Tribune accepts offer, will sell Cubs
Team will be sold at end of this season, company says
CINCINNATI -- The Chicago Cubs opened the 2007 season Monday with a new manager, a new center fielder and the prospect of a new owner in 2008. The message to the team is that it's business as usual.
The Tribune Co., which includes the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, TV stations and the Cubs, has accepted a buyout offer from real estate investor Sam Zell in a deal valued at about $8.2 billion.
The Tribune Co. also said it plans to sell the Cubs baseball team and its 25 percent stake in local sports cable channel Comcast SportsNet Chicago at the end of the season. The company did not say whether it intended to sell Wrigley Field, which has been the Cubs' home since 1916.
"I told the ballclub it'll be business as usual," Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said Monday. "It will not be a distraction. The Tribune Co. will run the club this season, and we've got a job to do and nothing is going to change from our end."
Zell owns a minority stake in the Jerry Reinsdorf-led syndicate that owns the Chicago White Sox, and would be required by Major League Baseball to choose either that investment or the Cubs with his Tribune Co. deal. The sale of the Cubs is subject to approval by Major League Baseball.
"The Cubs have been an important part of Tribune for more than 25 years and are one of the most storied franchises in all of sports," Dennis FitzSimons, Tribune chairman, president and chief executive officer said in a statement. "In our last season of ownership, the team has one mission, and that is to win for our great fans."
The Tribune Co. purchased the team in 1981 for $20.5 million from the Wrigley family. The sale ended the longest continuous operation of a franchise by the same family in one city.
Analysts estimate the Cubs could sell for $600 million or more.
"We know where we'll be for 2007, we know who are owners will be for 2007," team president John McDonough said. "We've put together a very good baseball team. We've sold 2.7 million tickets going into the season. We have an exciting manager, exciting players, and I think it's time to talk about baseball."
The Cubs players were more focused on beginning the season with a win, rather than who will be signing their paychecks next year.
"It doesn't make a difference to me," Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee said. "With the Tribune, I didn't really know who the owner was. He wasn't around. When I was with the Marlins, the owner was around. I don't think it matters. As long as they're committed to winning, that's all we're concerned about. It doesn't affect the way we go about our business."
The Cubs opened their 132nd National League season in Cincinnati. The team spent more than $300 million this offseason on players and new manager Lou Piniella. McDonough said nothing has changed as far as the Cubs are concerned.
"Our mission has not changed," McDonough said in a statement. "The goal is to win a World Series for our great fans. Under the leadership of Lou Piniella, we are on track and believe 2007 will be a very successful season.
"We have been informed that a change in ownership will not occur until after the 2007 season, and that will help us maintain our focus on the day-to-day operation of the Chicago Cubs," McDonough said. "Tribune Company has provided tremendous support and resources which have dramatically improved our team over the past several years. We expect that support to continue through 2007 as we pursue a championship for our incredibly loyal fans."
Piniella and Hendry met with the players before Monday's game.
"I told them not to let the sale affect them either way, just go out and play and take care of what you can handle," Piniella said. "As far as the sale, that will take care of itself."
But is there a sense of urgency to impress the new management team?
"My gut feeling this morning is that we've all been treated very well here," Hendry said. "I would love to have us have a great year for the company, and I'd love us to have a great year for Dennis and the city of Chicago and the fans. We need to do our part on the field and get the job done."
"There's no more pressure than there has been in the past," McDonough said. "We stated what our goal was and our mission was, and we tried to do everything we could to acquire some of the players. As far as the pressure was concerned, everybody's under pressure."
Piniella, who signed a three-year deal with the team in October, was simply eager to get back in the dugout and get going.
"We've got expectations with this team, and I like expectations," Piniella said. "It's not going to affect us. The club will be run the same way it's always been run. All we've got to do is play baseball. That's what we get paid to do. I get paid to manage, the players get paid to play well. The business end, we have no control over it. All we can control is what happens on the field."
Hendry said he's also been assured that if the team is in the race in July, he will be given the financial resources to add players if needed.
"I've been assured that nothing has changed from the time we hired Lou," Hendry said. "If we're in the race, it'll be business as usual to try to keep winning. That's not going to change, and I feel good about that."
According to the Associated Press, Zell plans to invest $315 million in the deal for the Chicago-based media company and will eventually become chairman of its board when the deal is complete sometime in the fourth quarter.
Zell, 65, made his fortune reviving moribund real estate. He said he has no plans to break up the Tribune, which is the nation's second-largest newspaper publisher by circulation.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.