Asking $9.8 million for one small home near Wrigley Field

The property near Wrigley Field is getting quite valuable – at least according to the asking price:

In the world of real estate, location means everything. But does a property around the corner from Wrigley Field command $9.8 million? The sellers of 3710 N Kenmore Ave. realize that there is much more to the property than the two-story frame house that sits on it. The property has some potential to earn a few bucks and the listing agent is suggesting that investors consider erecting rooftop advertising (specifically a digital billboard) on the site. The Ricketts family have famously scooped up several of the surrounding rooftop properties, but this property is billing itself as one of the few that is not under the control of the Cubs organization. Broker Amy Duong of Jameson Sotheby’s Intl Realty tells us that the seller has been paying attention to sales in the neighborhood, notably the McDonald’s parking lot that the Ricketts family paid $20 million for. Duong also tells us that there’s no mistake in the price in the listing and the seller is fine with sitting on the house until a reasonable offer comes forth.

Perhaps the asking price was influenced by the success of the team this past season. More wins and young talent mean that property values may go up even more. In contrast, look at the land near U.S. Cellular Field on Chicago’s South Side. While that land is not easily converted to party/retail/restaurant space like the properties near Wrigley, imagine if the team was good for a number of years. Wouldn’t businesses and residents want to be part of the scene?

I’m guessing the property won’t sell soon for anywhere near this initial price but why not ask for the moon while the team is winning and the owners are spending money on property and renovations?

Suburbs wooing the Chicago Cubs highlights the regional nature of sports teams and stadiums

The Chicago Cubs moving out of the city seems unlikely. But, that hasn’t stopped several Chicago suburbs from suggesting they would be willing to work out a deal with the Cubs to build a new stadium:

What the soliciting suburbs believe — and sources close to the Cubs confirm — is that the siblings of Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts are souring on Chicago and growing increasingly concerned the deal will be modified in a way that denies the team the revenue it needs to renovate Wrigley without a public subsidy…

“If this deal looks like it’s going down in flames or not getting done in a reasonable time, Tom will invest in ‘Plan B’ locations. He’d still work with the mayor on a city site. But, maybe not in Wrigleyville. I know people don’t believe it. But, it’s true,” the Cubs source said…

Aides to Mayor Rahm Emanuel privately dismissed this week’s public solicitation from DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin as a Cubs-orchestrated negotiating ploy.

“This is all manufactured to gain leverage,” said a top mayoral aide, who asked to remain anonymous.

Last month, Ricketts threatened to move his team out of Wrigley and Chicago if he doesn’t get the outfield signs he needs to bankroll a $300 million stadium renovation without a public subsidy.

This comes after the announcement this week that DuPage County has two potential sites for the Cubs. But, little extra information about these plans were provided.

But, I think a more interesting take is the regional nature of sports teams and stadiums. Sports teams these days are really regional entities, particularly considering that more people live in the suburbs than central cities. It is unusual to have a team like the Cubs so closely tied to a specific neighborhood. Additionally, cities often see sports stadiums as economic engines, even though research suggests spending lots of taxpayer dollars on stadiums doesn’t pay off for communities. On one hand, it is not all that different than fighting over big box stores or corporate headquarters because of the supposed economic benefits. Yet, on the other hand it is a constant status symbol. Could the city of Chicago really afford in terms of prestige to lose the Cubs? I don’t think so. Would a suburb get a big status boost from hosting the Cubs? Possibly. If a suburb was able to woo the Cubs, I imagine they would trumpet this fact and try to build around it for decades.

This has happened before in Chicago. When the Chicago Bears were looking for a new stadium from the 1970s to the early 1990s, several suburbs were involved. The Bears ended up getting a decent enough deal from the city to stay. (Maybe they should have pushed harder. They have the smallest NFL stadium in terms of seats and with it also being an open-air facility, this limits its Super Bowl possibilities in the future. Also, the facility is still owned by the Chicago Park District and this has led to issues over the years.) Again, it is hard to imagine the Chicago Bears, a historic NFL franchise, playing out in the suburbs next to a major highway. What would have been a boon for a suburb would have been a big perceived loss for Chicago.

In the end, these sorts of negotiations can pit cities against suburbs in similar ways to fighting over business opportunities. But, rather than arguing about just money, sports teams are viewed as public goods that belong to a region. Perhaps the worst possible outcome is for the region to lose a team to another region altogether. The second worst outcome might be for the big city to lose the stadium to an upstart suburb.

The sociological pitch for the Oakland A’s: green-collar baseball

We have blue-collar, white-collar, and pink-collar. In time for Opening Day of the 2011 baseball season, how about “green-collar baseball“:

There’s a sociological genius at work in the Oakland Athletics marketing department. The current slogan for the franchise, “green collar baseball,” speaks volumes about the culture of the bay area, and why I have become such a devoted fan of the Oakland A’s…

Across the Bay Bridge, you’ll find a better stadium (AT&T Park), a team with a higher payroll, fancier concessions, and fancier fans. You’ll find doctors, lawyers, and San Francisco techie types taking in an afternoon game, reveling in the see and be seen crowd. On the San Francisco side, baseball is very much en vogue. If you search hard enough, you might even find a fan in the crowd who can tell you what a change-up is or explain the infield fly rule.

