Illusions are crucial in baseball.
We pretend that players are devoted to their teams and their cities. When, in reality, the average player has the same deep loyalty to his team that your average hooker has to whoever is buying her drinks at the moment.
We pretend that the games matter and that each game is a test of skill, when top players turn out to be as juiced as racehorses and the only crime is being found out.
And generally I don’t like to mess with another’s delusions. Life is a long time, and it helps to believe in something.
But this kerfuffle between the Chicago Cubs’ current ownership and the operators of the neighboring rooftop party playpens are based on two huge fictions that just cry to be pointed out by somebody.
I guess that somebody has to be me.
Fiction one: The rooftop owners, the Lakeview Baseball Club and Skybox, who sued to stop the team from erecting advertising and giant video screens that they claim would block their views and thus hurt business.
What views? You mean the tiny ants at home plate? And what makes them think that the businessmen gathering to drink beer and gobble hot dogs and duck their responsibilities for an afternoon care about watching the game directly? The people packing the bars around Wrigley don’t have any views; they’re all watching the game on the nearest flat screen.
Heck, half the fans inside the ballpark don't watch the game — not that there's ever much of a game to watch. At any given time half the fans are lining up to get beer or dispose of it, wandering the concourses or checking out their phones, and half miss the 30 seconds of actual action that occur in any given three-hour baseball game.
I'm not sure this is what U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall had in mind when she said the rooftop owners haven't shown any evidence their business might be harmed.
The mistake the rooftop owners made was in drawing attention to the possibly obscured views. Who cares? Sure, some patrons might complain they can't actually see the plate. Buy 'em a free beer and tell them that's how it goes and they'll shrug and be happy. You're paying for ambiance, or what ambiance will be left after the Ricketts are done wrecking Wrigley and vicinity. It's as if, unable to relocate to Addison (the town, not the street), the family has decided to bring Addison to Wrigleyville, transforming an urban gem into Disney's Baseball Experience.
Which leads us to the second illusion: the charmed notion that the money from the additional advertising will go toward getting better players who will propel the Cubs to a World Series. Pretty to think so. But from the ham-handed, arrogant, kill-the-golden-goose managerial style of the Ricketts clan, I can't imagine that happening, nor imagine a providence so perverse that it would allow Tom Ricketts to smile his smug, frozen, lipless smile in triumph over a pennant win. Fate is cruel, but I don't see it as being that cruel.
All this might be moot anyway — another game where the Cubs have victory in their grasp in the 8th inning and then lose in the 9th. All the federal judge said is she wasn't going to stop the team from installing their obstructions now because the rooftop owners haven't shown the harm it would do to business. They could still lay out evidence that their customers are flocking to Hooters instead, and the judge could yet order the Cubs to take their signs down, and wouldn't that be a season highlight dwarfing anything conceivably occurring on the field?
My guess is their business will be fine. The Law of Ironic Bad Publicity states that controversies over potential flaws draw far more people to a product than are repelled by the flaw. If I sold a soft drink, "Neil's Special Elixir" and authorities were concerned it contained some herb that might cause cardiac arrest, the number of people who would learn about my product's existence from the bad publicity and flock to buy it before it was pulled from the shelves would dwarf the few timorous souls worried about their hearts.
So I expect rooftop owners to get more business from this, not less, as new customers line up to enjoy the rooftops before they're driven out of business, since laying eyes on the game is so far down the hierarchy of beer, buddyhood, bratwursts and blowing off an afternoon. I'm not the average fan; to me, a sporting event is watching the superstar Bulls play, not watching whatever nonet of nobodies the Cubs are fielding this year. Still, I'd rather sit on a rooftop chair and stare at the back of the Wrigley Field Jumbotron than sit behind home plate at U.S. Cellular Field and watch the game. Because say what you will about the Cubs — and if it's negative, it's probably true — they'll always have this going for them: At least they're not the Sox.