Chicago, to this non-resident, has always been a city of bosses. From Al Capone to Richard Daley, the city itself has been run for decades by morally questionable and certainly polarizing personalities. And that’s even truer, with perhaps somewhat lesser stakes, in the case of its sports teams. The Wrigley family ran the Cubs for decades, some may say his chewing gum customers treated his product better by sticking it under a desk than they did their fan base. George Halas ruled the Bears with an iron fist during both the glory days of his youth and the horrible days of his later years, and his now centenarian daughter still has some stewardship of a perpetually underperforming modern day version that is best known for playing the city and its suburbs in a battle for a new home to replace one they currently toil in that dates back to those youthful Halas days. And as any passionate Bulls fan or consternated White Sox fan can tell you, Jerry Reinsdorf may have delivered titles in their lifetime, but not without controversy.
But none of these bosses’ legacies compare with that of Rocky Wirtz, the Blackhawks’ czar who unexpectedly passed away earlier this week at age 70.
Rocky was a second generation disciple of a family that took over the franchise in the 1950s and steered it to glory in their earlier years of ownership. A generation of Baby Boomers grew up cheering the likes of Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, Tony Esposito and others, in an iconic barn known as Chicago Stadium that featured even into modern times a scoreboard with the coolest throwback non-digital clocks this young fan ever saw. But Hawks fans rarely saw them, as THE NEW YORK POST’s Christian Arnold reported:
Wirtz took over ownership of the original six franchise in 2007 following the passing of his father Bill and kick-started a renaissance for the franchise that did away with many of the highly unpopular policies of his father. Wirtz allowed home games to be broadcast on television and began reconnecting with franchise greats.
He also hired John McDonough away from the Chicago Cubs to be the Blackhawks’ team president.
Wirtz made a concerted effort to remake the franchise and three years later the organization won its first Stanley Cup since 1961.
The Blackhawks also won the Stanley Cup in 2013 and 2015 under Wirtz’s stewardship while returning to their place among the NHL’s marquee teams by making nine consecutive playoff appearances from 2009-17.
But while the on-ice performance was stellar, simultaneously the off-ice performance was disgusting, as Arnold continued:
The Blackhawks were heavily criticized for their handling of sexual assault allegations by two players against former video coach Brad Aldrich during the team’s championship run in 2010.
An investigation by the NHL in 2021 found that Wirtz wasn’t aware of allegations, but the league fined the club $2 million and several key hockey operations people resigned.
During a town hall with fans and media in 2022, Wirtz became testy with reporters when a panel he was on had been asked what the team was doing to prevent another incident like that from occurring.
“I don’t think it’s any of your business. You don’t work for the company. If someone at the company asks that question, we’ll answer it,” he said at the time. “And I think you should get on to the next subject.”
Wirtz later apologized for the outburst.
But the question remains unanswered. And with Rocky’s passing a third generation, his oldest son Danny, will now assume command of the team. And with top draft pick Connor Bedard on the way, the fact that Danny is taking over the 31st best team in the 32-team league can be sidestepped. The fact that Danny was technically in charge of day-to-day operations since 2020–meaning he was at least as acutely aware of the investigations going on in 2021 as his pop was–can’t.
So when Danny gets down to business after an appropriate period of grieving, that should be the first question he is asked, and one will hope he will be more forthcoming than was Rocky.
The fans deserve that. The lives of the players whose lives were compromised by Aldrich, not to mention their families and friends, deserve that. Frankly, Connor Bedard deserves that. A fresh start for everyone should be in order.
Because I’m not sure Chicago wants to begin yet another chapter of Black Hawk Down.