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First thing Saturday morning, Tom and Laura Ricketts held their family panel at the Cubs Convention for the first time since 2018. The past two Conventions were cancelled due to the pandemic, and the family didn’t hold the panel in 2019 and ’20.
The last time Tom took the stage, in January 2020, fans booed when he mentioned the Marquee Sports Network. During this year’s opening ceremony Friday night, he got a mixed reaction during — a far cry from the receptions the Ricketts family was getting before it took a few years off.
“The last couple of years have been rough,” Tom told fans Saturday.
When he and his family members last sat in front of fans, the Cubs were coming off of three consecutive seasons of deep playoff runs, including the 2016 World Series. At the time, the expectation was that the Cubs were building a sustainable dynasty. But by the summer of 2021, the Cubs had become sellers. Anthony Rizzo, Javy Báez and Kris Bryant were all traded away in a matter of days.
Laura said the she was in tears when the Cubs traded Rizzo to the Yankees, but she “knew it was the right decision.”
The position the team has been in over the past two years is one the Ricketts family didn’t envision. Tom told fans that it was never the strategy to have to tear things down and then build them back up. So, what’s brought them here? One thing he pointed to was the need to trade much of their minor league talent during those successful seasons.
Of the last fifteen World Series champions, most of them have had top-ten farm systems, he said. At one time, the Cubs were in that position. Tom said that is why one emphasis for the organization has become building up the farm system again.
The good news is that he believes things are trending up. The expectations for the Cubs in 2023 are higher than they have been in several years, and the farm system is getting stronger, thanks in part to some of those painful trades.
“It’s kind of an inflection point for us,” he said.
In August, MLB.com’s team of minor league writers ranked the Cubs’ farm system No. 10 in baseball. Last week, Jonathan Mayo polled baseball executives for their opinions on minor league systems around the league. The Cubs’ system got votes for being among the best, and interestingly, 11 percent of executives said they had one of the most underrated systems in baseball. Only the Cardinals got a higher percentage of votes.
Add to that some of the additions the Cubs have made via free agency this winter, and the sense of optimism coming from the Ricketts family makes sense. It also might shed some light on why they were up for doing a Convention panel again.
The fans seem to see the vision, too, but that’s not to say they are all satisfied. There were the aforementioned smattering of boos when Tom took the stage Friday night, and during Saturday’s panel, a few of them had tough questions for Tom and Laura.
Namely, the DraftKings Sportsbook being built just outside Wrigley Field, which is set to open its doors for Opening Day this spring. One fan called it “an out-of-place addition” to the iconic and historic nature of the ballpark. Another asked if money from the sportsbook would truly be funneled toward the team’s payroll. To that, Tom suggested that yes, such revenue would be a part of the money put toward new players.
And when asked about things like the family’s attempt to buy the Chelsea Football Club last spring, he said the family has “lots of different investments” and something like that wouldn’t have anything to do with how they spend on the Cubs. The Ricketts family withdrew their offer for Chelsea last April, but Tom told fans on Saturday that he had long been a Chelsea fan and once had an office near their stadium in London.
The fans also had questions about Sammy Sosa’s status with the team. The Cubs do a nice job of honoring their past, which includes bringing back a large number of alumni for the Convention’s activities, but the player with the fifth-highest career fWAR (60.7) for the franchise is conspicuously absent. That’s a two-way street, of course, but it didn’t stop fans from chanting his name during Friday night’s introductions or from asking about him at Saturday’s panel.
Tom gave the usual responses, saying that he wants to be “thoughtful” about how they handle Sosa’s legacy with the team. It’s not a perfect one, but he is undeniably a major part of the team’s history and a reason many in attendance at the Convention are Cubs fans in the first place.
Easier legacies to embrace are Mark Grace and Shawon Dunston, who were added to the Cubs Hall of Fame on Friday, and Ryne Sandberg; Tom announced during Saturday’s panel that Sandberg will be the next Cubs great immortalized with a statue outside of Wrigley Field.
“To be part of a structure and be part of Wrigley Field, that means so much to me, because Wrigley Field was always my friend and so friendly to me,” Sandberg said. “I loved the atmosphere and the fans […] and the day games. The whole thing about it. I liked everything about that.”
There is no set date for when Sandberg’s statue will be unveiled, but he said the process sounds like one that will put that date sometime in 2024. He will join Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Billy Williams and Fergie Jenkins on “Statue Row” at Gallagher Way.
“I was able to be around all those guys a lot, so to join them, kind of join a team of statues, that’s pretty awesome,” Sandberg said.
The Convention is an opportunity for fans to engage with the people in the Cubs organization in a way that they might not get in any other context. Saturday morning, the Ricketts family held a panel again. Maybe it’s because it’s been three years since the last convention, or maybe because things are finally trending upward.
Either way, Tom is right. This is an inflection point. And one that fans hope will leave the losing seasons behind.
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