An already bad off-season for the Chicago Cubs from a public-relations standpoint may get worse.
The Ricketts family, owners of the Cubs, will not do their annual panel discussion and take direct questions from fans during this weekend’s annual Cubs convention at the downtown Sheraton Grand.
Instead, the family will be a part of Friday night’s comedy/talk show session hosted by former Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster. The Cubs’ website describes the session as the “wildly entertaining ‘Friday Night with Ryan Dempster.’ “
One of the more endearing qualities of the Ricketts family since it took ownership in late 2009 has been its willingness to meet with fans and face questions at the convention.
Chairman Tom Ricketts was joined by his sister, Laura, and brothers Todd and Pete in past years, and generally, the sessions were love fests, even as the Cubs were rebuilding earlier this decade.
This year, there are myriad serious questions facing the franchise, from its inactivity in this winter’s trade and free-agent markets to the suspension of shortstop Addison Russell to the new TV station the Cubs are planning to launch for 2020.
Cubs baseball and business presidents, Theo Epstein and Crane Kenney, respectively, will conduct their sessions Saturday, but the absence of the Ricketts family will leave a big hole, and that is sure to disappoint and even anger many fans.
“(The) decision was made months ago based on fan feedback and desire to try something different with (Dempster),” said Dennis Culloton, spokesman for the Ricketts family.
Longtime season ticket holder Paul Dzien, of Bartlett, first tweeted (@crawlyscubs) about the possibility that the Ricketts family would not face the fans as part of a panel. Dzien was one of the presenters of World Series rings to Cubs players at the start of the 2017 season following the 2016 world championship.
“I was disappointed,” Dzien said Thursday. “I’ve been very happy with the Ricketts ownership to this point, and I still am. But ultimately it’s disappointing because they were there when everything was good. From the moment they bought (the Cubs), they were working toward a championship, working on the neighborhood, and that was great.
“But the first time an off-season comes where there’s a lot of disappointment and frustration, to kind of not show up, I just feel that’s what we liked about the Ricketts, the accessibility of seeing Tom walking around the ballpark. There always was an ability to talk and give your opinions, and you felt you were being heard. Now that it’s a tough off-season, you can’t ask the questions. There’s no face anymore. That’s what we hated about the Tribune Co. (the Cubs’ previous owner). It was a faceless corporation, and no one knew who to blame for what.”
A big weekend of festivities kicks off Thursday with a “community service day.” Early in the day, Cubs staff will conduct a “community service day” at Horner Park Fieldhouse on Chicago’s North Side followed by a program at Henry Elementary School, also on the North Side.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon will hold his annual “Thanksmas” dinner at Leonard’s Ministries on the West Side during the evening.
Maddon will field questions from the media. Sure to be asked are questions about Maddon’s lame-duck job status (he enters the final season of his five-year contract) as well as comments he made Tuesday at the Union League Boys and Girls Club. When asked about the prospect of the Cubs signing prized free-agent outfielder Bryce Harper, Maddon replied: “Not happening. We feel as though all the ingredients are in the bowl already. It’s already there. To just go out and purchase guys because some kids had a tough year is probably not good form.”
The Cubs won 95 games last year, but they bowed out meekly to the Milwaukee Brewers in Game 163 of the season to settle the National League Central and to the Colorado Rockies in the NL wild-card game.
A day after the 2018 season ended, an angry Epstein criticized his team’s offense, and eventually, hitting coach Chili Davis was fired.
The Cubs did make a minor bit of news Wednesday, claiming left-handed pitcher Ian Clarkin off waivers from the White Sox. The Sox had claimed Clarkin off waivers from the Cubs earlier this off-season.