season hurdles continue, even without the kind of back-and forth travel that comes with the playoffs.

“With buses and planes and hotel rooms and smaller club houses, things like that,” Hoyer said of travel, “I think it's that that's been a challenge. And a challenge the league is trying to address, but still a challenge nonetheless. And so I think a bubble situation for the playoffs could be in the best interest to make sure that those games are played and that the right players are on the field deciding it.”

 

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Cubs’ Ian Happ claimed center field after AAA detour: 'He's the real deal'

Cubs’ Ian Happ claimed center field after AAA detour: 'He's the real deal'

Ian Happ paused before answering, the moment of silence punctuating his matter-of-fact response.

“No,” he said. “I don’t feel that way.”

Looking back, he doesn’t feel like he rose to the Major Leagues too quickly.

Happ has had to field that question since spending 2/3 of last season in Triple-A. But already this year, Happ has hit three home runs, tied for the most on the team, while also maintain a top-three batting average (.297). Not only is he performing on the field, Happ has also embraced a leadership role and taken over for Kris Bryant as the team’s MLBPA representative.

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“He’s the real deal,” Ross said Sunday, after Happ went 3-for-3 with two doubles in the Cubs’ intrasquad scrimmage.

The club’s decision to send Happ to Triple-A Iowa at the beginning of last season came as a surprise. Much of Happ’s conviction that he was ready for the major leagues when he debuted came from his standout rookie season.

Happ hit 24 home runs as a rookie – still his career high – and finished eighth in rookie of the year voting in 2017. His batting average regressed the next year (from .253 to .233), and his strikeout number rose (from 129 to 167). But he joined the .350 club in on-base percentage.

“We believed then and we believe now that he’s going to be a really good player,” Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said this week. “We thought it was the right move and something that was necessary even though it was really unpleasant to send him back there. To his credit, he made the absolute most of it, took personal responsibility.”

When Happ returned to the big leagues, his progress showed. He won NL player of the week in the final week of the season. But he’s made even more of a splash this year, from Spring Training through the first two weeks of the regular season.

Entering the year, center field was one of the main position battles to monitor for first-time manager Ross.

“Right now, the job is Ian Happ’s,” Ross said Sunday.

Ross’ lineup choices had suggested as much already. Happ has appeared in all 13 of the Cubs games, at least pinch hitting in the three he didn’t start.

“It’s hard to take Ian Happ out of the lineup,” Ross said of the switch-hitter. “The guy’s swinging the bat really well, and his right-handed at-bats have gotten tremendously better. He’s been a staple.”

Happ started his season off with a two-run home run in his first plate appearance. He was batting ninth, and through all of Ross’ reshuffling of the bottom third of the batting order, Happ has been the Cubs’ most frequent nine-hole hitter.

With the Cubs’ No. 7 and 8 hitters consistently getting on base, in the nine-hole has showcased Happ’s ability to drive in runs (he’s tied for second on the team with six RBI) or set the table for the Cubs’ unconventional top of the order.

“I feel great about where I'm at right now,” Happ said, “my ability to help the team and get on base for those guys that are hitting behind me.”

Just as he set the tone in the batter’s box early, with an Opening Day home run, Happ flashed some leather in the opening series against the Brewers. Three days into the season, Happ tracked a long fly ball back to the wall. He leaped and caught it just before his back slammed into the ivy, which barely cushioned the brick behind it.

Happ slid down the wall into a crouch, his body no doubt feeling the results of the impact. But it wasn’t long before he stood back up.

“I think he absolutely took advantage of his time down (in Iowa),” Epstein said, “and is in a different and better phase in his career now because of what he went through.”

 

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