Will the Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor . . .? | Bleader

Will the Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor . . .?

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Rick Morrissey has taken the pledge. "It's probably inevitable that naming rights will be sold," he e-mailed me about Wrigley Field, "but I guarantee fans will always call it Wrigley. And, yes, I would refer to it as only Wrigley in print."

That's a dramatic promise, for two reasons. First of all, the ballpark's owner, Sam Zell, is his boss. Zell likes to make his money hand over fist, and he thinks he can make a ton of it by selling naming rights. Morrissey's not paddling his corporate oar when he swears never to use the new name regardless. Other columnists are shaking a fist at Zell. Will they make the same promise?

I contacted Morrissey because his February 29 column, in which he asserted that the idea a  corporation can "plunk down $50 million a year [and] erase the very mention of Wrigley" is not only "silly, it is delusional" left me touched but skeptical. Morrissey went on, "Buying naming rights to Wrigley is like buying naming rights to the sun. The romantics who are in an uproar about a possible name change need to save their indignation for something that matters. . . . It always will be Wrigley." 

But only if sportswriters continue to call it Wrigley. If they cave the fans will cave.

Which brings us to reason two. Journalists are expected to report the world as it is even if they don't like how it is. I mean, how can we be sure they got the score right if they didn't get the ballpark right? I'm not about to read the code of ethics out loud to Morrissey. I'm just saying . . .

Anyway, five years ago, the White Sox sent a flack out to read a press release to reporters. Owners Jerry Reinsdorf and Eddie Einhorn were nowhere in sight. "Comiskey Park's good name was being sold for $68 million over 20 years," Morrissey wrote then. "Comiskey Park was now U.S. Cellular Field. U.S. Sell-Your-Soul Field. . . . In a truly amazing example of the past being dynamited, the three-page press release did not mention Comiskey Park once. Apparently, 92 years of the name was enough. If you read the release, it was as if Comiskey never existed." 

Back then, Morrissey was as indignant as a man can get. Now he's older and wiser.

"I don't think I'm a wiser man," he wrote me. "I think I'm more realistic now. The only way fans have a voice is with their wallets, and they've proven again and again that they don't care about corporate sponsorships and naming rights. But I believe Wrigley and Fenway would be exceptions." 

Comiskey Park, for all its 92 storied years, was no exception. But a wonderful thing happened. And Morrissey must be hailed for his role in making it happen. Morrissey ended the column I was quoting above by predicting, wrongly, that habit would win out. "Habits don't change just because money was exchanged," he wrote. "Then again, maybe people will call it The Cell . . . "

The rest is history. "One of the sweet ironies of it now being called The Cell," Morrissey's e-mail concluded, "is that it doesn't give U.S. Cellular (the phone company) the name recognition it wanted. The Cell could refer to any cell-phone company. It's generic. Maybe Wrigley will become the Beer Can."

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