The Chicago Cubs already don't play in Peoria. Now they appear to be abandoning the central Illinois town altogether, ceding the territory to their top NL Central rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals.
Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune writes that the Cubs aren't visiting Peoria on their winter caravan for the first time in decades. The team says it would rather put those resources into "community work." The Cubs used to have a minor-league team in the Class A Midwest League that played in Peoria, but a Cardinals affiliate plays there now. A similar change happened years ago, further south in Springfield, the state capital. Like a red menace, the Redbirds continue migrating north, infringing on Chicago territory. And the Cubs' ownership just let them:
No one disputes the Cubs' right to do community work in Chicago, and their charitable work is laudable. But it's short-sighted decisions like this that make people wonder whether the Rickettses have any public relations sense whatsoever.
"It seems like they are handing (Peoria) to the Cardinals," said 84-year-old Ray Picl, the president of the Chicago Cubs Boosters of Central Illinois, and longtime organizer of the Cubs Caravan banquet in Peoria.
"That's what I told them when they said they were thinking about not doing the caravan for the first time in more than 40 years. I sent (Chairman) Tom Ricketts an email, but got no response. I'm very disappointed, but I guess I've learned it's a business, not a sport."
Not only are the Cubs "handing" Peoria to the Cardinals, they're also affecting the ability for booster clubs to raise money for youth leagues and college scholarships. Perhaps the Cubs might not feel the need to gain and keep fans in this way anymore, but their fans still need the Cubs. The Peoria news comes weeks after word that the team is on the verge of leaving WGN TV — one of the big reasons so many people grew up Cubs fans remotely despite the team not having won a World Series since our great grandfathers were in short pants.
The Cubs are pulling up their roots.
The Minnesota Twins, who obviously are in a more precarious financial position than the Cubs, visit at least 50 communities in their home state, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin during their winter caravan. It's not a hassle to them. It's a necessary part of who they are.
And then there's the Cardinals, who are sending right-hander Michael Wacha to four towns each a couple of hours north of St. Louis for their caravan on Friday. Why can't the Cubs send Kris Bryant, or another prospect like him, to Peoria for a day?
The Cubs are making the same kinds decisions the White Sox did shortly after Jerry Reinsdorf bought the team in 1980. The Sox had a Class AAA team in Iowa, but moved it to Edmonton. The Sox were on WGN TV in 1981, but moved them to a UHF station and pay TV the year after. The White Sox suffered for those tactics.
The Cubs obviously feel the same thing won't happen to them. But Central Illinois already has fallen. Meanwhile, the Ricketts family fiddles around.
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