The Chicago Cubs can rationalize almost every decision or deflect most controversies with one well-rehearsed line: But we won the World Series. That accomplishment will be listed on Theo Epstein’s Hall of Fame plaque. Players experienced a life-changing moment in a city where the 1985 Bears and Michael Jordan’s Bulls still capture the imagination. The 2016 championship flag flying at a renovated Wrigley Field is a lasting civic achievement for the Ricketts family of Omaha, Neb.
The Cubs used that sense of history and urgency to justify the acquisition of All-Star closer Aroldis Chapman, who began the 2016 season away from the New York Yankees while serving a suspension under Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policy. Even if people expected another parade down Michigan Avenue by now, this generation of Cubs players accomplished what Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Ron Santo could not during their Hall of Fame careers. In terms of a scoreboard, the Ricketts family can point to the $845 million deal with Sam Zell’s Tribune Co. in 2009, which included the team, Wrigley Field and a 25 percent stake in a regional sports network. The franchise’s most recent franchise valuation from Forbes: $3.36 billion.
Cubs fans probably don’t want to play the what-if game that much, because changing one element could’ve theoretically made this Year 113 without a World Series title. Even Mark Cuban, the Dallas Mavericks owner who once tried to buy the Cubs and bring new ideas to MLB about technology and the future of digital media, doesn’t view himself as a white knight here. But this hypothetical exercise is a way to think about how much the Cubs have changed their identity and why they are in this awkward transition period.
“I’m glad the Ricketts got it,” Cuban said last year on 670 The Score, the Cubs’ flagship radio station. “They’ve done a great job. They’ve won a World Series, and that’s the pinnacle of what everybody thought could never happen, so I’m really glad the Ricketts got it. I think they’ve done a phenomenal job. I would’ve had fun, but all’s well that ends well for both sides.”
It’s tempting to suggest that Cuban, the billionaire “Shark Tank” investor, would’ve ordered Cubs officials to sign Bryce Harper to fix a broken offense after the 2018 season. Perhaps Cuban, who has his own IMDb page and more than 8.4 million followers on Twitter, wouldn’t have authorized the Yu Darvish trade with the San Diego Padres last winter. Steve Cohen’s recent takeover of the New York Mets and the sustained success during the Guggenheim era at Dodger Stadium has spotlighted the importance of ownership.