March 21, 2013
If there's one surefire way for a lowly Chicago alderman to surpass the worldwide fame of Michael Jordan and Al Capone, it's this:
All the alderman has to do is help drive the Chicago Cubs out of town into the waiting, trembling arms of suburban Rosemont.
Hey, Cubs fans.
Ald. Lingonberry is your man.
He's actually Ald. Tom Tunney, 44th, owner of the famed Ann Sather restaurant chain that serves up those delicious Swedish breakfasts. My family is partial to the sticky buns and the pancakes with little tart lingonberries.
Also on the menu is pickled herring. But I'll be damned if I refer to a Chicago politician as Ald. Pickled Herring. So he's Ald. Lingonberry to me.
Lately, the alderman has been busy siding with his political contributors, the owners of the rooftops outside Wrigley Field, and making things difficult for the Ricketts family to spend millions of its own money to refurbish its own ballpark.
Not just a few millions. Hundreds of millions. The Ricketts family that owns the Cubs says it wants to spend $500 million of their own cash on Wrigley Field.
That's $300 million on that beautiful relic of a ballpark, and another $200 million to build a hotel. Not with tax money. With their own money.
But Ald. Lingonberry is worried about his buddies, the rooftop owners. They make their cash by poaching the Cubs' product from across the street.
Some think the rooftops actually add to the ambience of Wrigley Field because they demonstrate the yearning that fans have for the Friendly Confines. They love it so much that they're willing to pay just to be close.
But I call it poaching. Legal poaching, perhaps, but poaching just the same.
Let's say that you ordered a prizefight or concert on pay-per-view, and your neighbors charged their friends to sit in their yard and peek through your window to enjoy the action on your TV.
What would you think? You'd think they were weasels.
Granted, it was quite dumb of the Cubs, when they were owned by Tribune Co., to agree to a deal with the rooftop owners. First, Tribune Co. tried raising a so-called security screen to block the rooftop view. It was a public relations disaster. The crafty rooftop owners were backed by the Tribune Co.'s loud and righteously indignant media competitors, and they all shrieked like skinned cats.
So a contract was signed. The rooftop owners offered 17 percent of their reported earnings to the Cubs for the poaching rights. The Ricketts family, which inherited the arrangement, doesn't like it. Who would? The Rickettses would rather make money from adding new signs, even if they block the rooftop views. But Tunney wants his boys protected.
And that's why the Rosemont option — a story broken earlier this week by WGN radio sportscaster David Kaplan — ratchets up the pressure on Ald. Lingonberry.
Rosemont Mayor Brad Stevens is offering the Cubs 25 free acres to build a new stadium in the suburb. Rosemont, with highways and rail access, is perfect for the Cubs.
Now, I don't really have a stake in this drama. I'm a fan of the White Sox, who won the World Series in 2005, in case the news hasn't reached the North Side yet. But I have to say that while it would be sad for many fans, it could make economic sense for the Cubs.
And it would show that when government puts the muscle on business, business often leaves.
If the Cubs go to Rosemont, they can't very well call their new ballpark "Wrigley Field Too." But they just might name it after a former state senator who still has great juju in Rosemont. How about Jimmy DeLeo Park?
In a move that further turned up the heat on the alderman, someone who was aggravated with his posturing — perhaps a nine-fingered mayor, or maybe even a North Side baseball club — leaked news to another paper.
The heretic Lingonberry had dared suggest removing the so-called iconic scoreboard in center field and replacing it with a jumbo TV. The arrangement would provide the Cubs with additional revenue, yes, but still protect the current rooftop views. This cockamamie notion was roundly mocked by the Cubs and just about everyone else with a soul.
Poor Ald. Lingonberry issued a statement saying it was just one idea among many and it was rejected, but the damage was done.
It's a good thing for the alderman that he's still got his popular pancakes and sticky buns.
"We're famous for our sticky buns," said Clemente, the fellow who answered the phone at Ann Sather's Belmont Avenue location. "They're very popular."
And even without a Jumbotron, Clemente knew how to keep score.
"In one day we could bake 15-20 sheets of 45 rolls each," he said, noting that a sticky bun costs only $1.50.
"And they're 6 inches by 6 inches," said he. "Those are big sticky buns."
They sure are, Clemente. And there will be plenty to go around after all the baseball fans have left for Rosemont.
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