Paid protesters used in Wrigley Field sign protest before Cubs home opener


It was hard to miss them outside Wrigley Field before the Cubs home opener today: About 60 people in yellow “No Sign @ Wrigley” T-shirts. They passed out fliers beseeching recipients to phone Mayor Daley and 44th Ward Ald. Tom Tunney to object to the proposed Toyota sign the team’s new owner Tom Ricketts wants to erect in the left-field bleachers. “The Wrigleyville neighborhood has assembled a rather large group of protesters who are outraged over the news of possible signs being put up in Wrigley Field as they all feel these signs would truly take away from the natural and historic beauty that Wrigley Field has always offered,” said a press release.

Populist rage! Well, not really.

While rooftop owners have expressed their opposition to the sign, it became clear after talking to today’s demonstrators that the rally was as manufactured as a Corolla. The incensed Wrigleyvillians promised in the release were actually hired hands procured from Craigslist. For $25, they spent two hours lazily pretending to be passionate about a historic ballpark.

“Oh, is this a protest,” said Jesse Knowles, a Logan Square denizen, who responded as if I’d woken him from a nap. “I guess I could be protesting. I don’t know. I hadn’t thought about it. They’re just paying me. Well, it was a Craigslist thing, so I hope they’re paying me.”

Equally clueless was fauxtestor Chuck Welton when I asked him to explain the message of the rally. “They didn’t give me no message,” he said. “They just told me to come out here and pass out fliers. So that’s what I’m doing.” A man named George (who wanted his last name withheld) admitted he knew nothing about the sign controversy before this morning, but “when they explained it to me, I was like, ‘I agree.’”

The everpresent “they” is Pierce Hutchings, the 35-year-old Wrigleyville ringmaster of the event. He says he spent “a few hundred bucks” getting the shirts and fliers printed and hiring the help. “I just think the sign would ruin the historic quality of Wrigley Field,” Hutchings told me, pedaling around the ballpark on one of the stepper bikes that he sells and distributes. “First it’s a sign and what’s next, a JumboTron?” Hutchings said he didn’t think paying people to feign outrage cheapened the protest. “When one of my friends helps me move, I buy them a case of beer. Like, here you go, thanks for lifting my couch. It’s the same kind of thing.”

Walking around the ballpark before the game, Cubs senior vice president of community affairs, Michael Lufrano, told Hutchings to “give us a break on the sign thing.”

“The commitment is that all the revenue from things like this get invested in the ballpark, the neighborhood and the team,” Lufrano told me when I bumped into him outside the Friendly Confines. “We had about $10 million in off-season investments in the park. People are coming here today looking at concrete panels that have been removed, looking at brand new restroom facilities, looking clubhouse upgrades and all kinds of new things inside the park that the Ricketts family invested using their own money. With that background, one sign doesn’t seem like it’s the end of the world.”

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