January 25, 2009
The Tribune Company (which declared bankruptcy last year) has agreed to sell the Chicago Cubs to billionaire investor Tom Ricketts for about $900 million. The deal includes Wrigley Field and a 25 percent interest in the Chicago-region Comcast SportsNet cable channel, but must first be approved by 3/4 of the MLB owners -- 23 out of 30. Ricketts is a long-time Cubs fan, and met his wife at Wrigley Field, and almost everyone agrees that having a true fan in control will be a great boost to the sport -- and especially to the Cubs. When billionaire Sam Zell acquired the Tribune Company in 2007, he announced that the Cubs were for sale. See ESPN (link via Mike Zurawski) and MLB.com. The Chicago Tribune notes (rather candidly) that the objective of this deal (and a similar one in New York) "was to shelter Tribune Co. from several hundred million dollars in capital gains taxes that would be generated by selling assets the company had held through decades of growth." The leveraged nature of this transaction will be scrutinized by MLB officials and the IRS, no doubt.
The tentative sale price is $258 million more than the value estimated by Forbes Magazine last year, suggesting that the recession has yet to make a full impact on baseball; see the MLB Franchises page. One likely consequence of the sale is that plans to renovate Wrigley Field can now move ahead, as the Chicago Tribune reports; link via Mike Zurawski. It could cost at least $250 million, and perhaps as much as $650 million.
Coincidentally, I was in a plane landing at O'Hare Airport the other day, and got a good view of Wrigley Field completely blanketed in snow. What a sight -- a veritable "white cathedral"! The hockey rink used in the NHL Winter Classic on New Year's Day had already been removed.
Demolition of Shea Stadium is proceeding very rapidly, and most of the upper deck grandstand is now gone. Some great photos have been posted at baseball-fever.com; link via Mike Zurawski.
The Washington Nationals are considering having one-time Washington Senators slugger Frank Howard working as an "ambassador" for the Nationals this year. A statue in his honor will be dedicated at Nationals Park during the summer. See MLB.com; hat tip to Bruce Orser, who also brought to my attention a list of the 50 greatest (?) sports broadcasters at americansportscastersonline.com.
Ryan Zimmerman, Manny Acta, and several other Washington Nationals are on a tour of communities in Virginia, after kicking off their "Fan Fest" at Nationals Park last week. On Saturday they stopped in Charlottesville, where Zimmerman played for the University of Virginia baseball team, and I was very sorry that I was not in the area and hence unable to attend.