Saturday, August 20, 2011

Jim Hendry and the damage done

Jim Hendry is out as general manager of the Chicago Cubs.
He leaves a legacy of nine years of rosters crammed with the
irresponsible, the overpaid and the excuse-makers.

There was a time, kiddies, back a couple of decades ago, when it was easier to find a Cubs game, or a Braves game, on the local cable than a Twins game.

It was the era of the superstations. WGN (with Harry Caray) carried pretty much every Cubs game; WTBS, later shortened to TBS (with Harry's son Skip) the Braves. In the 1980s and '90s, the Cubs and Braves won national followings — even with frequently lousy teams — simply by being there.

Harry and Skip are both dead now, and so is the era of the superstations making "local" broadcasts national. Someday the national appeal of the Cubs and Braves will wither away; it's already diminished, especially that of the Braves, who are no longer carried by TBS. The Cubs are less accessible than they were on WGN outside Chicagoland, but still there to some degree.

But when they are on, I almost always root against them, and that simply wasn't the case back in the day.

Randy Bush, who played on two Twins
World Series winners (1987 and '91)
is the interim general manager, but
will not be considered for the job
And that's Jim Hendry's fault.

Hendry left his job as general manager of the Cubs on Friday, at which point it was revealed that he had been fired almost a month ago; he was a dead man walking during the trading deadline and the period of signing draft picks. He held the job for nine seasons and lost it, he said Friday, because his team simply didn't win enough.

Which is true, but which doesn't really get to the heart of the matter. What has stood out to me over Hendry's tenure — not just as general manager but before that, as the Cubs director of player development — is his eerie ability to acquire players lacking in personal accountability.

Hendry lost his credibility with me in 1999, years before he landed the top job, when he drafted pitcher Ben Christensen in the first round. Christensen was notorious for the blinding of Anthony Molina, whom he hit in the eye with a warm-up pitch while Molina was on-deck. When Mickey Morandini, the Cubs second baseman, reached out to Molina, the Cubs released him.

Christensen didn't make it; he had injuries, but I wrote at the time that the Molina incident suggested that he lacked the emotional stability for the majors.

Christensen was the early poster boy for that kind of thing on Hendry's teams. Carlos Zambrano. Milton Bradley. Alfonso Soriano. Hendry's Cubs pouted publicly when Cubs broadcasters praised opposition players. Sammy Sosa walked out on the team in 2004; Zambrano walked out on the team in 2011. Nothing every really changed.

Jim Hendry had a fatal attraction to jerks, and his player choices transformed the Cubs from the Lovable Losers to just plain losers.

No comments:

Post a Comment