Purgatory Online

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

Bad news for Cubs fans: the Cubs are suing the owners of the rooftop bleachers overlooking Wrigley Field.

If you've never been to Wrigley Field, or never seen a picture, or never talked to anyone at all who's got a vague notion of what baseball might be, part of Wrigley's unique atmosphere comes from the fact that there are thirteen buildings across Waveland and Sheffield Avenues that sell rooftop seats overlooking the game. They're generally rented out to parties at about $100 per person. They're unbelievably crappy seats - far worse than the worst upper deck, corner-of-right-field, crane-your-neck-and-squint seats - but of course at Wrigley watching the game is, shall we say, not paramount in the minds of some people. You can see some typical views from a Sheffield Avenue rooftop here, and a page that includes photos of the Sheffield and Waveland rooftops here. What started out as an informal, tailgate-style atmosphere on the rooftops has, over the years, become a fairly lucrative business for the owners, who have spent quite a bit of money installing professional-looking bleachers (in a couple of cases, they're even double-decked).

Now, the Cubs are looking to expand the bleachers (the ones inside Wrigley Field), a move that will block the view from some of the rooftops. This has touched of a good old-fashioned Chicago political streetfight, with the rooftop owners and the City seeking to have Wrigley declared an "historical landmark," which would greatly complicate the bleacher expansion project, as changes to landmarks have to meet various stringent requirements to ensure that whatever makes the structure "historical" remains in place. So now, after months of negotiations, the Cubs have apparently decided that they're not nearly loathed enough, so they're suing the rooftop owners.

The legal rationale here seems laughable. The Cubs are making two arguments: first, that the owners are providing stealing their product by providing seats to the game, and second, that they're infringing on the Cubs' copyright by showing the game on television so the folks on the rooftops can watch replays. Now, I didn't go to no fancy-pants law school, but even I can see some pretty big problems with these charges. First, I suspect they Cubs are going to have to do some serious 'splaining as to why, if this is such a grievous injury, they ignored it for decades. Second, someone should explain to them that their second argument undercuts their first - I mean, if the people watching the game from the rooftops need televisions to see the action properly, how the hell can you claim that they're seeing the same thing that people inside the stadium are seeing?

The larger issue, however, is that the rooftop bleachers actually enhance the atmosphere inside Wrigley Field. They're an utterly distinctive feature - no other ballpark in the majors has anything nearly as extensive. Along with the ivy, the hand-operated scoreboard, and the tradition of throwing back home run balls hit by the opposing team, the rooftop bleachers are what make Wrigley unique. Visitors coming to the park for the first time are always impressed and always find it funny. And Lord knows that Wrigley Field needs as much off-the-field fun as it can get, because the product on the field surely stinks to high heaven, most years. I can't believe that the Cubs' management doesn't realize that the only reason they consistently draw well is Wrigley Field - take the Cubs and put them in, say, Comiskey Park on the South Side of Chicago and their attendance would be cut 50% if they were lucky. If I were the Tribune Company (which owns the Cubs), I'd be thanking God every day that my team got to play in what will soon be the only truly historic park in the major leagues, and the last thing I'd want to do is screw around with the things that make it special. Because once you start getting rid of that stuff, the fans might get bored enough to watch the game. And when that happens...God help them.

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