Winning over voters, Cubs staying in Mesa

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Winning over voters, Cubs staying in Mesa

Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2010
Updated at 12:10 AM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

The Cubs have trained in Arizona almost uninterrupted since the end of the Truman administration, and they hope to remain in the desert for decades to come.

That history looks like it will continue after voters in Mesa approved Proposition 420 on Tuesday by an overwhelming margin. This had become a signature project for the Ricketts family during their first year of ownership, and they can claim an apparent victory as the Cubs moved closer to securing their new facility.

With 97 to 98 percent of precincts reporting late Tuesday night, unofficial results on the Maricopa County and city of Mesa websites had roughly 63 percent voting "yes."

The ballot measure enables the city to spend close to 100 million on the next spring-training site as the Naples, Fla., development group that once tried to lure the Cubs out of Arizona recedes into memory.

As outlined, the Cubs would cover any construction costs that exceed 84 million, while the city could also contribute up to 15 million for infrastructure. The deal would be financed in part by the sale of undeveloped land in the area and a proposed 2 percent bed tax increase on Mesa hotels.

The Cubs would lease the complex and be responsible for operating costs. They also intend to develop a retail center around the stadium that's been called "Wrigleyville West." It would presumably attract existing corporate partners and attempt to recreate the atmosphere surrounding Clark and Addison with shops, bars and restaurants.

As the Cactus League's biggest box-office draw, one estimate has the Cubs creating a 138 million economic impact annually in the region, though some of that is spread to nearby Scottsdale and Tempe.

Mesa -- where the Cubs have trained from 1952-1965 and since 1979 -- is hoping for a bigger share of the revenues. While the Cubs have argued that they've outgrown their facilities, the complexes are not ancient.

The Cubs began play in 1997 at the new HoHoKam Park, which has a seating capacity of 13,100. Construction began the year before at Fitch Park, which sits on a 31-acre lot and includes four practice fields and a clubhouse with lockers for 200 players and 36 coaches.

But Cubs management is seeking one base of operations for all staffers -- not two located roughly a mile apart. Taxpayers might wonder why another reinvestment is already needed, but this could open an opportunity for a new team to relocate to Mesa.

Right now 15 teams are based in Arizona and 15 more train in Florida. There is a thought that Major League Baseball would ideally like a 16-14 split for scheduling purposes.

As voters headed to the polls, Cubs general manager Jim Hendry and his staff gathered for organizational meetings in Mesa, where the baseball operations department will spend the next few days strategizing for 2011.

The offseason officially began Monday night after the final out of the World Series. Xavier Nady -- who will turn 32 this month and struggled to find a regular rhythm after the second Tommy John surgery of his career -- was the only Cub among the 142 players granted free agency. The first basemanoutfielder is a Scott Boras client and expected to test the market.

The other anticipated procedural move will be Aramis Ramirez exercising his 14.6 million player option for next season, which also guarantees the third baseman at least a 2 million buyout of the club's 2012 option worth 16 million.

The Cubs have also begun surveying fans on their website, asking questions about their Wrigley Field experience, whether they would be interested in a video replay board and weekend night games.

But nothing was quite as pressing to ownership as the "yes" given Tuesday in Mesa. The organization had invested a significant amount of time, money, energy and manpower in lobbying for the plan. Franchise icons Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Ron Santo each made public appearances trying to sway voters.

Chairman Tom Ricketts had insisted that the Cubs weren't thinking about alternatives if Mesa voted against the proposition. There's no Plan B, he said. Cubs fans -- especially the ones who had retired to Arizona and take family vacations there in February and March -- will be glad to never learn what that might have been.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

After winter of taking heat, Cubs still have Joe Maddon's back

After winter of taking heat, Cubs still have Joe Maddon's back

MESA, Ariz. — It only took 21 minutes into spring training — or the first press conference on the day pitchers and catchers officially reported to Arizona — before Joe Maddon listened to another question about all the heat he took for his World Series Game 7 decisions.

