Cubs could benefit from Oprah Effect
I have the perfect solution to the negotiating impasse involving Chicago Cubs owner Sam Zell and prospective buyer Tom Ricketts and his family.
As in Winfrey.
Forget Ricketts. The minute I heard he was panhandling minority ownership stakes to Bill Murray, Jim Belushi and John Cusack, that's when I got the heebie-jeebies about the guy. Who else did he approach for investment cash? Ronnie Woo Woo?
Forget Zell. He's a knucklehead who has kneecapped the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times, among others, and he'd strip the ivy off the Wrigley Field walls and sell the leaves for $5 apiece if he thought there was a market. One of his nutty henchmen would then issue an intraoffice e-mail calling the transaction "a perfect example of the snyergistic fusion of agriculture and pop culture."
Anyway, the longer Zell owns the Cubs, the less chance general manager Jim Hendry has of acquiring, say, Jake Peavy from the San Diego Padres. Of course, the anti-Jims say Hendry has done enough buying and trading already (Kosuke Fukudome, Milton Bradley, Kevin Gregg, Rich Harden). Fair point, but I'll take my chances with Hendry getting it right more times than not.
The answer is Oprah. She's local. She's brilliant. She could pull a $1 billion bill out of her wallet to buy the Cubs and, according to Forbes magazine, still have enough money left over to be the 281st-richest person in America.
Did you see what ABC's Diane Sawyer recently wrote about Oprah in Time magazine? "Her curiosity is undiminished. So is her passion for healing the bruised parts of the world and wielding truth against bruisers."
Is there a part of the world more bruised than the corner of Clark and Addison? The Cubs are on their second 100-year rebuilding plan. They need Oprah's healing powers.
And bruisers? The NL Central has two 30-win teams -- and neither one of them is the Cubs. Only the AL East has more 30-victory teams than the Cubs' division.
Just about everything Oprah touches turns to gold. They call it "the Oprah Effect." There's even a documentary about it Thursday night on CNBC.
Think about it: Dr. Phil Rachael Ray Dr. Mehmet Oz Oprah's Book Club O, The Oprah Magazine the annual Favorite Things list Harpo Productions. The woman is a kingmaker. Queenmaker. Whatever.
Anyway, Oprah is a closer, which is more than you can say for Ricketts (and Kevin Gregg a few nights ago in Atlanta). Zell has been trying to sell the Cubs since April 2007. Oprah would have read Sam the riot act, and that would have been that.
Oprah feels our baseball pain. Remember when she cried on the shoulder of that guy at Barack Obama's election-night rally in Grant Park? Little-known secret: She was really thinking about the Cubs getting swept by the L.A. Dodgers in the NL Division Series.
Oprah is the 155th richest person in this country. She has more money than all sorts of sports owners on Forbes' top 400 list. More than Mark Cuban (Dallas Mavericks, 161st on the list), Malcolm Glazer and family (Tampa Bay Bucs and Manchester United, 190), Mike Ilitch (Detroit Red Wings and Tigers, 301), Robert Kraft (New England Patriots, 321) and George Steinbrenner (New York Yankees, 377), among others.
From a diversity standpoint, it would be nice to see an African-American woman as an MLB franchise owner. Oprah would charm the other owners, or intimidate them, or teach them. But she would never be afraid of them.
As far as adding value to MLB and the Cubs, the possibilities are endless. Think of the ratings spike if she made an appearance on the MLB Network. Oprah and Wild Thing break down the All-Star Game rosters! And if she can handle Tom Cruise jumping on couches, just think what she can do with Carlos Zambrano, who needs someone to solder his mind back into place.
I don't know whether she understands the infield-fly rule. That's OK; neither do half the people at the ballpark. She'd learn. If Oprah has proved anything during her 25-year TV run in Chicago, it's that she adapts and excels. Maybe some of it would rub off on the Cubs.
It's not too late, Oprah. Call Zell and put us out of our misery. Write the check. Consider the Cubs one of your favorite things.
As an added bonus, you can sing the seventh-inning stretch. Bring Cruise, if you want. We'll help you carry a tune.
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com and ESPNChicago.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here.