Saturday, August 20, 2011

Hendry Era Ends With a Whimper--From Ricketts

      Jim Hendry's lengthy tenure as general manager of the Cubs ended not with a bang, but with a whimper--from owner Tom Ricketts. Like most of Ricketts' actions since taking over the franchise in October 2009, the circumstances of Hendry's removal are puzzling, even bizarre.
     If Hendry deserved to be fired, and most Cubs fans are satisfied that he did, the time for Ricketts to pull the trigger would have been the same day he took over the franchise. His family's purchase of the Cubs from Sam Zell took better than two years to consummate, so it is incredible that Ricketts was not ready to hit the ground running when Zell finally handed him the keys. He should have had ample time to decide whether Hendry was or was not the right man for the general manager's job (not to mention to get his plans in place regarding how to finance the long-overdue renovation of Wrigley Field).
     Instead, Ricketts wasted the past two years while the franchise went backward both on and off the field. He fiddled while Cub Nation burned.
     When Ricketts got around to firing Hendry, he did so in the strangest way possible. He informed Hendry on July 22 that the latter was out of a job, but did not announce or enforce the decision until yesterday. In the meantime, the lame-duck Hendry directed the Cubs' draft of amateur players and also was responsible for the club's moves (or lack thereof) at the July 31 trading deadline.
     Let's just say that Ricketts has a long way to go to earn the confidence of his constituents. He has done nothing so far to prove that he has a clue what he is doing, but if he chooses the right man to replace Hendry, he will be taking a big step in that direction.

     As for Hendry, he is a class act who remained true to form when the news of his dismissal was announced. He answered questions from the media politely and thoughtfully, then went into the clubhouse one last time to wish the players well.
     Hendry's Cubs team made the postseason three times in his ten years as GM, but the National League pennant drought that began in 1946 continued, as did the world championship drought that began in 1909.
     Money burned a hole in Hendry's pocket. He extravagantly overspent to sign free agents of limited value, such as Alfonso Soriano, Kosuke Fukudome, and Milton Bradley, and to retain his own players, most notably Carlos Zambrano and Aramis Ramirez. In each of these cases, Hendry was essentially bidding only against himself.
     Hendry's most lauded trades aren't so impressive in retrospect. His acquisition of Ramirez from the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2003 and Derrek Lee from the Florida Marlins in 2004 were straightforward salary dumps by his trading partners. His acquisition of Nomar Garciaparra for the stretch run in 2004 looked like a coup at the time, but Garciaparra was available only because the Boston Red Sox had concluded that he could no longer play shortstop and that his offense was also slipping. The Cubs came to the same conclusions themselves a year later.
     Hendry's last major decision, the hiring of Mike Quade as manager, was a case of one hard-working baseball lifer rewarding another for his years of anonymous service. Quade survived the end of the Hendry era, but most likely not by much.
     "Obviously you always look back at your mistakes and want mulligans," Hendry said as he took his leave. "Just like most things in life, you don't get them."

Cubs General Managers:

Bill Veeck, Sr., 1919 - 1933
Charles Weber, 1934 - 1940
Jim Gallagher, 1940 - 1949
Wid Matthews, 1950 - 1956
John Holland, 1957 - 1975
E.R. "Salty" Saltwell, 1976
Bob Kennedy, 1977 - 1981
Herman Franks, 1981
Dallas Green, 1981 - 1987
Jim Frey, 1987 - 1991
Larry Himes, 1991 - 1994
Ed Lynch, 1994 - 2000
Andy MacPhail, 2000 - 2002
Jim Hendry, 2002 - 2011