An update on Joe Ricketts pursuit of public funding for the Cubs

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UPDATE:   Commenter johnvmoore alerts me to a report that the Ricketts have withdrawn their request to the Illinois legislature for the $200 million in Wrigley updates.  It’s not official or anything, but that’s the buzz.

Also, he points me to this comment from the Huffington Post, in which Brian Baker of Taxpayers Against Earmarks says that federal spending and state spending are two different things, and that his group only cares about the federal stuff.  I’m assuming that this won’t make any laid-off state workers or schoolchildren with inadequately funded schools in Illinois feel any better about Mr. Ricketts’ request in the event it is not withdrawn, but that’s his distinction and he’s sticking to it.  I am also assuming that this Brian Baker is the same guy who emailed me this morning (see below).  Surprised he couldn’t have given me a comment like that this morning. I guess, though, if he had the opportunity to pass off an uncomfortable question onto his counterpart with the Cubs, he was more than willing to do so. Still no word from her.

4:00 P.M.: So, after I wrote that stuff about how the Ricketts Family appears to only hate government spending when it doesn’t directly benefit them, I sent an email to to Joe Ricketts’ anti-earmark group, Taxpayers Against Earmarks, asking for comment. My specific inquiry was this: whether Taxpayers Against Earmarks believes that it is inconsistent for its founder —  who is campaigning against wasteful government spending — to be seeking more than a quarter of a billion dollars of public money for the construction and/or improvement of facilities for the for-profit enterprise that he owns, the Chicago Cubs.

A couple of hours later I received a pleasant email from a man named Brian, who told me that I should contact the spokesman for the Ricketts’ family who handles inquiries related to the Chicago Cubs. While I think this relates to Taxpayers Against Earmarks too, I work the sports beat, so I let it pass, thanked him and called the number he provided me.

The person at the Ricketts’ PR group gave me a second number for a specific spokesperson. I called her, but got voice mail. I left a message saying that I am seeking comment from the Ricketts family as to whether they believe it is inconsistent to campaign against wasteful government spending while asking for public monies to pay for the improvements to Wrigley Field and the construction of the Cubs’ new spring training complex in Mesa, Arizona. As a followup I asked, in the event they do not believe that this is inconsistent, why such is the case.

It’s been about four hours now, and I haven’t heard word back.  I’ll let you know if that changes.  And if it does not change, I will continue to ask until someone says something, even if it’s to tell me to buzz off.

Sorry if this sort of thing bothers you. I know it doesn’t deal with bats and balls, but I find government spending on baseball facilities to be a pretty fascinating topic, and I think it deserves more scrutiny than it gets.  If I’m simply off base here, and there is a better explanation than I’ve heard so far as to why the Cubs should have their business facilities underwritten by tax dollars, I want to hear it.  If there is no good explanation for it I think that should be illuminated as well.  And that’s especially the case when the recipients of the underwriting are such hawks when it comes to the expenditure of public dollars when it benefits those other than the Chicago Cubs.

Columnist bashes Bryce Harper’s fundamentals, “write it,” says Nats player

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Tom Boswell of the Washington Post wrote a column over the weekend about how the 2019 Nats are looking really, really good. And for the most part it’s a column that makes a lot of sense. The Nats added some key pieces this offseason and, because so much of their underachieving 2018 season was based on health, particularly in the bullpen, there is reason to be optimistic this coming year.

There is one weird passage in the middle of the column, though: a swipe at Bryce Harper, his fundamentals and his attitude. The upshot: Boswell is arguing that losing Harper to free agency is addition by subtraction:

Though few mention it, subtracting Harper, while it will cost 34 homers, a .899 career OPS and some amazing hair flips, would help any team improve its attention to fundamentals. When the most famous player on the team can’t go 10 days without failing to run out a groundball or overthrowing a cutoff man by 15 feet or throwing to the wrong base or being caught unprepared in the outfield or on the bases, it’s hard to demand total alertness from the other 24.

“Write it,” one prominent Nats vet said.

The “Write it” is what has me most fascinated.

It could possibly be read in two different ways. One way would be for that to be the non-committal reaction of a player when Boswell bounced his Harper-is-a-slacker theory. Saying, in effect, “you write that if that’s your take.” It seems far more likely to me though, that Boswell is echoing the off-the-record sentiments of Harper’s former Nats teammates and the “write it” is an encouraging plea to give public voice to that which the player has chosen not to.

If it is the latter, this would only be the latest of many anonymously-sourced disgruntled sentiments from the Nats clubhouse over the years. Former manager Matt Williams had a full-scare revolt on his hands that made it into the media. Last year Dave Martinez’s clubhouse had someone saying negative things to the press as well, and it was so bad that GM Mike Rizzo sent off a useful reliever — at a time when the Nats really, really needed a useful reliever — because he was the suspected source. If Boswell is giving voice to some anti-Harper sentiment in Nats camp, it’s just more soap opera from a bunch that, historically, can’t seem to handle their issues in-house.

As for the substance: I don’t watch Harper as much as Nats fans do — and I can’t say that I’ve ever heard anyone describe him as some sort of lazy slacker — but sure, there are players who are more fundamentally sound than him. It’s also the case, though, that Harper has always been judged more harshly for his deportment than a lot of players in the league, so I’m not prepared to totally defer to word of mouth — especially anonymous word-of-mouth — to someone slamming him on that stuff.

It’s still pretty interesting, though, that in an offseason in which the average fan’s take is that Manny Machado is the no-hustle slacker who should be avoided, that Machado’s former teammates have had no complaints about him, while Harper’s former teammates seem to have the knives out for him.