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Ricketts: No Magic Formula Or Shower Of Cash Coming

At the Cubs' final home game, team chairman Tom Ricketts shared some thoughts about the team's future.

Cubs fans want their owner to issue grand proclamations about using massive resources to spending thier way to prosperity and a World Series.

They'll still have to wait after Tom Ricketts' season-farewell stream of consciousness in the Wrigley Field dugout before Sunday's home-season finale against the Cardinals.

Perhaps it's an era of lower expectations due to the still-sagging economy. But Ricketts the businessman and Ricketts the long-term development man, not the old bleachers fan demanding instant fixes, were the predominant sides he displayed as he sat on the same hot seat as Dusty Baker, Lou Piniella and Mike Quade.

Payroll for 2011 will be "slightly lower" than this season, Ricketts said. That makes Jim Hendry, whose math abilities probably weren't his strength because he was a communications major at Spring Hill College, under duress in trying to improve the Cubs without subtracting the salaries of Alfonso Soriano, Aramis Ramirez or Carlos Zambrano -- all of whom seem sure to return next season.

And then Ricketts handed off to Hendry on the responsibility of adding new veterans to fill the holes the farm system, while revived, still isn't ready to plug from within.

At least Ricketts did not mimic Andy MacPhail's tired ol' "slow, steady, unspectacular" mantra or MacPhail's 1999 proclamation the Cubs were "middle of the pack" in player-development spending. If he's going to transfer bucks from the big-league payroll and sacrifice wins, at least put the money toward drafting and development.

"There’s a lot of evidence we’ve been drafting well and we’ve been developing well," Ricketts said. "Our minor-league teams had the second-best won-lost record of all 30… You can say there’s no question we’re heavily committed to player development, not just signings but the organization next year."

Less sure is Ricketts' understanding of the fans' unwillingness to pay $50, especially for bleachers seats, for a poor team. Huge swaths of empty bleachers benches for night games this season appeared to be the worst since early- and late-season games in the 1970's and early 1980's.

On Aug. 30, when the Cubs honored Andre Dawson for his Hall of Fame induction, the Hawk strolled to home plate with precious few bleacherites able to "salaam" to him. That was embarrassing to the franchise. The Cubs reportedly sold just 1,100 bleachers seats for the 5,000-plus seat section for a game during that series with the Pirates.

"That’s not really true," Ricketts said of the lack of bleachers attendance being a 2011 phenomemon. "We went back and looked at the data. There’s been some soft night games in the bleachers in the last few years. The key to filling the stadium is to make sure we’re putting a great product on the field."

I don't know what data Ricketts was looking at, but the bleachers always seemed to be filled for almost all night games. And when the crowd count slipped, it never dropped all the way to 1/4 or less filled.

Ricketts at least will take a close look at pricing issues in the off-season.

"We’re doing a real thorough study of what we’re charging for which sections, understanding the value proposition that we’re offering people," he said. "I think we’ll do that study and come up with a ticket-pricing strategy, always keeping in mind it’s a tough economy and it’s ultimately our goal to get more families in the park."

And the long-discussed "triangle building" on the western edge of Wrigley Field won't be breaking ground anytime soon. Cubs president Crane Kenney said at Ricketts' introductory press conference 11 months ago that the building would be turning some earth for construction this winter. Looks like that's pushed back at least a year.

"Behind the scenes, we’re working very hard to come up with the right answer for how that (triangle building) works into the big picture, which is really saving Wrigley," Ricketts said. "And when we get closer to having a concrete plan on that, we’ll be happy to share it with everybody."

All of Ricketts' thought processes sounded kind of vanilla Sunday. But he's got an advantage on MacPhail, who served as Tribune Co.'s viceroy overseeing the Cubs. He gets out among the fans and will allow his ears to be singed if necessary. And he ought to have more of these chit-chat sessions with the media. Not often has the owner sat in the dugout, seemingly at ease.

Eventually he'll get on message, communicate his plan for getting out of the ditch and he'll begin doing more than talking a good game.