A common question posed after Tuesday night’s debacle in Wrigley Field went along the lines of, “How does this sort of thing happen in a multi-billion dollar industry?” Based on what sources told the Chicago Sun-Times, we know the answer.
Despite Wrigley Field’s nickname (“The Friendly Confines”), the Chicago Cubs are a cold, calculating, soulless corporation like so many others.
According to sources, the Cubs have taken great measures to ensure they won’t have to provide health insurance for their grounds crew employees. In anticipation of the Affordable Care Act taking effect, and large businesses being required to provide health coverage for all “full-time” employees, the Cubs have finagled their scheduling so no one passes the 130 hours per month threshold.
Not only that, but the Cubs sent 10 crew members home early on Tuesday.
“Cheap,” said one of three high-ranking officials from other organizations the Sun-Times contacted Thursday – all of whom fall below the Cubs on Forbes’ annual revenues list.
Speaking to the industry standard for grounds crew staffing, all three officials said the video of Tuesday’s incident showed an apparently “undermanned” crew (of 15 pulling the tarp on the night’s first unsuccessful try).
“Embarrassing,” said one, “and they got caught.”
The Cubs grounds crew deserves an apology. Put yourself in their waterlogged shoes.
- When the rains came, the umpires tried to push through without a delay.
- It was raining pretty hard in the top of the fifth, but the Giants came out and got loose for the bottom of the inning. Cats and dogs started falling from the sky. Around the time Ryan Vogelsong threw his final warmup pitch, the umpires called for the delay.
- By this point, the field was soaked.
- A short-staffed crew — caught completely off guard — was tasked with heading across the field and retrieving a large, heavy tarp. We all know what happened from there.
One could say, “Yeah, but isn’t that their job? Haven’t they had to cover the field with crews of a similar size in the past?”
The answers are “yes” and “probably so,” but this was no ordinary rainstorm. I type on a laptop all day for a living, so maybe I’m a bad example — but I have a hard time finding my keys, unlocking my car, opening the door, throwing my crap into the passenger’s seat and getting into the car without bonking my head on the roof if it’s pouring.
In this case, you had a bunch of employees (I’m sure the morale is great there, by the way) who probably couldn’t see too well given the conditions, dragging a tarp that was getting heavier by the second across mud and soaked grass.
“There have been organizational changes,” team spokesman Julian Green acknowledges. “Every organization, whether it’s baseball or corporate, is always continuing to evaluate inefficiencies, and obviously that translates to ours.
“We’re no different than any organization trying to gain efficiencies. However, our efforts to manage costs had nothing to do with the episode on Tuesday night.”
Multiple sources involved that night insist it had a direct and obvious impact, especially when compared to previous seasons.
No game-day employees would go on the record, they said, fearing reprisals including possible termination for talking to media. Baird referred questions to Green.
One of the rival-team officials scoffed at the “cost managing” efforts in such critical game management areas by a team ranked among the top five in the majors in revenues – and that has spent millions on rapidly expanding its roster of baseball and business executives in recent years.
All said their teams did not make changes in their operations, regardless of the ACA.
“You get what you pay for,” said another.
According to Forbes, the Cubs are the fifth-most valuable team in MLB ($1.2 billion). They were reportedly No. 6 in revenue ($266 million) and No. 8 in operating income ($27.3 million). Some have questioned the accuracy of Forbes’ numbers when they do these team valuations, but there’s no denying that the Cubs can afford to supply their grounds crew employees with health insurance and make sure games are fully staffed — even when the forecast calls for clear skies.