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Cubs' sale in tangled web of Illinois governor's federal indictment

December 9, 2008 | 12:06 pm

This has not been the best of weeks for the Chicago Cubs, at least off the field. One day after Tribune, the owner of the team (and the Los Angeles Times) filed for bankruptcy, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was arrested on federal corruption charges.

The connection? When Sam Zell bought Tribune one year ago, he said he would sell the Cubs by opening day 2008. That gave him a window of barely more than three months, and financial analysts called that timetable "highly optimistic" given that major league owners would have to investigate and approve any new owners.

There was another complicating factor, however. Zell and his advisers investigated whether they might get  a higher price for all the available assets -- most notably the Cubs and Wrigley Field -- by selling them separately. At one point, Zell and his advisers tried to broker a deal in which the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority, which owns and operates U.S. Cellular Field, would buy Wrigley Field from Tribune.

Those negotiations failed, and now Tribune is selling the Cubs and Wrigley Field in one package. But here's the kicker: During those negotiations, according to the indictment:

Blagojevich and [chief of staff John] Harris also allegedly conspired to demand the firing of Chicago Tribune editorial board members responsible for editorials critical of Blagojevich in exchange for state help with the sale of Wrigley Field, the Chicago Cubs baseball stadium owned by Tribune Co.

-- Bill Shaikin