George Mitchell's report reinforced our ire. Even the biggest baseball fans among us look with both suspicion and disdain at the recent exploits of the game's stars. We spit out unbelievable numbers, "$1.3 million a year for a banjo-hitting second baseman who was doing steroids?" With Tribune trying to finally close its deal to go private amid last-minute banker worry, we have another comparison we can make.
Let's take Alfonso Soriano, the slugger the Cubbies picked up on the free agent market a year ago for the cool sum of $136 million for eight years. And let's take his ultimate boss, Dennis FitzSimons, CEO of Tribune.
Soriano hit .299 last year, but he did pop 33 homers and ended up with a slugging percentage of .580.
Fitzsimons, after the year that was, must feel like a sluggee, though the bruises may be salved by his going-away present, a $38 million payoff in severance and stock effective today.
His batting average was worse than Soriano's, and, while there may have been a double or two in there, no one's seen any homers busting out of the Tribune Tower in recent memory.
Instead the back of his baseball card would show:
----Today, Moody's reduced its Tribune debt ratings -- further into junk territory -- for the second time in the last couple of months.
----Tribune's pre-private market cap is about $3.8B. Just as one comparison, consider that the company paid $8 billion for Times Mirror -- now just part of its portfolio -- in 2000
----For the last full quarter, Tribune's publishing revenues dropped 7 per cent. That's under-performing a struggling industry.
----On his watch, Tribune was probably the highest-profile company caught in the circulation fraud scandal. Just today -- trying to tidy up ahead of the sale -- the company settled federal fraud charges, agreeing to pay a fine of $15 million, in addition to some $83 million it has paid in restitution to wronged advertisers. The company acknowledged that "senior managers and subordinates systematically inflated paid circulation numbers reported in the newspapers' books and records, under-reported the number of copies of the Newspapers that were returned unsold, and falsely represented to the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) that the inflated numbers were accurate."
----He leaves a highly nervous company with unasked employees who are coming to "own" a company burdened with $13 billion in debt and declining revenue lines as far as the eye can see.
Who can blame the Trib staffers for feeling a bit wary. It's like dad's leaving home and telling the kids, "Here's the checkbook. There's enough to pay the bills as long as you don't buy anything new, and the weather doesn't get any worse. I'm out of here."
Alfonso's beginning to look like a bargain.The Fitzsimons memo and (Chicago Tribune columnist) Phil Rosenthal's excellent take on the CEO's tenure, here. Content Bridges on Tribune here