Trot back over to the Oakland side, and you’ll see where that marketing slogan is coming from. The Oakland Coliseum is clearly a Soviet spin on the baseball stadium, a concrete gulag if there ever was one. The concession options are minimal, the team operates on a shoestring payroll, and the fans are decidedly less cosmopolitan.

All these shortcomings are what bring me to love the authentic experience of Oakland Athletics baseball, and loathe the corporate, plasticized feel of the Giants. There’s an old Taoist saying that it’s “better to be alive in the mud than dead in the palace.” Count me as one who’s happiest to feel alive in the mud of the Oakland A’s.

Having spent time watching both the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park and the Oakland Athletics at Oakland-Alameda County Stadium, I have a few thoughts on this subject:

1. There is no comparison in stadiums: AT&T Park is nice and has great views while the A’s play in a concrete circle. One website goes so far as to say that the A’s stadium “represents everything that’s wrong with baseball stadiums.

2. The two teams do seem to have differences in the number of fans: AT&T Park is regularly full while the A’s struggle to even fill the bottom portion of the stadium, even when the team was good in the early 2000s.

3. Both teams have potential: the Giants, of course, won the World Series last year while the A’s seem to have put together a dark horse candidate to win the AL West based around young pitching (just like the Giants). The baseball in each place should be relatively similar.

4. San Francisco and Oakland are very different kinds of cities. Both have a grittiness to them but Oakland is known for crime and gangs while San Francisco has more glittering pieces. Ultimately, I think this is really what is behind this idea of “green-collar baseball”: Giants’ fans are painted as plastic because this is how Oakland residents view their neighbor across the bay. Oakland, both the city and its baseball team, are the underdogs, the team with a limited number of fans, limited funds, and a limited stadium. What is sociological about the use of this marketing slogan is that it invokes issues of social class and status.

I wonder if these sorts of descriptions only pop only in cities that have multiple franchises in the same sport. Almost the same argument occurs in Chicago: the Cubs fans are only at Wrigley Field because it is the cool thing to do while the White Sox fans are the working class people who really care about baseball.

Scorecasting looks at data: Cubs not unlucky, just bad

The recently published book Scorecasting (read a quick summary here) has a chapter that tackles the question of whether the Chicago Cubs are cursed or not. Their conclusion after looking at the data: the team has simply been bad.

But how can anyone disprove the existence of a curse? According to the authors, teams that frequently field good teams but finish in second place, or make the playoffs but fail to win a title, justifiably can claim to be unlucky. So, too, can teams that have impressive batting, hitting and defensive statistics, but whose strong numbers don’t translate into victories.

On both scores, the Cubs proved to be “less unlucky” than the average team. That is, not unlucky, just bad.

“Relative to other teams, we could easily explain the Cubs lack of success from the data — both their on the field statistics and where they finished in the standings,” Moscowitz said.

Since their last Series appearance in 1945, the Cubs have finished second fewer times than they have finished first. They also have finished last or next to last close to 40 percent of the time. According to the book, the odds of this happening by chance are 527 to 1.

The authors of “Scorecasting” believe that what has been stopping the Cubs the last three decades is the extreme loyalty of their fans, which has served to reduce the incentive for Cubs management to win.

According to their analysis, which is primarily based on attendance records and the team’s won-loss percentage from 1982-2009, Cubs fans are the least sensitive to the team’s winning percentage, while White Sox fans are among the most sensitive.

There are two interesting arguments going on here, both of which commonly come up in conversation in Chicago:

1. The data suggests that the Cubs have just been a bad team. It is not as if they have reached the playoffs or World Series multiple times and lost. It is not that they have impressive statistics and this hasn’t translated into wins. They just haven’t been very good. It would be interesting to read the rest of this chapter to see if the authors talk about the MLB teams that have been truly unlucky. I don’t know if a chapter like this will put the talk of a Cubs curse to rest but it is good to hear that there is data that could quiet the curse talk. (But perhaps the curse is what Cubs fans want to believe – it means that the team or the fans aren’t at fault.)

2. Cubs fans like to think that they are loyal while White Sox fans argue that Cubs fans will go to Wrigley Field no matter what. So is the answer for more Cubs fans to stay away from the ballpark until the team and the Ricketts show that they are serious about winning?

Like Cubs fans wanted the reminder: seventh anniversay of Bartman incident

Seven years ago today, the lives of Steve Bartman and the Chicago Cubs became inextricably linked. It was a sad night, one I remember vividly – in a span of mere minutes, the Cubs went from World Series hopefuls to unlovable losers.

But beyond the emotions (which apparently are still running high), it is interesting to see how this has entered the collective memory of Cubs fans and other sports fans. The media is playing a role:

But fair or not, Bartman’s legacy remains intact, perpetuated by the national media. Fox Sports aired a promo for the 2010 NLCS that featured a freeze-frame shot of Bartman going for the ball. ESPN had scheduled Academy Award winning filmmaker Alex Gibney’s documentary on Bartman for their “30-30” series to coincide with the start of the World Series.

