Through Ups And Downs With Cubs, Jason Hammel And Jorge Soler Earned Their World Series Rings

A ring controversy and a petty dispute with the Hall of Fame? That's Cub.

This is the franchise of the 108-year drought, a place where almost anything can go viral, from the constant turf battles with City Hall and neighborhood businesses, to the 400-pound "Cake Boss" creation for the Wrigley Field centennial that wound up in the garbage, to the Opening Night bathroom fiasco in 2015.

But after finally winning the World Series, are you surprised this is still where the Cubs — and the media covering the team — are at now?

"Um, can I get hit by a foul ball?" general manager Jed Hoyer said Tuesday, laughing during batting practice before a 9-7 comeback win over the Milwaukee Brewers. "I think it's just the nature (of it). There's a lot of focus and attention on us."

To be honest, this isn't really Hoyer's fight. It's not like his job description involves formulating IRS defense strategies or authenticating Kris Bryant's Adidas cleats or shipping Anthony Rizzo's game-worn gear to upstate New York.

But Hoyer is a good soldier and a good talker, a counterweight to baseball boss Theo Epstein and someone who can bring his two World Series rings from the Boston Red Sox into the conversation.

Hoyer disputed one key element to a Chicago Sun-Times report that said all employees — in order to receive their championship bling — must sign a document that gives the Cubs the right to buy back the ring for $1 if they ever decide to sell the jewelry. Players are exempted from signing that agreement, Hoyer said, and the Cubs are willing to find ways to pay down the taxes on the gifts.

"I signed that thing willingly," Hoyer said. "I know Theo did. Everyone except for the players signed it. I look at it like the Ricketts were so unbelievably generous in the cost of the ring and then the number (1,908) they gave out.

"When you're paying for the ring for a lot of people — and helping out with the taxes along with that — it just seems appropriate to say: 'I don't expect you to take the gift I'm giving you and run out to the market with it.' And I do think there's something a little bit different with the Cubs' 2016 ring, given how valuable it is and how long people waited."

Why would ownership even care when the franchise value has soared from $845 million after the 2009 purchase — including a stake in CSN Chicago and assorted Wrigleyville developments — to $2.68 billion in the latest Forbes rankings?

"I do think you devalue the ring for everyone if all of a sudden people are going to race to the market to see who can make some money off it," Hoyer said. "If you get a Heisman Trophy, they put that stipulation on it. If you win an Oscar, they put that stipulation on it. It's not a rare thing to be given a gift of something like that and also put those kind of stipulations on it."

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But it's not like Ben Zobrist would feel any differently about his World Series MVP performance if a few behind-the-scenes employees eventually sold rings under pressure, responding to a medical emergency or dealing with a financial crisis or trying to send their kids to college.

It can be hard to square those worst-case scenarios and this altruistic spirit with some of the Ricketts family's right-wing politics and support of Republican hard-liners out to shred the social safety net. (Board member Todd Ricketts has yet to be confirmed as Donald Trump's deputy commerce secretary, while Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is listed as one of the team's limited partners.)

Credit chairman Tom Ricketts for hiring the right people to run baseball operations, having the patience and long-range vision to build a serial contender and securing the future of Wrigley Field. Estimates on the tiers of rings have ranged from $20,000 to $70,000.

"I certainly think in terms of the number of rings — and the cost of the rings — I'd be shocked if any professional sports team has ever spent more to take care of their employees," Hoyer said.

"Disparaging that, I feel like you're kind of taking a shot at what was really unprecedented generosity by the Ricketts. I think they went way above and beyond what other teams have done."

Maybe it's just a coincidence, but these two April 13 headlines from USA Today and The New York Times sure appeared to be sending a calculated message to 1060 W. Addison St. and Crane Kenney's business-operations department: "Baseball Hall of Fame Sorely Lacking Artifacts from Cubs' World Series Run" and "Cubs Fans Waited 108 Years. Cooperstown is Still Waiting."

"Honestly, I think the (delay's) been administrative, making sure you log everything," Hoyer said. "Certainly, there's no reason to hold out on Cooperstown. I think that's the biggest honor — to have a little display in Cooperstown about the team — so it's not a desire to not have it there.

"I just think it's cataloguing it and deciding what to send, but we'll be well-represented. It's kind of too bad that became a story, because obviously it's not about a lack of respect for Cooperstown, that's for sure."

After ToiletGate, Hoyer did another media scrum and talked about some of the growing pains while rebuilding an iconic ballpark: "Hopefully, we get all that stuff behind us and just focus on the players. And hopefully our team is what you want to talk about — not bathroom lines or porta-potties."

Two years later, that's still the organization's greatest asset, a spectacular collection of young talent and battle-tested veterans who won't be signing those promissory notes.

"Everyone knows the carriage of our guys and the quality of our team," Hoyer said. "In general, the stories are probably not going to be about controversies within that clubhouse, because I think we have a good group.

"Everyone knows they work hard and they're good guys, (but) there's always going to be little things that pop up."

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