Monday, May 21, 2012

What The Chicago Cubs Could Learn From Drip Pans

What The Chicago Cubs Could Learn From Drip Pans

As fantastic as Sandberg’s “City of the big shoulders” is, its favorite baseball son, the Chicago Cubs, have drifted in championship Diaspora for over 100 years.  In 1908, the Cubbies, led by Hall of Famers Mordecai (Three Finger) Brown, and their peerless (and alliterative) infield trio of Shortstop Joe Tinker, Second Baseman Johnny Evers, and First Baseman and Manager Frank Chase won their second straight World Series.  The future seemed limitless.

And then, it ended.  Seven times from 1909 to 1945 they returned to the World Series, and seven times they lost.  In 1945, they compounded their karma issues by evicting from Wrigley Field a billy goat, the pet and mascot of Billy Sianis, Cubs fan and owner of the local Billy Goat Tavern.  Apparently, the honored goat was disturbing other patrons and smelled, well, like a goat.  Sianis, in a telegram to owner Phillip K. Wrigley, also of gum fame, placed a curse upon the Cubs; darkness would shroud their future, making it a barren wasteland of losses and lost opportunities.  That curse has held.  They lost the ’45 Series, and haven’t returned, producing 29 losing seasons between 1946 and 1983, an epic collapse in 1969 (which also involved a black cat) and an execrable defeat in 2003 which, out of respect to the many nice folk in the Second City, I will not discuss further.

The Wrigleys eventually sold out to The Tribune Company, who managed to go bankrupt, and the Cubbies and Wrigley Field were sold to the Ricketts family, led in the purchase by Tom Ricketts, but whose fortune derived from patriarch Joe Rickett’s founding of Ameritrade.  

Now, here’s where things get really interesting.  The Cubs on field performance got worse, but economically things began to look up.  They entered into negotiations with government for some nice taxpayer funded renovations to their privately held properties and obtained a commitment for about $150 Million. 

But wait.  Not so fast.  While professional sports teams across the country have been muscling huge amounts of money from strapped states and municipalities, many of whom have cut back on basic services, they have usually had the cooperation of compliant local pols concerned about losing local sports treasures on their watch. 

The Cubbies (as is their destiny) made a small error.  Patriarch Joe, attracted by Citizen’s United’s karaoke party for the uber-wealthy, was considering a ten million dollar buy through a Super Pac for a profoundly negative and personal ad about President Obama.   

Gaffe!!! The Mayor of Chicago is none other than the redoubtable Rahm Emanuel, former Chief of Staff to the President.  Rahm is not a happy camper, drawing the quite obvious conclusion that a little sleight of hand takes taxpayer money out of Chicagoan’s pockets, mixes it a with a few Wrigley renovations, and frees up Rickett’s money to go after his former boss.  That’s pretty brassy even for Chicago.  Rahm refused to take Rickett’s family calls.  And Tom and company have gone into full damage control (“Ad?  What ad?  We don’t even know what advertising is.  And Dad has no role in the Cubs….”)  

The problem with the Ricketts’ approach wasn’t that they waded into politics, or even that they picked the wrong guy to tangle with, it’s that old Joe forgot the way things really work.  Negative ads may be the new Ferrari for him to play with, but when it comes to public money, the lowly drip pan is where it’s at.

There was a wonderful (nauseating, but wonderful) story in the New York Times a few days ago that showed how it is done.  A privately held Kentucky company, Phoenix Products, has been selling $17,000.00 drip pans (to catch transmission fluids, not for cooking turkeys) to the Army for their Black Hawk helicopters.  This despite the fact that competitors have something similar for around $2,000.00.   So, how does an obscure company manage to score such a fabulous deal?  Genius-level engineering?  Rare materials?  Unsurpassed service?  Maybe, but having Representative Harold Rodgers, the Republican who is now the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, adding an earmark to a 2009 spending bill certainly helped.  The good Mr. Rogers, also dubbed the “The Prince of Pork” by the Lexington Herald-Leader, has, unsurprisingly, been the object of some adoration from the owners of Phoenix Products, who are the types who feel a card isn’t always sufficient-nothing says “I love you” better than something tangible-like contributions. 

You will probably be pleased to hear that Mr. Rogers is a fiscal conservative of true rectitude.  From his website, “In these challenging economic times the last thing we should be doing is imposing new taxes on hard working families.  I also remain opposed to repeated bailouts, failed stimulus bills and out of control budgets.  Families have learned to spend less, be responsible and live within their budget – and now it’s time for the federal government to do the same.  Kentuckians deserve the decency of accountability and oversight when their money is being spent.”  I would just note that Kentuckians receive $1.51 from the Federal Government for each dollar they send, which I think is a fairly good accounting.

Speaker Boehner has just threatened another ginned-up debt ceiling crisis over spending.  Those Phoenix drip pans are still flying off the shelves.  And the Cubbies are currently 15-26.  

There has got to be a better way.