More than 2,000 miles away at Yankee camp in Florida last week, Aroldis Chapman told the Chicago Sun-Times that he "was just being truthful" when he used the conference call to announce the biggest contract ever for a closer — five years and $86 million — to inform the New York media that Maddon misused him during the playoffs. Nothing lost in translation there.

Miguel Montero finally declared a ceasefire on Monday night, getting the sit-down meeting the Cubs felt should go longer than the standard meet and greet after the veteran catcher's jarringly critical comments on WMVP-AM 1000 (if only because it happened on the same day as the championship parade and Grant Park rally).

"It's such an unusual situation," general manager Jed Hoyer said, "because we won the World Series, and theoretically you think that people would be really happy."

As ex-Cub manager Dale Sveum might say: "Ya think?"

Ending the 108-year drought might lead Maddon's Hall of Fame plaque someday, but it also led to waves and waves of second-guessing and speculation about how it might impact his clubhouse credibility. But with Maddon and Montero declaring their Andreoli Italian Grocer summit a success, gonzo strength and conditioning coordinator Tim Buss cruising onto the field in a Ferrari for the first wacky stunt of 2017 and Cactus League games beginning on Saturday, it's time to remember that the Cubs still have their manager's back.

"Everyone says they don't see or read anything," pitcher Jake Arrieta said. "We see and hear a lot of the stuff. But I just think that critics are going to find holes in something always.

"Joe was our leader all year last year. He obviously set the tone in spring training and gives us all these freedoms that help us play the way we played. So the people that matter — and know what Joe's about — are on the same page with his philosophies.

"The way he expresses himself to us is the most important thing. And we stand behind him. We trust that he's going to do what's in our best interest. And we know that any decision he makes is geared towards trying to help us win."

Within the last two seasons, the Cubs have won 200 games, five playoff rounds and their first World Series title since the Theodore Roosevelt administration. Maddon readily admits that the scouting and development wings of Theo Epstein's front office did most of the heavy lifting and credits the strong coaching staff he largely inherited. Spending more than $475 million on free agents like Jon Lester and Ben Zobrist certainly helped.

But all this doesn't happen without Maddon and the environment he created. The Cubs Way absolutely needed a ringmaster for this circus.

Arrieta developed into a Cy Young Award winner. Kyle Hendricks transformed into an ERA leader. Kris Bryant burst onto the scene as a Rookie of the Year and the National League MVP. Addison Russell became an All-Star shortstop by the age of 22. Maddon didn't prejudge Javier Baez, immediately appreciating the dazzling array of skills and super-utility possibilities.

Surprised by the Maddon backlash?

"Yes and no," All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. "Because there needs to be a story. But what he did — people who are real involved know that since Day 1, he came in and he set the tone.

"He completely flipped the way people think, the way we believe, and everyone has bought into it. The credit he deserves — he gets a lot of it — but I don't think he gets enough of it. Because he lets me be me. He lets Javy be Javy.

"Willson (Contreras), Kris and Addie — everyone has their different personalities. He understands that. And it's not easy to do."

It's such an impossible job, at times, that even Cubs officials and players have acknowledged their frustrations with some of Maddon's in-game decisions and communication gaps. This can't just be written off as a media creation. But imagine the grumbling if the Cubs didn't have a leader with seven 90-win seasons and three Manager of the Year awards on his resume.

"We have a competitive group of guys," Hoyer said. "Every guy wants to be on the field at the right time. Every guy wants to be on the roster. Every guy wants to pitch in winning games.

"That's not realistic sometimes. It comes from a great place. It doesn't come from a place of selfishness. It comes from a place of: 'I want to contribute to winning.'

"The meetings we've had have been awesome. Our camp is unbelievably focused. We are just as focused as last year. I really don't look at it as a negative."

