Linked at the bottom of this post is an interesting article by Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports talking about former Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry…which got me thinking…
Jim Hendry still takes a lot of slack from Cubs fans. Granted, much of it is deserved. But Hendry still wasn’t the garbage GM many fans believe him to be.
To be fair, Hendry brought the Cubs painfully close to a World Series appearance in 2003. And soon thereafter, while under pressure from the Tribune ownership to increase the team’s sale value, went all-in to sign free-agent Alfonso Soriano and lure big-name manager Lou Piniella to Chicago–all with the hopes of breaking the Cubs’ long championship drought in a hurry.
It’s hard to know if Hendry would’ve taken a different approach had the Tribune not been operating in the self interest of adopting a win-at-all-cost mentality, which directly came at the expense of the organization’s future success on the field.
The mindset of the Tribune Company is what led, and allowed Hendry to spend wildly on veteran players, and to dole out heavy, back-loaded contracts. All of which has hamstrung the team in recent seasons.
For certain, the meticulous and tedious transition the Cubs are currently going through under Theo Epstein wouldn’t have sufficed under Tribune ownership.
The results of Hendry’s play-now, pay-later moves were hard to argue with. The Cubs won back-to-back division titles (2007-08), something the club had not done in 100-years, and in 2008 tied a major league record with 8 All Star representatives while the team won 97-games during the regular season.
Had the Cubs won the Fall Classic in either one of those two seasons, all of Hendry’s sins and shortcoming as Chicago’s GM would’ve been absolved. Instead they were magnified, and soon the consequences of Hendry’s actions took its toll on the overall health of the franchise.
Panic stricken after being swept out of the playoffs in consecutive years, Hendry signed world renown malcontent Milton Bradley in 2009, which was arguably the biggest bone-headed move during his tenure, and what ultimately set in motion his undoing as general manager.
I always gave Hendry credit for owning up to that mistake. He never shied away from the fact it was a horrible decision to sign Bradley, and accepted full blame in being the one to do so.
But it should be recognize Hendry’s body of work with the Cubs wasn’t completely awful. He did makes smart moves and trades that paid off handsomely in the Cubs’ favor. One could argue he didn’t make enough of them, but this wasn’t just all dumb luck carrying the Cubs to the postseason under Hendry’s watch.
More specifically, given the circumstances surrounding the strange ownership of the Tribune Company, I thought Hendry did what almost any GM would’ve done in his shoes: followed the orders of the people paying his salary, and those orders instructed Hendry to win immediately, the future success of the organization be damned.
Here’s the catch, though, had Hendry won his World Series there would be no Theo Epstein, no Jed Hoyer, no ‘New Cubs Way’…nor any of the other positive changes that have put the Cubs on path to becoming a top-notch organization for years to come.
To trade all this recent progress under the Ricketts’ regime for just one–one–world championship with Hendry would be a deal many Cubs fans would’ve gladly accepted just a few years ago.
But in doing so you better love’ya some Jim Hendry . For all the flack he took, and still takes, you can bet ol’ Jimbo would’ve been elevated to rock star status in Chicago, an untouchable cog of the Cubs’ organization, even with the new ownership, had his gambling ways paid off in the ultimate prize of winning a World Series championship.
And to think how ever close Hendry actually came to pulling it off.
The phone rang in the visiting clubhouse after Game 7 of the 2003 National League Championship Series. The Bartman series. The one in which Redmond’s Marlins defeated Hendry’s Cubs, winning Game 7, 9-6.
Hendry was on the line, calling to congratulate Redmond.
“I know he was devastated,” Redmond said. “But he was happy for me. That’s just the kind of guy he is.