MESA, Ariz. — The Chicago Cubs’ apology tour continued Monday when chairman Tom Ricketts talked to the team about the embarrassment brought on by his father’s racist emails being publicly exposed, vowing that the team will become lovable once again.
It was Joe Ricketts, the father of Tom and his siblings that own the Cubs, whose racist emails went leaked recently, prompting the Cubs to apologize and meet with the Chicago office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Ricketts denied that his father was racist, and reiterated that Joe Ricketts has no role in the organization, but certainly wasn’t hiding from the fact that it was his father’s wealth that enabled his children to purchase the Cubs.
“Honestly, I was surprised by those emails, those are not the values our family was raised with,” Ricketts said. “I never heard my father say anything remotely racist. … The fact is that he acknowledged that they were inappropriate emails, expressed regret and apologized.
“We know who my father is. He’s not the person that some of these articles depict him to be. That does not represent what the organization is about.
“Now, we have to express the damage caused by those emails.”
Cubs manager Joe Maddon didn’t think the saga had been much of a distraction and said the apology was well-received by his players.
“I’m not 100 precent sure, but I don’t think it was a heavy distraction,” Maddon said.
“I would imagine some weren’t even aware of it, to be honest with you. But the fact that he was straight-up apologizing that way, I know our players have a lot of respect for him and his family.
“When he stands in front of the group like that, and he was very sincerely apologetic about all of this, I am certain he was very much conflicted among us.”
It was just the latest mea culpa for the Cubs since their arrival to camp, with Addison Russell apologizing over the weekend following his domestic violence suspension, the Cubs defending the launch of their own TV network with Sinclair Broadcasting and its right-wing politics, and club’s lack of free-agent expenditures this winter with Bryce Harper and Manny Machado still on the market.
When asked directly why the Cubs didn’t spend any more money this winter, Ricketts said the answer was simple:
“We don’t have any more,” he said. “We have to have flexibility in the future. … We’ve been in the top five spending the last few years, and we put our money back onto the field. You can’t have a high-profile free agent every single year.
“The way we look at it, you got to think long-term, it’s not just one season. We think we have a very, very good team. I think we’ll win our division.”
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The Cubs have signed Jason Heyward ($184 million), Jon Lester ($155 million), Yu Darvish ($126 million) and Ben Zobrist ($56 million) since the end of the 2014 season. They also realize they are going to have to keep providing substantial raises to young stars Kris Bryant and Javier Baez through arbitration, before determining whether to sign them to long-term contract extensions.
Still, the folks in Chicago were pleading with the Cubs to bring in Harper or Machado, knowing full well that the Cubs are one of the wealthiest franchises in baseball.
Yet, when asked if he thought the owners were colluding to bring the players’ salaries down, Ricketts vehemently denied any allegations involving the Cubs, or any other team in baseball.
“I can say that’s not the case,” Ricketts said. “I don’t think anyone’s colluding with anyone. Everyone is trying to find the right fit, and the right contract.”
The Cubs, meanwhile, will try to mend “off-the-field” damage, Ricketts said, who spoke to the players Monday morning to apologize, and ask if changes are needed.
“I wanted to let them know if there was anything we had done in our organization that ever made them uncomfortable,” Ricketts said, “or something we had missed, to let me know.
“I can’t change an inbox from 12 or eight years ago, and I can’t un-publish emails, but we can use this to lead to positive change.”
Ricketts met with the leaders of several Muslim groups in Chicago, vowing to them that they will act as leaders in the fight against Islamophobia. They will launch anti-hate PSAs to help raise public awareness, and pledged support for anti-bullying efforts, diversity and inclusion training and scholarships.
“We need to be inclusive and supportive of everybody.”
It’s left to be seen how quickly the Cubs can restore their image and winning certainly can camouflage some blemishes, but Ricketts believes the organization should have already built plenty of trust.
“Look, we set out 10 years ago to be the best organization in sports,” Ricketts said. “We wanted to win a World Series. We wanted to restore Wrigley Field. And we wanted to be better neighbors.
“We crushed it.”
The Cubs, who won 95 games last season but lost the division tiebreaker game to the Milwaukee Brewers and the wild-card game to the Colorado Rockies, say they can now put aside all of their distractions and return to baseball.
If the Cubs return to the World Series, who knows, maybe Maddon’s future becomes a moot point. Maddon’s $28 million contract expires after this season, and there have been no extension talks with Cubs president Theo Epstein.
“It’s a baseball decision,” Ricketts said. “Joe has done such an incredible job. I like him as a person. But that’s been Theo and his guys, and Joe.”
Just like that, the Cubs’ last scheduled press conference of the spring is over. No more apologies. No more confessions. No more public-relation spins.
It’s back to baseball.
For the Cubs, the season can’t start soon enough.