The last word from Maddon, who turned 63 this month and has a $25 million contract, a wide range of off-the-field interests and the championship ring that will make him a legend in Chicago forever, no matter what kind of heat he took this winter.

"Stuff like that doesn't bother me at all," Maddon said. "Regardless of what people may have thought — like any other game that I worked all year long — I had it planned out like that before the game began. So it wasn't anything I tried to do differently game in progress. Had I not done what I thought I was supposed to do — then I would have second-guessed myself.

"So, no, I have no problem with that. I really don't mind the second-guessing from anybody. I kind of encourage it. Please go ahead and do it, because I'll take that kind of second-guessing after winning a World Series on an annual basis. Thank you very much."

Kris Bryant: Major League Baseball could be going down 'slippery slope' with rules changes

Kris Bryant: Major League Baseball could be going down 'slippery slope' with rules changes

MESA, Ariz. – Kris Bryant has led a charmed baseball life – Golden Spikes Award winner, Arizona Fall League MVP, consensus minor league player of the year, two-time All-Star, Hank Aaron Award winner, National League Rookie of the Year and MVP and World Series champion – all before his 25th birthday last month.

So, no, the Cubs superstar doesn't see the need for any dramatic overhaul to a sport that's desperately trying to connect with Bryant's demographic and keep up at a time when iPhones are killing everyone's attention spans and the entertainment options are endless.            

"I love the way it is," Bryant before Wednesday's workout at the Sloan Park complex.

Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred essentially fired a warning shot during Tuesday's Cactus League media event at the Arizona Biltmore, threatening to unilaterally impose pace-of-play changes – think pitch clock, limited mound visits, new strike zone – for the 2018 season if the players' union doesn't cooperate.

The first reported difference is the traditional four-pitch intentional walk turning into a dugout signal, which seems to be more of a cosmetic change than an actual efficiency measure.

"You're in the box, you want to force someone to make a pitch," said Bryant, who remembered Anthony Rizzo’s 10th-inning matchup against Cleveland Indians reliever Bryan Shaw. "Just the World Series, for example, when 'Rizz' got intentionally walked. There were a couple that were low. What if the ball got away? That's huge. Especially in that type of situation – Game 7 of the World Series – you want to put pressure on the pitcher any way you can.

"It seems like it's not stressful at all, but any time you're not throwing at full effort for a pitcher, it seems like there's a chance that we could do damage on that."

That's actually Manfred's agenda in an age of grinding at-bats, specialized bullpens and defensive shifts – trying to create more action and eliminating some of the dead air more than simply cutting the length of games by a few minutes.

"The game's been the same to me since I was young, so I don't think there's anything wrong with it," Bryant said. "I think that's what makes our game great. It is a long game and we play 162 games a year and there's more strategy involved with it. I think it could be a slippery slope once you start changing all these things. 

"The people you really need to ask are the fans. The diehard fans are going to be the ones who oppose more changes. They're the ones who pay to watch us play. Those are the opinions that you need."

In using this power in the new collective bargaining agreement as leverage, Manfred is looking at the future of a $10 billion industry, insisting the game isn't broken when more than 75 million people visited major-league stadiums last season.

But even Cubs manager Joe Maddon – who’s usually open-minded and in tune with these kind of big-picture ideas – doesn’t get the pace-of-play focus.

"I'm not privy to all the reasons why it's so important," Maddon said. "It just appears to be important for the people in New York. My job is not to make those decisions. My job is to ultimately make the Cubs play well again, etc., so there are certain things that I don’t quite understand.

"If I had more interior information maybe you could be more supportive of it. On the surface – I've talked about it in the past – I don't really understand the pace-of-game issues because I don't really pay attention to that. I'm just locked into managing the game. The nine innings go 2 hours and 15 minutes, or 3 hours and 20, as long as you win, I don’t care.

"That's where I come from, but there's something obviously larger than that that's really causing a lot of these discussions. Again, from my office, I don't necessarily know what that is. But I do know new normals may occur."