Posts Tagged ‘Chicago Cubs’

Stepping up to the political plate

April 7, 2013

Season’s greetings. As a lifelong (Met) fan and reforming sportswriter, the start of the baseball season is always a reason for optimism and excitement. Every baseball game brings some unexpected pleasure, whether it’s an improbable hero, an unlikely play, or, at the very least, verdant candy for the mind and eyes. Every season unfolds in unexpected ways, such as last year’s turnaround of the Baltimore Orioles, after years of losing and alienating a wonderful baseball town, and the championship trophy for their fellow wearers of the black and orange, the San Francisco Giants, for the second time in three years.

The Giants and Orioles are also among the heavy hitters when it comes to political contributions by their owners and employees. It’s not surprising that baseball teams make political pitches. Nearly all of them play in publicly funded stadiums (the Giants are a welcome exception) and derive a host of other benefits from government – who do you think pays for those exit ramps into the parking lot?

Five teams’ associates contributed more than a $1 million during the 2011-12 political cycle, according the Sunlight Foundation, with baseball’s total political giving topping $24 million. Only one team eschewed political contributions altogether, the Toronto Blue Jays, which play in a different political league. Donations skew more than three to one toward Republicans, not surprising since rich people own teams (as well as play for them).

The Chicago Cubs haven’t won a World Series in more than a century, but they took the championship for 2012 political donations. With billionaire chairman Joe Ricketts leading the way, the Cubs were tied to $13.9 million in contributions, more than the rest of the teams and Major League Baseball’s headquarters combined.

An investment banker whose father founded discount broker Ameritrade, Ricketts created the Ending Spending Action fund and reportedly authored The Defeat of Barack Hussein Obama: The Ricketts Plan to End His Spending for Good. Ricketts later abandoned the plan, but kept on giving to Republicans.

To his credit, Ricketts is sticking to his political principles in efforts to renovate Wrigley Field, the Cubs’ home ballpark that turns 100 next year. His $300 million plan doesn’t ask for a dime of public money. In fact, continuing a long tradition of what could look to outsiders like shakedowns, local politicians and community groups expect the Cubs to fork over close to $1 million to compensate Wrigley’s neighbors for the annoyances and inconveniences a baseball team can cause.

Ricketts’ plan also envisions goring a few holy cows (none of Harry Caray’s, of course), including limiting the once quaint, now thoroughly commercialized practice of watching the Cubs from the roof of houses across the street by adding a state of the art video screen behind the bleacher seats. He also wants permission for more night games – until 1988 the Cubs played all day games at home, having scrapped plans to install lights and donating the steel to the US war effort after the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.

According to media reports, the Cubs and Chicago are close to a $500 million renovation plan that will also include a parking garage, without a cent of public money. When the deal is finalized, Ricketts will likely share the stage for the announcement with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, former chief of staff to the US president Ricketts tried so hard to oust. Perhaps Ricketts will eventually yield on one principle and gives some money to a Democratic politician. Baseball makes strange bedfellows.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

Business wisdom from Dr Willie Mays

October 27, 2009

I started out at the bottom of the baseball world – I was a fan. I became a baseball writer, covered several World Series and wrote a couple of books as well as countless articles on America’s national pastime before I moved on to television and business reporting. At one stage I was a columnist for the award-winning shareholder rights website Occasionally I found lessons for investors from baseball history and legend. Here’s a column I wrote in December 2000 that I’d like to share on the eve of what promises to be an exciting 2009 World Series. (A note on the headline: a couple of years ago, for no apparent reason, my alma mater Yale awarded an honorary doctorate to Willie Mays, baseball’s greatest living player.)

Tommie Agee, centerfielder and leadoff hitter for the 1969 world champion New York Mets, died of a heart attack Monday at age 58, too young. I last saw Agee about 15 years ago, in the offices of New York’s Queens Borough President, where he was trying to find funding for a program for the underprivileged. A native of Mobile, Alabama, Agee embraced the city that embraced him, and as an alumnus of baseball before free agency, he needed to earn a living after his playing days and opted for a town where he remained a famous name.

Agee was the offensive leader on a team that won an unlikely championship with pitching and defense. After Agee sparked a victory over the Chicago Cubs, the team that looked to be running away with the National League’s Eastern Division in the summer of 1969, Chicago’s pitcher threw at Agee’s head in his first at bat the next day. Agee dove headlong into the dirt to avoid the bean ball, dusted himself off, and tripled, a symbolic moment that showed the Mets would not go away.

In Game Three of the 1969 World Series, Agee had what might have been the greatest day in Series history. (And as a 13 year old cutting school for a seat in the upper deck at the first fall classic game ever at Shea Stadium, it was certainly my greatest day in World Series history.) Agee homered leading off against the Baltimore Orioles’ Hall of Fame pitcher and underwear model Jim Palmer, then singlehandedly made that run stand up. In the fourth inning, Agee sprinted, back to home plate, to catch a slicing drive high above his head, backhanded, that saved two runs. In the seventh inning, his diving catch on the warning track with the bases loaded saved at least three runs. The Mets won 5-0, for a 2-1 Series lead, and put the Orioles away within 48 hours to win a most improbable championship.

But this Commentary is not about Tommie Agee or the indomitability of the human spirit that made the 1969 Mets the flesh and blood version of the little engine that could. Agee’s grabs drew immediately comparisons with the greatest in World Series history: Sandy Amoros’ mad dash in 1955 through a vacant leftfield in Yankee Stadium to pull in Yogi Berra’s bid for an opposite field home run; Brooklyn’s Al “Gionfrioddo goes back, back, back and makes a one-handed catch against the bullpen; oooh, doctor,” as Red Barber called it, to pluck Joe DiMaggio’s drive in 1947 (in a rare display of emotion on the field, DiMaggio kicked the dirt as he rounded second base, his sure home run transformed into out number three); and what is generally regarded as the greatest robbery ever, Willie Mays—whose 1972 acquisition by the Mets ran Agee out of town temporarily—on Vic Wertz in the 1954 classic.

Tie game, eighth inning, two men on. Indians slugger Wertz already has three hits off Giants’ starter Sal Maglie, so New York manager Leo Durocher calls for a relief pitcher, lefthander Don Liddle. Wertz says he never hit a ball harder, into the vast expanse of the Polo Grounds’ centerfield, where the fence was nearly 500 feet from home plate and the steps up to the clubhouse were in play. Mays chased down the drive like a wide receiver, made the catch with his back to the infield about 460 feet from the launch point, then threw a strike that kept the runner on second from scoring. Many witnesses (including Mickey Mantle worshipper Bob Costas) place Mays’ play in the realm of the impossible; there is no way a ball hit that hard and far could be caught.

The lesson for investors doesn’t come from Mays or Wertz, but from the pitcher, Liddle. After the catch, the Giants manager Leo Durocher went to the mound to remove Liddle, since he’d given up a blast that would have been a home run in any other park, including Yellowstone. As was the custom in those days, Liddle waited on the mound until his replacement came in from the bullpen. When the new pitcher reached the mound, Liddle offered these words of encouragement: “I got my guy.”

Sometimes the bottom line doesn’t quite get to the bottom of things.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.

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