Chicago (Tribune) Cubs should be fun -- if and when games resume

Now that the Wrigley chewing gum family has sold the Chicago Cubs to the Tribune Company, fans hope they may soon double their pleasure, double their fun.

Very little joy has existed in northern Chicago in recent years, when the franchise, sold for $20.5 million, appeared to beat its head against Wrigley Field's vine-covered outfield wall. In fact, the Cubs haven't won a National League pennant since 1945.

They made a real run for one was in 1969 before folding, and before that, Ernie Banks kept reminding Cub fans of what fun baseball was. "It's a beatiful day for a ball game here in the friendly confines of Wrigley Field," he would say. "The only day game in the major leagues. Let's play two."

Even though the current team mounted a three-game winning streak before the baseball strike began, some skeptics think the walkout has mercifully spared the Cubs further embarrassment. They are in last place, already 17 1/2 games behind NL East leader Philadelphia. With the White Sox, rejuvenated by new ownership, making rapid stride across town, the Cubs' struggles have been especially frustrating.

There's no guarantee the Tribune Company, owner of the Chicago Tribune and other properties, can turn things around. The general feeling, though, is that the new ownership will be more active in the free agent market.

It also will seriously consider installing lights at Wrigley Field, the only major league park without them. Some insiders speculate that a steady diet of day games taxes the team physically, and partially explains its history of late-season collapses. On baseball's troubles

Baseball's current labor-management standoff has fans everywhere grumbling.

To the public, the strike of high-salaried ballpayers seems ridiculous, yet the central issue isn't money per se, but freedom of player movement from one club to another. The basic disagreement is over what compensation a team should receive upon losing a player who has become a free agent.

The owners want to up the compensation, which has been an amateur draft choice, to something more substantial -- in this case, a veteran player off the roster of the team signing the free agent. This would remove some temptation for the owners, who find themselves tendering big-money contracts to journeymen when their contracts expire.

The players figure increased compensation can only hurt their chances of receiving attractive contract offers from other teams. These clubs, the theory goes, would hesitate to pay out good money and give up an established player to sign a free agent. Hence, the opportunity to find greener pastures under a new employer would shrink for the players.

Up to now, the owners haven't been able to rein in free agent spending. Some owners would rather risk overpaying free agents than gambling on lower-salaried prospects, since signing free agents seems the easiest way to improve a ball club and keep established players, the kind who attract spectators, on the field.

The Oakland A's, however, are living testament to baseball's depth. When free agency denuded Oakland of name players a few years ago, the team was restocked with hungry minor leaguers. They took their lumps for a while, but have jelled into a legitimate pennant contender. If and when the season resumes , the A's will own a 1 1/2-game lead i n the American League West.

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