Lance Berkman thinks Cubs could do Wrigley bigger and better

Lance Berkman thinks Cubs could do Wrigley bigger and better
May 16, 2012, 3:00 am
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ST. LOUIS – The Wall Street Journal came out with a headline that was certain to generate buzz: “Why Wrigley Field Must Be Destroyed.”

Cubs executives have publicly said that they’d never consider that nuclear option, while privately lobbying government officials for their renovation plans.

The franchise’s identity is so tied up in the real estate at Clark and Addison that chairman Tom Ricketts has dismissed the idea of playing at U.S. Cellular Field – even for a season – while the ballpark gets a facelift.

The Wall Street Journal piece was heavy on first-person accounts from a writer who sat in the stands during the Bartman game. How about some ideas from one of baseball’s most outspoken players?

Lance Berkman has been coming to the North Side for years, first with the Houston Astros and now the St. Louis Cardinals.

He’s an intelligent guy who went to Rice University. He once had ideas about maybe signing with the Cubs – before making a decision that got him a World Series ring.

“Let me say this: I like the way Wrigley Field looks,” Berkman said Tuesday. “But if they said we’re going to bulldoze it and build it new – but to look similar – I’d be all for it. At some point, you’ve got to modernize.

“I know that’s anathema to a lot of Cubs fans, and a lot of people that view Wrigley as sort of this baseball shrine. But the reality is, I think you could accomplish (more). The location of it, the fan base, the ivy on the walls, all of that stuff is not going to go anywhere. That contributes a lot.

“You can improve the fan experience, the media experience, the player experience, everything, by rebuilding it. And you wouldn’t lose any of the mystique that people are afraid of losing.”

Berkman is a six-time All-Star with a .213 career average in 80 games at Wrigley Field. He echoed what many players want out of a renovated stadium – a bigger clubhouse and better facilities, specifically improvements to the batting cages.

“The locker room’s built for guys that are 5-9 max,” he said. “It’s just not that way anymore. The training room is small. Everything about it is antiquated.”

Former Cubs general manager Jim Hendry targeted Berkman in the run-up to the winter meetings in December 2010.

Berkman was coming off a down year split between the Astros and New York Yankees, and accepted a one-year, $8 million deal with the Cardinals that looked like a bargain when he hit .301 with 31 homers and 94 RBI.

Carlos Pena wound up signing the “pillow contract” – $10 million for one season spread over three fiscal years – that had everyone in St. Louis thinking the Cubs were going to make a run at Albert Pujols.

How close did Berkman come to signing with the Cubs?

“It would have been closer if we actually had the meeting,” he said. “I signed with the Cardinals and Jim was flying down to (Houston) to go to dinner (with me).

“It was funny because when he was at the airport, the Cardinals and I were still very far apart. And then it was like as he got on the airplane, I got a call from St. Louis and they doubled the offer. I was like, ‘All right, that’s where I wanted to play.’”

Berkman still enjoyed a night out and ended up going to dinner with Hendry, a very entertaining personality. Recruiting players to Chicago isn’t that difficult. The Cubs are taken care of around the city and the day games open up your nights.

The state of Wrigley Field will again be in the news during this weekend’s crosstown series against the White Sox (even without Ozzie Guillen complaining about the rats).

What should the city and state do for the Cubs? That’s another debate that has to happen, and you can be skeptical about the financial details.

But it’s clear what a renovation could do for the on-field product. It would be a game-changer.

As a free agent, how do you weigh the stadium as a variable?

“It probably is a small factor,” Berkman said. “But I don’t think that’s a deal-breaker – if the money’s right and somebody really wants to come there.

“Certainly, as good as it is now in terms of the fans (and their support), I just think it could be so much better. I think that could be a huge plus that would put Chicago at the very top of the list of desirability in terms of your free-agent signings.”