As a Burkean liberal and paleo-librarian of longstanding, like many of you, The Audit has long understood that the Chicago Cubs represent all that is good in this life: the sun (day baseball); nature (ivy); tradition (a mechanical scoreboard); openness to alternative points of view and information from foreign, underdeveloped cultures (inning-by-inning out-of-town scores, even from the American League); transparency (W or L flags run up the scoreboard after games); nourishment (smokey links); democracy (I’m sure George Will or someone can help with that); free market capitalism (ditto) and prudent market regulation (see: Krugman).
Even the beer is good. Good. And. Cold. Goddamn. Tastes good to a man. Whew! Needed that. The beer is called “Old Style,” made from an “old-style” process known as “kreusening,” which is German for “methode champengnoise,” a technique practiced by plaid-shirt-wearing hermits in Fond du Lac and other Wisconsin enclaves. And it comes in a sixteen-ounce can, a great innovation in its day.
Where were we? Oh, yes. And today we see our ballclub engaged in a great struggle against forces of drunkeness, the Brewers, of Milwaukee, about an hour and half away, though there’s no real reason to go there. And tied to that struggle, and in fact, lies the fate of the Tribune Co., which is about to be taken private by a group led by Chicago’s own Sam Zell, who wants to put $315 million in his own equity and load the company with $12 billion in debt. That’s debt with a “d” and billion with a “b.” So, a lot of debt.
According to The Wall Street Journal, which has done smart reporting on this deal, Tribune, which last year generated cash flow of $1.3 billion, will initially have to meet annual interest costs of $1 billion, when the buyout is complete.
Tribune Co. employees, when this is over, will have a 60% stake in the company. Their success will depend on the viability of the enterprise.
Earlier this week, Tribune Co. said revenues in August fell again from the same month a year ago, aggravating a worrisome slide across the newspaper industry. The weaker the advertising climate, the less cash to pay down the debt, the more likely of a default.
Zell has said he will sell the Cubs to help pay down the debt and lower the crushing interest burden. Analysts have said the club could fetch $600 million or more, according to the Associated Press, a price that seems low to me.
The greater the Cubs’s success, therefore, the higher the price the club fetches in a sale, creating a virtuous cycle of financial success and American progress. The lower the newly private Tribune Co.’s debt, the higher its chance of success, the more likely it will continue to publish, the more reporters and editors it will employ, the more information will emanate from the Tribune, the more enlighted our polity, the wiser our leaders, and the greater the spread of the American way of life throughout the world.
There can be no compromise, no wavering, no half measures. As my fellow Platonic Durkheimian philosophe Sir Winston Churchill said, in an old movie: “I don’t care how you do it You must. Sink. The Bismarck.”(“Aye dowun cayah how ewe doit. Ewe must. Sink. The Bizmawk”)
Well, I don’t care how they do it The Cubs must. Win. The Pennant. Then they must. Win. The Series.
Only one question remains: Why cannot the Brewers, Mets, Phillies, Dodgers, Padres, Yankees, Red Sox and Indians emulate the patriotic Cardinals, and choke, like the human-growth-hormone-enhanced, androstenedione-taking, red-wearing, uptight Tony LaRussa-esque club they are?
Why do these clubs, and all of their fans, hate journalism? Why do they hate American freedom?Dean Starkman Dean Starkman runs The Audit, CJR's business section, and is the author of The Watchdog That Didn't Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism (Columbia University Press, January 2014). Follow Dean on Twitter: @deanstarkman.