Don't Zell Wrigley Field

You're wrong if you think the latest big news story is that New York Governors can't stay out of hotel rooms. No, the Big Story is that the new owner of the Chicago Cubs, Sam Zell, might sell the "naming rights" of Wrigley Field to the highest bidder. He might change the name of Wrigley Field. If you're not a baseball fan or have never lived in Chicago, why should you care about this? You should care because it represents two of the most insidious afflictions in our society: greed and greed's brother, commercialization.

Commercials for products and companies are inescapable these days. In recent years, all kinds of facilities have been branded with company names. Often, these names seem completely inappropriate. No matter where you live, it wouldn't surprise me if your hometown has things like the Taco Bell Opera House, the Motel 6 Religious College, or the Cialis Center for Boys and Girls.

The names of sports stadiums used to sound like they were sports stadiums. Now they just sound like a list of stocks and bonds. The San Francisco Giants play in AT&T Park. The Washington Redskins play in FedEx Field, not to be confused with the FedEx Forum where the Memphis Grizzlies play. The Carolina Panthers Play in Bank of America Stadium. The Philadelphia Phillies play in Citizens Bank Park. Considering the state of the economy these days, it's probably not a great idea for the next stadium that sells out to commerce to be named for a company in the financial world. Not that long ago, the Houston Astros played in Enron Field. Fortunately, no major sports team played in something called Bear Stearns Ballpark.

Sam Zell got control of the Cubs and Wrigley Field when he recently purchased the Tribune Company, the previous owner. The Tribune Company also owned the Los Angeles Times which, so far, Zell still calls, "The Los Angeles Times." When he first got the Cubs, there was a rumor that he might sell the Cubs to one owner and Wrigley Field to another. That would be interesting. Suppose you bought Wrigley Field and didn't feel like letting the Cubs play there: "No way. I bought this place, and I just want my family to use it for picnics." And now, the latest possibility is that he may auction off the name of where the Cubs play.

Zell keeps reminding his critics that as the owner, he has the legal right to do whatever he wants with the Chicago Cubs and Wrigley Field. But what he doesn't seem to understand is, he may be the owner, but the Cubs and Wrigley Field belong to the people.

There are Cub fans all over the world. People make pilgrimages to Wrigley Field to see what an old-fashioned ballpark looks and feels like. If you've seen only one game there, you know what a special place it is. A visit there is a history lesson, a sociology course, and just plain fun.

It seems to me that after someone acquires a couple of Brinks trucks worth of cash, he might want to adopt the motto, "noblesse oblige," rather than, "I still want more." When a zillionaire buys an institution like the Cubs, he should see himself as a steward of their tradition. It doesn't always have to be about what he can do, but also about what he should do.

The ballpark on the North Side of Chicago has been called "Wrigley Field" since 1926. Please don't write me that "Wrigley" is the name of a gum company, and therefore, the field has been commercialized since its inception. It wasn't named for the gum. It was named after the Cubs' owner, William Wrigley Jr. who happened to be the founder of the gum company. There were never any big signs advertising gum or anything like that. It has been Wrigley Field because of a man named Wrigley, and it should remain Wrigley Field because of all that has happened and all that hasn't happened there.

This year will mark the 100th year since the Chicago Cubs won their last World Series. Maybe they'll win it again this year. They're bound to win it some year. And wouldn't it be a shame if when they finally do, they win it in a place called something like "Preparation H Field?"