When I was six years old, I was gifted a Mark Grace t-shirt jersey. It was an adult medium, gigantic on my tiny frame, but the excitement of having my first name on my back quashed any concern over the garment’s size. I’d don the comically oversized shirt on packed Red Line trains and cover it in peanut shells at summertime games, even after the first baseman left Chicago for Arizona in 2000. Twenty-two years later, the shirt actually fits me, but it’s a vestige of a much different franchise than the one controlling Wrigleyville today. A love for the Cubbies will always be in my bones, but for the first time in my life, I’m feeling hesitant to self-identify as a Cubs fan.
The fun of being a Cubs fan has always been in rooting for the underdog. Indeed, that long-held credo, “There’s always next season!” was integral to the very Cubs fan identity, and winning the World Series means we can no longer champion self-pity in earnest. But the fact that the Cubs are actually good at baseball now isn’t the only reason we’re no longer “lovable losers.” I have a difficult time separating rooting for the Cubs with rooting for the Ricketts family, and the billionaires’ off-season activities make that incredibly difficult.
First, the sweeping physical changes to Wrigleyville. This baseball season also marks the grand opening of Rickettsville, as the wave of new developments finally begin to open up. Between the swanky Hotel Zachary, a gigantic new Big Star, and renaming the Park At Wrigley “Gallagher Way” for some insurance company, the face of Clark and Addison has changed wildly over the past few years. Yes, neighborhoods change, old businesses fold, new construction pops up. But where the Cubs’ enormous wealth was slightly understated in the past, it’s absolutely undeniable now—and, for many, alienating.
The city-shaping power of the Ricketts’ wealth isn’t limited to Lakeview, either. In November 2017, 76-year-old Joe Ricketts abruptly shuttered the websites DNAinfo, Chicagoist, and those sites’ sister sites, after the New York newsrooms voted to unionize. This left 116 employees jobless, and left cities across America—including Chicago—without its most consistent source for hyperlocal neighborhood news. Ricketts ultimately chalked this closure up to a business decision, and his spokesman cited the unionizing efforts as one of many reasons he closed the sites. Regardless of actual intent, it’s difficult to see the Cubs as lovable losers when its owners can flick a switch on an important local resource with no remorse.
And then there’s Todd. This past January, President Trump named the youngest Ricketts sibling the new Finance Chairman of the Republican National Committee. (He was Trump’s initial pick for Deputy Secretary of Commerce back in November 2016, but he withdrew after the potential conflicts of interest presented by his holdings were too much for the Office of Government Ethics.) Again, it’s tough to be a lovable loser when one of your owners sits nice and cozy with our bully of a president. Oh, also, Republican Governor of Nebraska, Pete Ricketts—the eldest brother—is in trouble with the ACLU for illegally obtaining a death penalty drug. Cool.
Pre-2016, it felt like the Cubs needed their fans. It felt like there was some kind of magic contract between the team and the city, that fans’ blind dedication was equally integral to the Cubbies’ victory as Arrieta’s right arm. Perhaps, even, that a generations-long devotion was the counter-hex required to overcome the curse of the goat. Maybe that was true, or maybe that was something fans told themselves, or maybe that was just clever propaganda to sell more tickets. In any case, that magic has faded. The team, the neighborhood, and attitude feels markedly different than it did even three years ago, let alone nine. With the Ricketts in charge, the Cubs want to have their cake and eat it too—and in my opinion, that’s far too much cake.