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TELANDER: Wrigley Field scoreboard plan goes too far in protecting ‘rights’ of rooftop owners

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Updated: March 20, 2013 12:17PM



A new Wrigley Field scoreboard? Farewell to the ancient, cherished, hand-operated green behemoth high above center field?

Insanity.

Listen to my story:

Way back in the 1980s, I ­occasionally sat on rooftops along Sheffield Avenue to check out Cubs games. For free.

The flat rooftops of various three-story apartment buildings along both Sheffield and Waveland, which cup Wrigley Field on the east and north, have had — for as long as anyone can remember — random folks on top of them, checking out the sights of the ballpark so near their stone precipices.

See, if you lived in one of those buildings, your landlord would often give you access to the roof. Usually, there was no staircase, just a pull-down ladder from the ceiling, below a hatch — like rising up into a barn loft

No fees. No tickets. You had to be a tenant or a tenant’s pal. There were never a lot of people on top because of safety laws and the notion that these flat areas were part of somebody’s home, and you can’t storm somebody’s home without creating a riot.

This story is important because it sets the background for the ridiculous battle ratcheting up between the Cubs with their Wrigley Field refurbishing plans and Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), who represents the neighborhood and, above all, the private rooftop owners. He’s the guy proposing the new scoreboard.

Back to mid-June 1987. I am on the rooftop at 3637 N. Sheffield. The Cubs are playing the Pirates. One of the guys I’m up with is Jon Duncan, a 32-year-old attorney who lives on the second floor.

When his landlord tried to keep tenants off the roof, Duncan sued and won the rights because it said on his lease that tenants had access to the ‘‘lounge area.’’ The roof.

On this day, over a quarter-century ago, as he slathers himself with sunscreen and views the little ballplayers across the street, Cubs fan Duncan explains the splendor of living where he does.

‘‘It’s wonderful. My biggest problem is the Cubs play day baseball, and I happen to have a job. I’m all for lights, as long as they don’t put a pole right there.’’

He gestures to a small tree in front of his building, where Rick Sutcliffe hit a mammoth home run in that glorious 13-0 trouncing of the Padres in the playoffs three years earlier.

‘‘The guys on the third floor got some figures from the Cubs, did some calculating and determined the edge of the roof is 495 feet from home plate. That was the hardest hit ball I’ve ever seen.’’

But the games weren’t everything for Duncan.

‘‘I’ll come up at 2 a.m. and watch the grounds crew. They work on tractors with lights. At 6, they pull off the tarp. It’s a beautiful park.’’

A few nights before, Duncan had slept on the roof. ‘‘I was awakened by foghorns on Lake Michigan,’’ he said dreamily. ‘‘This is my porch.’’

OK, readers, you get the point?

The rooftop owners soon built bleachers, and the rooftops became gold mines because capitalism reigns. Innocence and simplicity will always be crushed by profiteering and development.

Maybe that’s not a bad thing. We call it progress. But with the rooftops, it’s just stealing somebody else’s product. Plain and simple.

What ‘‘rights’’ the rooftop owners have to the product presented for-profit in the private park across from them is, in my opinion, none.

If you lived next to a food company, you think you could just reach out and take packs of bacon and cheese and cases of beer because you could reach the conveyor belt leading to the delivery trucks?

Yes, there is that contract in which the Cubs get 17 percent of the rooftop owners’ ticket sales. That in itself is one of the most pathetic business contracts I can think of.

The Cubs should get 90 percent. They should, in fact, own every building that looks in on their games. Why the Wrigleys or the Tribune Co., which owned the Cubs and the park before the Ricketts family, didn’t buy up everything long ago is a tale with no explanation.

But, as athletes love to say, ‘‘It is what it is.’’

And Tunney, the guy who thinks he can tell the Cubs what to do about everything they do, has proposed the Cubs demolish the famed, center field scoreboard and put up a video scoreboard like every other park and arena in America has.

This is his solution to the Cubs’ desire to build signs along the outfield walls that would block the rooftop profiteers’ view of the product they are stealing.

And the mayor of Rosemont thinks the Cubs should move out there. Lovely Rosemont, by giant highways, with the ambience of a wannabe Las Vegas.

It’s all wrong. Crazy. Wrigley Field should be made modern and profitable. It’s a landmark, yes, and it can’t be changed too much. But it can be slicked up.

And if the money-making rooftops — apartment buildings, remember, for living in — can’t see the games, too bad.

Fans like Jon Duncan haven’t been allowed up for free in years.



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