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Columnist
Sale of park, not its name, the real issue
By Barry Rozner | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 2/29/2008 12:06 AM

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Regular visitors to the Erin Burnett Channel, also known as CNBC, know his appearance this week is hardly the first time Sam Zell has discussed selling naming rights at Wrigley Field.

It's not even the third time he's said it, so why the big deal now?

Frankly, what the real estate legend said about a spring housing recovery, with the U.S. avoiding a recession, was far more enlightening.

Besides, in the words of the great philosopher, Cosmo Kramer, "Jerry, you're missing the big picture!''

The real story is not naming rights. Who, by the way, cares what they call it? It's easy money for the club.

The real story is that the Cubs believe they're closing in on a deal to sell Wrigley Field to the state.

The bigger sell is the one they're trying to make to the fans, consistently stating that by unloading the park separately they will ensure the club stays at Clark and Addison for the next 30 years.

But all the Cubs have to do, as a condition of the sale, is have the buyer agree to these nine words: "Franchise must remain in Wrigley Field for 30 years.''

Simple. Can't buy the team without that agreement, as if anyone in their right mind would want to purchase the Cubs without staying in the ballpark.

It is the very reason they draw 3 million fans a season.

It's not Barbie dolls and floppy hats, or steroids and HGH. You need more than gimmicks and moonshots when it's July 15 and the Cubs are 10 games out.

People go to the Tavern on the Green because they love the park, not because they really believe it's the year the drought will end, or because they have a chance to win a Manny Alexander autographed syringe.

So let us dismiss, permanently please, the excuse that the Cubs are helping the fans stay in Wrigley Field by selling the park first.

Which leads us back to the party of the first part, Groucho, and that's asking someone to pay about $700 million to buy the Cubs, minus the park and all the revenue it potentially creates.

Start with $20 million a year for naming rights, which will go to the state if Illinois buys it, and toss in all the other revenue a creative owner might find, not to mention $30 million a year in rent paid to Illinois.

The new owners will be down about $150 million before they even find out about the skyrocketing payroll and backloaded contracts.

If MLB allows this, the next owner is going to find that winning is very likely a losing proposition financially.

It's good for Zell, who has every right -- as the current owner -- to maximize profits in every way he can. If he believes he can net an extra $100 million, or maybe even $200 million, by selling the building first, that's his prerogative.

But we're not buying the notion that this is a positive for the team, or that selling to Illinois somehow protects the future of Wrigley Field.

Nine simple words can take care of that.

The Phillips files

Former NIU athletic director Jim Phillips is getting some heat for taking the NU job, but in his defense he didn't leave for Arkansas or Florida State when those schools wanted him, and it also gives him a chance to be closer to his aging parents in Chicago.

Pat Ryan also did a lot of arm-twisting on this one, and he's not someone to whom people often say, "No.''

Besides being NU chairman of the board of trustees, and head of the 2016 Olympic effort, Ryan is simply a king-maker.

If Phillips wants to run for governor someday, Ryan's the kind of guy who can make that happen.

Thinking October

From e-mailer Sanjay H., my favorite GM not working in baseball today: "Assuming he comes back healthy in July, would Freddy Garcia go for a low-base, high-incentive 2008, with a generous team option for 2009?

"A Carlos Zambrano, Ted Lilly, (healthy) Garcia and Rich Hill rotation would challenge the Mets and Diamondbacks in the postseason.''

Ivan Boldirev-ing

The more things change on the West Side, the more they stay the same.

Carrying on a Blackhawks tradition that goes back a decade, with every game the team wins, they say they're competing for a playoff spot. With every game they lose, they tell us the kids are on the way.

After a win, the future is now. After a loss, the future is next year.

After a win, they love the roster. After a loss, injuries are killing them.

After a win, they have great veterans and great character. After a loss, they need time to develop the kids, but when they do, the Stanley Cup is right around the corner.

Every great player wants to play for the Hawks, we hear, except when one declines to come here we hear he's not so great anymore.

It's Sergei Samsonov's fault when he's bad here, but never the Hawks' fault when he goes somewhere else and is immediately productive.

Hawks fans not gullible enough to believe the daily drivel wish they had a nickel for every excuse they've heard.

We can handle the mistakes and failure. When you grow up in this town, you're quite used to both.

The dream is that someday Hawkspeak will be eliminated, but other than the honesty of Jonathan Toews, it's the same spin, different day.

Howling

The Wolves will choose six fans at random Saturday for a shot at winning more than $10,000 during the second intermission. With the net empty, all they have to do is shoot from the blue line, center ice and the opposing goal line. For more info, visit chicagowolves.com.

Bull stuff

ESPN.com's Bill Simmons: "If you had told Bulls fans two years ago that everything was leading toward a 2008 deadline deal that netted them Larry Hughes and Drew Gooden, they would have punched you in the face -- and then punched you in the face again.''

Make me laugh

Hear the one about how the Bears brought back Rex Grossman?

Sorry, that is the punch line.

And finally …

An excited Miami coach Pat Riley, after the Heat broke an 11-game losing streak: "I feel like a mosquito in a nudist colony. I know what to do. I just don't know where to start."

brozner@dailyherald.com