Chicago Cubs facing bigger issues off Wrigley Field than on

Chicago Cubs: A view of the Wrigley Field rooftop seats
The Wrigley Field rooftops are getting involved in the Chicago Cubs’ business.

After 30+ years as a Chicago Cubs fan, I can say it’s an experience unlike any other. We all love our teams, and I would never suggest that Chicago Cubs fans are any better or worse than any other team’s fans. But I will say that an issue has bubbled up to the surface in the past few days, and no other team has to confront anything like it.

It really comes down this question: What role will Wrigley Field and the city of Chicago have in the future of this franchise? And it’s not a minor issue, either. No Chicago Cubs fan alive today has experience with anything other than Wrigley Field. This season will be the 100th played at Clark and Addison Streets, and the 98th since the Cubs took over Weeghman Park from Chicago’s Federal League franchise. That ballpark — for better or worse — is the heart and soul of the franchise.

The Chicago Cubs have never won a championship while playing at Wrigley Field. You might think, by that measure, the team would be in a hurry to leave the friendly confines behind. But you would be wrong in that assumption. Wrigley Field is in every Chicago Cubs fan’s DNA, and leaving it behind would be traumatic for many fans, myself included.

The city has placed restrictions on how many night games the Cubs can play each year. It’s a legacy of the day-baseball-only culture the Cubs had to overcome in the 1980s. That culture has bent over time, to the point where most Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday games are played under the lights. But weekend games are daylight affairs, and it’s typically hard to find a good seat in the summertime. But the team would like to play at least a few of those under the lights, I’m sure. And right now, they can’t.

And then there’s the rooftops. When the 1990 All-Star Game was played under the lights at Wrigley, one of the network reporters was positioned on a rooftop along Sheffield Avenue, beyond the right-field wall. In those days, the rooftops were a far cry from what they have become in recent years: an ugly profit-making enterprise. They really seem to consider themselves part of the equation with how to proceed with Wrigley, although they have no financial stake in the team at all.

Imagine if, by virtue of the fact you could see into your neighbor’s backyard, you got it into your head you could tell your neighbor when to mow his grass. The rooftop owners are doing a similar thing with Wrigley Field, and the alderman who represents the area on the Chicago city council is on their side. Significant campaign contributions to the alderman will do that, after all.

I wrote a Chicago Cubs team preview for TTFB, where I gave my best guess about how things will go on the North side this season, with the position players and starting lineup and all that. But the real action will take place between now and opening day, when Chicago Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts has said he wants to have a deal in place. Relocation to the suburbs has been floated as an option for the team, but the ramifications of such a move would be profound. I’m a city guy, and I just can’t wrap my mind around the Cubs playing in the suburbs. I can’t be the only one who feels this way, either.

The Cubs are playing in Chicago for the 138th consecutive season in 2013, and no other franchise has played in the same city for so long. The majors have never known the Cubs franchise outside of Chicago. Here’s hoping they never will, either.

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