- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 24, 2009

CHICAGO | Curt Conklin once lived with Tom Ricketts in an apartment just outside Wrigley Field, and the two were regulars at Cubs games. He knows Ricketts wasn’t just a fan, but could recite Rick Sutcliffe’s 1984 statistics by rote (20-6, 3.64 ERA).

And he knows this: If the 43-year-old Ricketts and his billionaire family do, in fact, buy the Cubs and their beloved stadium from Tribune Co., it will be very good news for the team and its forever hopeful but always disappointed fans.

“He’s really smart, he really loves baseball and he really loves the Cubs,” said Conklin, who worked at the Ricketts’ family company, TD Ameritrade Holding Corp., and for the company Tom Ricketts founded, Incapital.

What has Conklin so optimistic about his friend’s ability to deliver the Cubs’ first World Series title in 101 years is what Ricketts is not: a rich kid who has never built anything himself.

“The success of his life is that he has [built his company] 100 percent on his own,” Conklin said a day after it was announced that Tribune had selected the family’s bid for exclusive negotiations. Without being a meddler, Ricketts’ drive and decision-making ability would be good for the team, he said.

A finalized deal would still need to be approved by baseball owners. They routinely approve new ownership groups by acclamation, choosing to concentrate on their own businesses rather than focus on their competitors. Ricketts, like most other Cubs fans too young to remember the team’s last World Series appearance in 1945, attended the University of Chicago and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees there.

He started his business life working on the Chicago Board Options Exchange as a market maker in 1988. From there he went to Mesirow Financial, where he was a vice president, before becoming a vice president and investment banker at ABN Amro. In 1999, he left to co-found Incapital, an investment banking and securities brokerage firm.

What’s notably absent from his day-job resume is TD Ameritrade. His father, Joe Ricketts, helped found the online stock brokerage, but Tom never relied on it for his weekly paycheck.

He does serve with his father and brother, Peter Ricketts, on the board of the Omaha, Neb.-based company’s board.

As for the Cubs, Ricketts was a fan growing up in Omaha. Like many other Midwestern kids, he could watch the Cubs because the reach of WGN-TV extended far beyond Illinois.

“WGN was the only baseball they had,” said Conklin, who also was a college roommate of Ricketts’.

While his friend’s name didn’t surface until last summer as a possible buyer, Conklin said he’s been thinking about it a lot longer than that.

“About 10 years ago when [Ameritrade] started doing well, he said, ‘If this thing works out, what do you say we buy the Cubs?’” Conklin recalled.

When exactly he began talking about his family buying the Cubs isn’t clear, but Ricketts’ spokesman Dennis Culloton said the purchase, worth about $900 million, was Tom’s idea.

“The family said run with it,” Culloton said, who said the sale includes a 25 percent interest in Comcast SportsNet Chicago, a regional sports network.

Ricketts did and the family’s bid was picked from among three finalists.

How would the family run the team? Culloton said Ricketts doesn’t want to talk about it until the sale is completed.

“My family and I are Cubs fans,” Ricketts said Thursday night. “We share the goal of Cubs fans everywhere to win a World Series and build the consistent championship tradition that the fans deserve.”

Conklin doesn’t think his friend would spend as much as the New York Yankees, who have the highest payroll in baseball. But he has no doubt that Ricketts will be willing to spend money on high-priced players. He also said that Cubs general manager Jim Hendry doesn’t have to worry about Ricketts making deals on his own.

“Hendry’s really good at his job and Tom knows that Hendry is good at his job,” he said.

But he did say Hendry might expect to pick up his phone and hear Ricketts suggesting the two go scout players together.

“Tom is going to take this opportunity to learn a really fun job,” he said.

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