The Cubs are the worst team in the majors and haven't scored a run in 20 innings but Wednesday's low point of the season had little to do with baseball.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel embarrassed the Cubs behind the microphone as badly as any pitcher has on the mound. By indicating the team would not get a June 5 hearing before the Commission on Chicago Landmarks it needs to carry out its new proposal, Emanuel exposed how clumsy the business operation has become for an organization that cannot afford any more delays in renovating a 100-year-old ballpark.
Even more than most politicians, Emanuel hates surprises and the Cubs surprised the mayor Tuesday with details they presented publicly before clearing them privately with him. It doesn't matter whether the Cubs informed members of Emanuel's staff about proposed changes to the bullpen and nobody passed them along to the mayor. All that matters is the Cubs rankled the one person in the city they least can afford to rankle by not showing more savvy. Who will end the season with more errors, Starlin Castro or the Cubs' corporate PR team?
Instead of having a news conference to unveil the newly designed artist rendering of Wrigley Field — the equivalent of a victory lap — Cubs business president Crane Kenney first should have covered every last detail with Emanuel and his staff. Chicago politics, with all its hidden agendas and backroom deals, require participants take nothing for granted. The Cubs took the mayor's blessing for granted, a stunningly bad oversight.
When Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts released a six-minute video last week announcing plans to proceed with a new $575 million renovation plan for Wrigley Field and adjacent property essentially daring rooftop owners to sue, it was assumed he did so with assurances from City Hall. Most observers agreed it would have been silly for Ricketts to be so bold without such assurances. Now the Cubs, stumbling for a third time to push this project, look silly after Emanuel's announcement "this recent submission is not ready for next week.''
"They have work to do,'' Emanuel said. "There are things like the bullpen that nobody had ever seen before.''
The Cubs would have been smarter either releasing the new proposal with Ricketts' video May 22, dulling the impact and buying a few days' time, or waiting until the June 5 monthly landmarks hearing to go public with details. Staging a news conference five days later to present proposed ballpark changes unfamiliar to the mayor came across as grandstanding to some involved with the project.
How quickly the Cubs scrambled illustrated their concerns and how important officials considered the June 5 hearing they once thought was a formality. In a letter sent Wednesday to Department of Planning and Development Deputy Commissioner Eleanor Gorski, the Cubs offered to alter plans to avoid tabling this until July or beyond.
"We understand there has been some concern regarding proposed changes to the current double doors in the outfield brick wall … and changes related to the brick wall and foul territory along the bullpens,'' the letter said. "We hereby withdraw our request for consideration of changes to the doors … and a request to move the brick walls and foul territory along the bullpens. We trust this will allow the remainder of the plan to move forward June 5.''
Kenney followed that up Thursday on WGWG-FM 87.7 conceding the Cubs could have been clearer with city officials about the bullpen plan. He evaded questions about why Emanuel didn't hear about details before reporters but expressed a willingness to compromise quickly to accommodate the mayor.
"We don't want to have a moment of delay, and that's why we reached out yesterday to Landmarks, to say, 'Hey, if you want to take a re-look at the outfield doors, we'll go so far as to take them off the table,''' Kenney said.
This simply can't be about double doors and bullpen views or bricks and ivy. The Cubs can offer to invest more than a half-billion dollars of the Ricketts family's money into a Chicago neighborhood yet it still comes down to political capital.
Emanuel bullies the Cubs because Ricketts never seriously threatened to leave Clark and Addison, and any threats now about moving to the suburbs or other sites in the city only sound empty. In an election year, Emanuel needs to announce the creation of 2,000 jobs and point to Wrigley as a success instead of an empty, abandoned ballpark. The Cubs keep failing to take advantage of that reality.
They never used their best leverage with the city or the rooftop owners. So this is what happens when you let people push you around in negotiations. You take one step forward and two steps back. You get what you deserve.