by Tom Finkel
It's a week into the baseball season and already folks are making World Series predictions, with the New York Yankees and Mets enjoying the best odds (4/1 and 11/2, respectively) to play into late October. The Cardinals, for the record, are at 14/1 to repeat as champs.
Why? A number of factors, not least of which is last week's announcement that real estate mogul Sam Zell is buying the Tribune Co. for $8.2 billion and plans to sell the Cubs to pay for the purchase. Whoever buys the team will need deep pockets as well as a fervent belief in the magical -- the Cubbies haven't won the World Series since 1908.
The Tribune Co. paid a paltry $20.1 million for the Cubs in 1981. Already speculation is that the team will fetch $500 million to $600 million -- and that's without historic Wrigley Field, which could add another $100 million to the pot.
All told the deal could eclipse the record-setting $660 million paid for the Boston Red Sox in 2002 and vastly overshadow the $150 million Bill DeWitt Jr. and cronies ponied up for the Cardinals in 1996. (The Cardinals' sale included two parking garages that the ownership group flipped for $75 million.)
It's expected the Cubs new owner will want to quickly amend the "curse" that has haunted the team since its last World Series appearance in 1945. After 26 years of anemic spending, the Tribune went on a buying binge this past off-season. The team's addition of manager Lou Piniella, outfielder Alfonso Soriano and multi-year contract extension for third baseman Aramis Ramirez should provide any new owner with the ingredients for a formidable team. A few additional tweaks in the lineup could set the table for a World Series champion.
Who knows? Maybe 2008 will see perennial pitching disappointments Mark Prior and Kerry Wood throw an entire season. That in itself will be a miracle almost as unfathomable as the Cubs winning their first World Series in 100 years. When it happens, don't forget who told ya so.