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On the Beat 4-06-2007


My brilliant plot about Santa Barbara locals buying the Chicago Cubs and moving the team here is looking better every day. (And so is Santa Barbara City Councilman Brian Barnwell’s near-forgotten idea about building a ballpark at Pershing Park.)

Sure, I know the Cubbies are beloved in the Windy City-but just how beloved, I ask? If Chicagoans are so hot to watch their Bruins, how come the team teeters on the brink of losing money every year? Not to mention the fact that the Cubs usually lose more games than they win. The Cubs haven’t won a World Series since Theodore Roosevelt was president back in the Tinker-to-Evers- to-Chance days. And the last time they were even in the Series was 1945-when Harry Truman was prez.

On the Beat

The Cubs don’t make a dime. That’s one reason why Chicagoan Sam Zell-who this week grabbed control of the Tribune Co., which owns the Cubs-plans to unload the team after the 2007 season. Figure this: Zell’s a multi-billionaire, but he needs the money to make the deal work. What’s a billionaire to do?

Now if Zell tried to ship the Cubs out of town and remodel Wrigley Field into a shopping mall, he’d probably be assassinated in the Billy Goat Tavern. So that’s probably out. But wait! This is not a done deal. Check out this scenario:

Zell, after taking control of Tribune Co.-which houses the Trib, the Cubs, and a bunch of TV stations-is the parent company of the L.A. Times. L.A. entertainment mogul David Geffen, whose $2 billion offer for the Times was rejected last year, might be making a new move to buy the paper. Zell needs the dough, but what if he demands that Geffen also toss him, say, $500 million for the Cubs. The deal is done and when Geffen moves the team west over Zell’s feeble protests, everyone in Chicago blames the California show biz creep.

So what? The Brooklyn Dodgers were beloved too as “Dem Bums.” But now, years after they moved west to L.A., do you hear anyone screaming in New York? No. If Zell is a big Cub fan, he could watch them any time he’s visiting his Malibu mansion. Maybe buy a little George Washington Smith adobe here as well.

Geffen probably doesn’t really want to own a baseball team, and besides, L.A. already has the Dodgers and the California Angels. So he makes some calls to friends in Montecito. “Wanna buy the Cubs?,” he’ll ask. Now these are people with lots of money and a lot of time on their hands.

I mean, with only one or two fundraisers a week, what are they supposed to do with the rest of their time? Look at the fun they’d have with a major league team in town. The deal goes fast. A few phone calls, a round of steaks at Lucky’s, and a bunch of the boys kick in $500 million apiece to round up a down payment to Geffen. So what if they’d have to sell a mall in some podunk town in Flyover Country?

Mayor Marty Blum and the council would quickly agree to build the Pershing Park Stadium-Geffen Field-which he’d pay for in return for naming rights. Lots of comfy penthouse suites for the investors. The City College team will live next door, get to play games there and, and the players will be assured tryouts.

Don’t forget that the Dodgers once had a farm team here and the Cubs once trained at Catalina Island. I can see lucrative rivalries with the Dodgers, Angels, San Diego Padres, Giants, and Athletics. TV pays most of the bills.

Who’d want to play here? Well, if you were a millionaire pitcher with a wife and kids, would you rather they risk the mean streets of L.A. as a home, or find a cozy place near Oprah’s?

The city would get serious about a light rail system, built to zoom SoCal fans here in a flash. Commuter flights from LAX, Orange County, San Diego, San Francisco, and Las Vegas. People could float in on their yachts and sailboats. Hey, spend the weekend in Santa Barbara, avoid the crowds and take in a couple of games in the process.

At the end of the season, everyone’s happy. The players’ families haven’t been shot at or mugged. Restaurants, hotels, and motels have reaped a harvest and been happy to kick in part of it in the form of an increased bed tax to help pay the bills. The Montecito billionaire’s club has had a ball, schmoozed with the stars, and kicked in enough dead presidents to cover the red ink. More fun than owning Midwestern shopping malls, right?

And Geffen-all puffed up as owner of the L.A. Times-with so much work on his hands, would probably let the payments slide.

All I ask in return for this brilliant masterstroke is this: For just one game, one lousy inning, put me in coach, let me play center field.

(Barney Brantingham can be reached at barney@independent.com or 805-965-5205. He is a staff writer for the Santa Barbara Independent, with a print column in the Thursday print edition and online columns on Tuesdays and Fridays.)

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