Cubs want to end drought with new owner
CHICAGO (Reuters) - It is more than a century since the Chicago Cubs won a World Series championship and their prospective new owner Tom Ricketts wants to be the man to end the drought.
Chicago investment banker Ricketts, a devoted fan, is close to acquiring the Cubs after he and his family raised $403 million this month toward the $900 million needed to buy the club from media giant Tribune Co.
"My family and I are Cubs fans. We share the goal of Cubs fans everywhere to win a World Series," Ricketts said after winning a drawn-out bidding fight to negotiate with Tribune Co, which is in bankruptcy, to buy the Cubs, Wrigley Field and a 25 percent stake in a regional cable television network.
Ricketts lived across the street from Wrigley Field while in college and met his wife in the bleachers. The family sold part of its stake in TD Ameritrade, the brokerage that Ricketts's father founded, to raise money.
"I think the Ricketts (family) will infuse a new attitude about the Cubs and Wrigley Field as well," said Paul Sullivan, who covers the team for the Chicago Tribune newspaper.
While fans pack the stands at Wrigley and bleed Cubbie blue across the United States thanks to years of cable television exposure, the moniker of 'lovable losers' has worn thin.
The team has made the playoffs six times since the Tribune bought the club in 1981, and got agonizingly close to the World Series in 1984 and again in 2003.
The sale still needs approval from the bankruptcy court and Major League Baseball (MLB). The ownership change may not be accomplished before opening day in early April.
One key question is whether Ricketts will continue the club's heavy spending of recent years. The Cubs' $119-million payroll ranks seventh among the 30 Major League teams.
"If they are going to spend that kind of money to buy the team, I would assume they will also spend a lot of money to keep the team competitive while maintaining the charm of the ballpark," Sullivan said.
"Whether the Ricketts can end the drought is another question but they sure couldn't do any worse than the Wrigleys and Tribune Co over the last century," he said. The Wrigleys of chewing-gum fame owned the club for 60 years from 1921.
Across town, the Chicago White Sox of the American League broke through in 2005 after an 88-year championship drought, which pained many Cubs fans.
This year, Cubs manager Lou Pineilla tried to keep expectations in check, telling players that winning a league-leading 97 games in 2008 put a target on their backs.
Last year, the team landed eight players in the mid-season All-Star game, catcher Geovany Soto was the National League rookie of the year and Pineilla was the league's top manager.
Pineilla must decide whether to move streaky lead-off slugger Alfonso Soriano into the heart of the order and how to stir a better playoff performance, should they get there again.
The team has added much-traveled outfielder Milton Bradley to its well-stocked core that has won the National League Central division the past two seasons.
Consecutive first-round playoff collapses in which the team failed to win a single game have raised questions about whether they have the stuff to win it all -- or whether they are jinxed.
The Cubs last won the World Series in 1908 and have not played in the fall classic since 1945, when a local restaurateur put a curse on the team after his pet goat was refused admission to Wrigley Field.
(Editing by Clare Fallon)