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Mr. Cub Trying to Buy the Team?

By Benjy Lipsman in News on Jun 12, 2006 5:57PM

2006_06_sports_ernie_banks.jpgWhile Mark Cuban remains busy cheering his Dallas Mavericks through the NBA Finals, others interested in buying the team have been quietly meeting Tribune Company execs to inquire abou their availability.

Last month, Mr. Cub himself, Ernie Banks, met with Tribune CEO Dennis FitzSimons to discuss buying the team.

Two seperate groups have approached Banks, the Hall of Famer who played shortstop for the Cubs from 1953-1971, about participating in efforts to buy the Cubs. One group is headed by former NYC mayor Rudolph Giuliani and his Giuliani Partners LLC, and Los Angeles-based buyout firm Comstock Capital Partners LLC has also expressed an interest.

While Banks was rebuffed when he met with FitzSimons, financial trouble and pressure from a large shareholder to divest parts of the business could end up resulting in the Cubs being sold. With the team valued at $500 million, could the Tribune Company not at least explore selling the team?

Even if the Cubs were for sale, why is Banks in such demand as a partner? Most likely, his financial assets would amount to only a tiny fraction of the half bil needed. Remember, he played in a day when the players still worked second jobs in the off-season. But because he's Mr. Cub, his invovlement could bring instant credibility to out-of-town buyers. But would he be more than the team ambassador he is now? At 75 year old, probably not.

The increased speculation that the Cubs are on the market, even if the Tribune Company denies it, mean that they probably are for sale -- at least at the right price. With the Trib choosing to run the team like any other business unit, Cubs fans need to start making some noise and demand that the team be sold. Only when an owner committed to winning first, profitability second, takes control will the team stand a real shot at a World Series title. When TimeWarner and Disney realized that they couldn't compete without affecting their core business interests, they sold off the Braves and Angels. The Trib needs to similarly set the Cubs free.