DALLAS MAVERICKS owner Mark Cuban has this crazy idea: He wants to buy the Chicago Cubs, along with Wrigley Field and a piece of a sports channel, possibly by Opening Day. Baseball's old-boy network isn't jazzed about the notion, but I am. Here's why....
Because Cuban is a vigorous stirrer of pots. He questions authority (David Stern's fines be damned) and convention (why should referees be immune from critique?), and MLB's broth of staid thinking and uninspired leadership has congealed into sludge.
Because he won't turn Wrigley into GoDaddy.com Field. Don't laugh—Sam Zell, the takeover artist who's now running the parent Tribune Co., may sell the stadium separately and touts the naming rights as "extraordinarily valuable."
Because as an Indiana undergrad Cuban danced so energetically while out on the town that he answered to the nickname Disco and was known to carry an extra shirt. At 49, he remains more exuberant than 15 Peter Angeloses and a half dozen Robert Nuttings combined. (Don't know who Nutting is? My point exactly.)
January 14, 2008
Because Cuban would make Wrigley even fan-friendlier. He's hinted he would consider selling sponsorship for parts of the upper deck, then give away tickets to the seats. Can free beer for the bleachers be far behind?
Because I'm serious about the free beer idea. Really. Please make it Old Style.
Because Cuban is neither Bud's boy nor a baseball establishment man, both of which apply to the other potential buyer, mutual fund magnate John Canning Jr. Sorry, John, but you already own 11% of the Milwaukee Brewers and you're tight with commissioner Selig. No one at this table ordered More of the Same.
Because Bill O'Reilly hates Cuban, and I consider that anendorsement.
Because he would joust with Boston Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein, and it'd be nice to see somebody challenge that guy. How? Those who know Cuban say he'll only bite—the asking price is about $1 billion—if he thinks he can come close to breaking even while competing million-for-million with Boston. (The New York Yankees, majority owners of their TV network, are in a different league.)
Because unlike some owners (What's up, MJ!), Cuban is intimately involved with his team. When Mavs G.M. Donnie Nelson e-mails his boss, he usually gets a reply in less than five minutes. "And," says Nelson, "that's even when he's onvacation."
Because at American Airlines Center you can score a foot-tall Cuban doll that blurts out ref-berating catchphrases such as, "C'mon Dick, that's a horse-BEEP call!" Sure, an arena employee says, the Mavs' souvenir shop has to give them away as add-ons because "who wants a doll that swears at you?" Well, just wait for the Wrigley version, the one that warbles an off-key rendition of Take Me Out to the Ballgame.
Because Cuban doesn't patronize fans but instead—and here's a kooky idea—listens to them. Those novel three-sided shot clocks at AA Center? The idea came from a fan's e-mail. You know, the ones Cuban gets because he splashes his address on the JumboTron, then reads all the responses. (No screening, ever.) "How many other owners would read e-mails from fans, let alone pay attention to them?" asks Nelson. And that, boys and girls, is as rhetorical as questions get.
Because he'd be the only owner shagging flies during BP. "Sometimes," says Dallas forward Dirk Nowitzki, "I'll head down to the gym to shoot, and he's already there, shooting three-balls." Of course he is.
Because he'd fill the George Steinbrenner void. Hey, even if you detest Cuban you have to admit that he makes an entertaining villain. And in case you hadn't noticed, we're currently down one Hall of Fame bad guy right now.
Because this is the centennial of the Cubs' last championship season, and Cuban is one of the few who would see first the shame in that, rather than the novelty or nostalgia.
Because he doesn't run a mutual fund or a hedge fund or any other fund. He prefers fun, without the "d." This is a man who sits courtside in T-shirts and plays soccer inside his Dallas mansion.
Because of the first three letters of his last name.
Because this isn't just any franchise. These are the Cubbies, a team America needs to love just as it needs to hate the Yankees, a team that defines all that is right and good about baseball. A team that needs someone who gets It, not smothers It in business jargon until It lies crumpled on the floor, profit-modeled to death.
Because someone should tell the owners that supersized sluggers and a luxury-box mentality are things to be afraid of.
New blood isn't.
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As Cubs owner, Mark Cuban would make Wrigley even more fan-friendly. He'd consider selling sponsorship for the upper deck and giving away the tickets.