But the film, entitled “Catching Hell,” was recently pushed back from Oct. 26 to some time in 2011 at the request of Gibney. No air date has been scheduled, an ESPN spokesman said.

In the narrative of Cubs fandom, Bartman has become an interesting figure, an innocent fan who became a scapegoat for the futility of a popular franchise. Why exactly do Cubs fans need or want a scapegoat? Why is Cubs management (the Ricketts) still even talking about the curse and wanting a manager who understand all of this backstory?

The narrative of sports is almost more important than the events or outcomes themselves.One important event can lead to a long-standing narrative of triumph or defeat. Particularly during the long baseball season, fans are consistently engaged with historical moments and what-ifs. To be a true fan means one truly has the ability to know the narrative and to fully buy into it as a story worth telling and retelling. And narratives between teams can be similar (though never exactly the same – the pain of Cleveland vs. the pain of Chicago Cubs fan is interesting to think about): Gibney is a Red Sox fan who became interested in the Bartman story because he saw similarities with what happened to Bill Buckner.

Even this Chicago Tribune article becomes part of the ritual: we must reconsider what Bartman means.

Assessing the final Cubs home game

My wife and I were in attendance at the Cubs final home game yesterday, an 8-7 loss at the hands of the St. Louis Cardinals. Some thoughts on watching a fifth place team on a chilly day in late September:

1. It was still fun to be at Wrigley Field. Despite the chilly weather, there was still a good crowd (though nowhere near the 38,000 announced). The baseball game was interesting as the Cubs rallied late to close within one run but the Cardinals escaped.

1a. Even athletic events with bad teams can be entertaining: we saw lots of walks and runs. One thing that keeps me going through a 162-game baseball season is the possibility of seeing something new/extraordinary/odd.

2. And yet there was a wistfulness in the air: another Cubs season has gone by the wayside. The energy of having new owners has worn off. The buzz from the 2007 and 2008 teams making the playoffs has worn off. The rosters for both teams, particularly the Cubs pitching staff, were full of Triple-A players. In contrast to the optimism of Opening Day and April (where it can also be chilly and grey), there was no optimism here.

2a. I admit that I have not kept up with the Cubs in recent months. Part of this is due to being busy at work but it is mostly due to the team being out of contention for a long time. It was good to reconnect for an afternoon and think about what the 2011 Cubs might look like.

2b. If the 2009 season wasn’t enough to convince people that the Cubs are not a consistent contending team (which was the thought after the 2007 and 2008 season), this 2010 should be proof. The 2011 Cubs will be young and they need to start over agin.

3. There were quite a few Cardinals fans in the stands. I think one side effect of websites like StubHub is it means more fans from more places can buy tickets to games rather than having to make a long drive and hope you can get decent tickets. In games that I have been to this year in Atlanta, St. Louis, and Chicago, there has been a decent amount of fans from the opposing team. (This might also be due to the mobility of the American people – there might legitimately be a decent number of Dodgers fans living in Atlanta these days.) Even though there was some back and forth between the fans (like when Albert Pujols was intentionally walked twice or the Cubs were making a comeback), the Cardinals fans weren’t too energetic as well.

Finding community in the Wrigley bleachers

In the midst of a gloomy Cubs season, a new book titled Wrigley Regulars: Finding Community in the Bleachers might provide some hope. Not written by just a normal fan, it is written by an anthropologist. The website Bleed Cubbie Blue provides some insights into the book’s content:

Before I tell you about this book, you should know a couple of things. First, Holly Swyers, who is an assistant professor of anthropology at Lake Forest College, is one of the “Wrigley Regulars” and has been a personal friend of mine for more than ten years. She asked me (and other regulars) to read through her drafts to make sure all the facts were correct, and that means you’ll find things about me (and about this site) in the book. It’s also written not just about baseball and the Wrigley bleachers, but it’s designed to be a college-level sociology/anthropology textbook about communities and how they come together…

This book is highly recommended for anyone who’s a Cubs fan — or baseball fan — to understand why some of us spend so much time in the bleachers. Yes, it’s about baseball, but as Holly points out, it’s also about community and those you get to know so well over the course of many baseball seasons become family. We all found this out just within the last week, when someone who is a bleacher season ticket holder and one of the “Wrigley Regulars” became seriously ill. The outpouring of love and concern I saw everyone show is a perfect example of the family and community that Holly writes about.

A couple of quick thoughts:

1. This sounds like a fun research task.

2. I haven’t read the book but I’ll take a quick guess at the premise: American community has declined over time as we have become more individualized and separated from others. Here, in the unlikely setting of the Wrigley Field bleachers, strangers came together, not just for Cubs game but for authentic social relationships that transcended typical social categories that tend to separate people (social class, age, gender, etc.).

3. The plug from Bleed Cubbie Blue brings up an interesting point: sports isn’t just about competition and winning for fans. Perhaps for males in particular, sports allows people to build bonds over an external focus. A friendly relationship or community can develop without having to sit down and have deep conversations.