Tribune Columnist: Tear down Wrigley Field


I’m with the Tribune’s Steve Chapman on the whole “tax dollars should not be used to renovate Wrigley Field” thing, but I’m not quite sure how this follows as a “b” to that “a”:

Wrigley is attractive and charming in many ways, but it’s like driving a vintage car: After a while, the novelty is not enough to justify the antiquated design. The ivy-covered walls and manually operated scoreboard have to be balanced against the cramped concourses, primitive restrooms, modest kitchen facilities and obstructed views.

To even think of replacing the nostalgia-drenched ballpark is heresy to diehard Cubs fans. But Yankee Stadium was even richer in history and tradition — winning tradition, by the way — when the Yankees abandoned it in 2008 . . . A new park would rid the Cubs of their maintenance headaches, while providing them better ways to relieve fans of cash — lots of luxury boxes, better dining, new shops and diversions. It would allow the team to hire better players and pamper them in style. The architect could lovingly re-create the treasured features of the existing stadium, while omitting the shortcomings.

If the Ricketts family is too cheap to put $200-$300 million of their own money into Wrigley Field, what makes anyone think that they’d put $500 million or more into the construction of a new park? And even if this guy wasn’t opposed to public money for the Cubs — which he is — what makes him think that any government would underwrite a new ballpark for them?

All of that said, a new ballpark for the Cubs would represent something entirely different than New Yankee Stadium represented for Yankees fans.  The Cubs experience is not just about Wrigley Field. Location accounts for a large part of it.  Unlike the Yankees, the Cubs couldn’t just build a new park across the street. If they could, that might even make a lot of sense.  No, if the Cubs were to get a new park it would be in, like, Naperville or Schaumburg or something.  And that would be about the most depressing thing ever.

New tax law could affect MLB trades

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Jim Tankersley of the New York Times notes that a tax law passed by Republicans could affect trades in Major League Baseball. The law added the word “real” to a certain line of tax code that now only allows real estate trades to qualify for tax immunity. Previously, certain assets like trucks and machinery could have been traded tax-free.

A perhaps unintended consequence of that change could mean baseball teams could have to pay capital gains taxes when they trade away and acquire players. MLB’s chief legal officer Dan Halem said, “There is no fair market value of a baseball player. There isn’t. I don’t really know what our clubs are going to do to address the issue. We haven’t fully figured it out yet. This is a change we hope was inadvertent, and we’re going to lobby hard to get it corrected.”

Tankersley wonders how players would be valued for the purposes of this tax law:

Mr. Verlander, for example, was clearly a more immediately valuable asset to the Astros than the three prospects they traded to get him. He gave up only four runs in his five regular-season starts for the team, then won four straight starts to begin the playoffs. In very simple terms, he brought value to the Astros in a trade, and had the new law been in place last year, the team would have owed taxes on that added value.

But what, exactly, was that value? Was it the size of his contract? Mr. Verlander earned $28 million last year, while the players traded for him drew minor-league salaries. Was it the additional wins he brought to the team? Statisticians estimate Mr. Verlander gave the Astros nearly two more wins last season, a value that, depending on the statistician, could reach $20 million. Or was it some calculation of the total future value Mr. Verlander will bring to the team, minus the total future value it gave up in the prospects it traded away — and possibly adjusted for the amount the team will have to pay Mr. Verlander?

Complicating matters further is that teams value players differently, and one player might help a certain team far more than another team. A struggling club with a surplus of starting pitchers might trade one to a playoff contender in desperate need of one, in exchange for position players who could improve a struggling lineup. In that case, both teams could, reasonably, be considered to have gained value in the trade, and thus would owe taxes on it.

Republicans said they weren’t trying to hamstring sports teams, but that’s exactly what they might have done here. It seems likely that the law will eventually be amended to exempt sports teams, given that leagues like the MLB and NBA are enormous and worth so much money. Whether that will be done in a reasonable amount of time is another question entirely.