What $500 Million Wrigley Field Renovation Plan Means for Chicago Cubs and MLB

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterApril 6, 2013

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 05:  A fan snaps a photo outside of Wrigley Field before the opening day game between the Chicago Cubs and the Washington Nationals at Wrigley Field on April 5, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. The Nationals defeated the Cubs 2-1.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Chicago Cubs are ready to spruce up Wrigley Field. When they do, they'll be looking to usher in an entirely new era of Cubs baseball.

But first, the news itself.

Fran Spielman of the Chicago Sun-Times reported this week that the Chicago Cubs and City Hall are expected to nail down a $500 million deal that would permit the organization to make renovations to Wrigley Field.

Among the proposals: "At least two new signs inside the ballpark—including a video scoreboard in left field—and building a 300-space parking garage."

A "video scoreboard" would translate into "jumbotron" in baseball terms. Like that little old lady down the street, Wrigley Field is finally ready to go HD.

The addition of a jumbotron might impact the views from the rooftop clubs across the street from Wrigley Field, but Spielman noted that negotiators are still working on ways to lessen the impact a jumbotron would have.

The rooftop clubs themselves, for the record, are likely to be allowed to "continue operating for the 11-year 'duration' of their revenue-sharing agreement with the Cubs." 

There will be some complaints when the deal is finalized. You can count on that. The 99-year-old Wrigley Field is a sacred place for many, and some are no doubt going to argue that the ballpark will be tarnished once the renovations are made.

Everyone else, however, is going to acknowledge the truth: Wrigley Field is well overdue for a proper face lift, and administering one isn't necessarily going to destroy the ballpark's charm.

Case in point: Fenway Park. The ideal scenario involves Wrigley Field becoming just like it in spirit.

Extensive renovations haven't sapped Fenway's charm. Within the last decade, seats have been added to the Green Monster and up beyond right field, and numerous other tweaks have been made as well. Despite the changes, Fenway still looks and feels like one of baseball's most precious treasures, and the local fans still love it.

That reality puts a smile on Major League Baseball's face. Fenway Park is the oldest ballpark in the business, yet it's not out of its league compared to the all the fancy-pants stadiums that have popped up in the last 20 years.

It may not have the same kind of space-station sophistication of places like Marlins Park and the new Yankee Stadium, but Fenway strikes a balance between nostalgia and new-age that is decidedly unique among MLB's 30 ballparks.

Until the renovations to Wrigley Field are complete, that is.

Judging from the concept illustrations Maury Brown of BizofBaseball.com got his hands on in January, a balance between nostalgia and new-age is what the Cubs are going for. If they pull it off, then MLB will house two sacred baseball cathedrals that are well-adapted for modern times.

So MLB surely isn't going to take issue with a newly face-lifted Wrigley Field, and I'm guessing that even the most traditional traditionalists are going to come around eventually. They and the other locals are going to keep coming out to the yard.

It's the "keep coming out" part that gives Cubs owner Tom Ricketts the warm fuzzies.

Ricketts has offered to bankroll $300 million without a public subsidy for the renovations. Assuming he does, he won't be gambling a couple hundred million bucks on the hope that the changes will bring the fans out to the yard in greater numbers. 

That's not an issue with the Cubs. Per Baseball-Reference.com, the Cubs have finished in the top five in the National League in attendance every year since 2003. There have been some rough seasons along the way, but they haven't caused Cubs fans to abandon ship in great numbers.

The greater impact of extensive renovations to Wrigley Field could be to the team itself. Changing the ballpark around may not greatly alter attendance numbers, but it could greatly alter the Cubs' fortunes on the field.

Ameet Sachdev and Hal Dardick of the Chicago Tribune noted in late March that the Ricketts family has said that revenue generated by improvements to the ballpark would help finance both further improvements to the ballpark and to the team itself.

Reading between the lines, the indication there is that renovations to Wrigley Field could help the Cubs more easily afford big-money free agents down the line. That is something the Cubs presumably are going to be interested in once their rebuild has resulted in a worthwhile ballclub.

But the renovations aren't just about generating revenue the Cubs can spend on free agents. They're also about putting the players they already have in a position to play better baseball.

Spielman's report doesn't make it entirely clear how far the proposed renovations are going to go, but Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune reported in January that the Cubs were looking to make improvements that would directly benefit the players.

Such as: "expanded suites and amenities...including a larger home clubhouse, batting cages and additional training facilities."

One of the conceptual illustrations at BizofBaseball.com (see above) shows that new batting tunnels would be placed right next to the home clubhouse, which would be completely redone to resemble your typical 21st-century clubhouse.

This must sound like a sweet deal to current Cubs players, not to mention the prospects the team has standing by in its farm system—which ESPN's Keith Law has ranked as the fifth best in baseball. Cubs players have long had to endure baseball's worst home clubhouse, and now the organization is looking to change that.

“We’re paying them a lot of money to preserve their bodies,” general manager Jed Hoyer told Sullivan. “We’re expecting them to go out and entertain us every single night over the course of the summer. This is the way we should treat them—as first-class athletes.”

It's not just the proposed renovations that are going to benefit the players if this deal gets done. Spielman noted in his report that Ricketts is only going to put up $300 million for the renovations if the city lifts restrictions on night games (as well as other restrictions). If the renovations are made, it's going to be a package deal that also calls for the Cubs to play fewer day games.

The Cubs are only allowed to play a maximum of 30 night games per season. Spielman has it from sources that Mayor Rahm Emanuel is prepared to move the maximum to "40 or more."

Fewer day games would be another change that would get the traditionalist fans all riled up, but it would be just fine by the players. 

"It's not an easy place to play over the course of 81 games. It takes its toll," former Cubs outfielder Juan Pierre told USA Today in 2010.

Former Cubs hurler Kerry Wood took it one step further in a CSN Chicago interview last summer, saying that day games are the main reason the Cubs have never been able to win. He noted that the heavy slate of day games is particularly hard on position players, whose bodies can't recover as well. 

So when the deal to renovate Wrigley Field is finalized, the big picture won't just be about making the place look good next to all the other ballparks in MLB. It's also going to be about changing Cubs baseball for the better.

It's been 104 years since the Cubs have won the World Series, and the smart money is on the drought reaching 105 this year. But give the organization's current leadership credit: They're going all-out to make sure the drought comes to an end as soon as possible.

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