Quantcast

I don’t think that too many people would argue that Tom Ricketts isn’t a good businessman.

If his Wikipedia page is to be trusted, Ricketts was a success in the business world irrespective of his father’s prodigious efforts at TD Ameritrade. After taking his MBA at the University of Chicago, the younger Ricketts made his bones working at various financial firms, and pioneering the use of the Internet to help his clients sell their investment-grade bonds directly to retail customers. In 1999, he co-founded Incapital, a successful investment bank, for which he remains the Executive Chairman.

So you’ll forgive me if I chuckle to myself when people suggest Ricketts bit off more than he could chew financially by, together with his family, buying the Chicago Cubs. The guy plain knows how to make wise investments and run a business – I’m certain the same will be true of his investment in the Cubs.

But the question that we’ve still never been able to answer is whether he plans to run the Cubs a little too much like a business. Will he focus more on the bottom line than on-field success? Will he spend on payroll even if it isn’t a sound financial move? Will he manage his front office with the heart of a fan or the stolid approach of a Fortune 500 executive? (well, a Fortune 500 executive not named Mark Cuban, that is…)

We still don’t know fully how Ricketts’ business skills and background will inform his ownership of the Cubs, but I think we finally got a meaningful window during his pre-game, State of the Cubs press conference last night.

And, despite what you might think, I liked what I heard.

In addition to expressing confidence in manager Mike Quade, confidence in the team’s future performance, confidence in the team’s finances, confidence that attendance will come back, and confidence in the organization’s ability to field a good team in 2012 and beyond, Tom Ricketts expressed his confidence in Cubs’ General Manager Jim Hendry.

When asked if Jim Hendry’s job was safe, Ricketts replied, “I have 100 percent confidence in Jim. He’s working very hard to do everything he can to get this season back where we want it to be.”

Simple. Just a touch evasive. Businesslike.

Confidence – a complete belief in the powers, trustworthiness, or reliability of a person or thing – is one of those buzz words owners and front office types like to throw around. And, if they used it properly, we probably wouldn’t have the expression, “the dreaded vote of confidence.”

So, when Tom Ricketts uses the word confidence, you’ll understand if I’m usually unmoved. If he says he’s confident that the team will turn it around this year, or that the fans will flock back to Wrigley as soon as the weather is better, I think he’s just doing some hip shot PR. If he says he’s confident that the organization can field a winner in 2012, I think he’s just being optimistic in a carefully-phrased way. Those are expressions of confidence that can safely breeze by my ears without much thought taking place in the space between.

But when he said he has “100 percent confidence” in Jim Hendry, the hamster wheel in that space starts turning. And, after a few revolutions of the wheel last night, I liked what I was hearing.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking I’m crazy, and wondering how could I be happy about Ricketts saying he’s standing behind a guy I’ve suggested letting go. I liked what I was hearing because Ricketts’ statement of confidence wasn’t about expressing a complete belief in the powers, trustworthiness, or reliability of Jim Hendry as the Cubs’ GM.

It was about managing our expectations.

Any good businessman knows that the best way to exceed expectations is to ensure that your stakeholders’ expectations are appropriately calibrated in the first place. Indeed, if you can get those expectations nice and low, it’s even easier (I’m looking at you, Apple revenue guidance).

Historically, Chicago Cubs fans have had low expectations – there was no need to artificially deflate them. But with the we-can-almost-taste-it year in 2003, and the subsequent uptick in spending, our expectations rose. Perhaps unreasonably.

And nowhere did they raise more precipitously than with respect to the performance of individual players and management.

Key error in the fourth game of the season? Trade him.

Walked a guy with the bases loaded? Release him.

Haven’t won a game in a week? Fire the manager and the GM.

We’ve come to expect not only success, but, in the face of failure, we also expect immediacy. I think our expectations in that regard have probably grown too high. And Tom Ricketts, the successful businessman, was helping bring them back down.

Even those of us who’ve hoped the Cubs would part ways with Jim Hendry before this year’s trade deadline have to acknowledge that, from a logistical standpoint, it would be very difficult. First, the Cubs would have to find a suitable replacement who isn’t already under contract with another team or whose team wouldn’t mind the Cubs doing some pilfering (legitimate, in-house candidates to take over as GM in anything but an interim role are about nil). Second, the Cubs would have to come to terms with that replacement in a matter of days. Third, that replacement would have to get up to speed with the entirety of the Cubs’ organization – from the big team to the recent draftees – within a matter of weeks. Fourth, the replacement would have to actually put together good moves before the trade deadline, lest the whole exercise probably be more harmful than just riding Jim Hendry out for the rest of the year.

Based on Ricketts’ carefully chosen words, I think he gets this. I think he understands that he can’t count on making a front office change midseason. I think he also understands that he can’t avoid the media and these questions forever (his two-week silence already felt like half of a forever). So he did what any good businessman would do: he managed our expectations by letting us know that, for now, things can’t be changed. Moreover, he preemptively saved face.

Like it or not, doing his best to ensure that the fans are still on his side, however things play out, is not just good for Tom Ricketts, it’s good for the Cubs. An owner whom the fans hate is a dangerous thing. An owner whom the fans love is, himself, an even stronger fan.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t believe the best outcome is Jim Hendry sticking around for the rest of this season, let alone 2012. But if my *expectation* that Hendry could be gone as soon as July is unrealistic, I need someone in charge to tell me that I’m nuts. I think that’s exactly what Tom Ricketts was doing last night, while simultaneously hedging his bets in case he can’t find a better option (in his mind) for 2012, AND simultaneously refusing to commit to Jim Hendry in 2012 (“We’re just going forward right now [with respect to Hendry's position], and I’ll see what the offseason looks like then. I’m pretty happy.”).

That kind of carefully choreographed dance is the stuff of Baryshnikov or Fred Astair. Or a really good businessman.

Besides, what was he supposed to say when asked if Jim Hendry’s job is safe? “Actually, no. We’re looking around, but it’s pretty hard to find mid-season the kind of top-shelf GM this organization deserves, so I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to fire him until after the season. I’d prefer to make the move now, but don’t be mad at me if it’s just not practical.”

Come on. He said what any owner, confronted with that kind of question, would say – and he said it in a carefully-wrapped package that left himself a dozen outs, while managing fans’ expectations for the immediate future. Do I really have to underscore the fact that he followed up his statement of confidence in Jim Hendry with the notation that Hendry is “working very hard” to get “this season” back where we want it to be? And that the team is “just going forward right now” with Hendry, and will “see what the offseason looks like.” Translation: I know this season has been shit, and I’m letting Hendry continue to work it out because I don’t have any other options right now. But this season is the the most to which I’m committing.

I thought, even as someone who would prefer Hendry were let go sooner rather than later, Ricketts’ approach was impressive. Were I one of his shareholders, I’d feel much better about the direction of the company today than I did yesterday.

So, in the end, I have 100 percent confidence in Tom Ricketts as a businessman. And better, I’m starting to have more confidence that he will translate his business skills to his role as the owner of the Cubs in a way that actually improves the team from the fans’ perspective, not just the bottom line.

Or maybe my expectations are simply getting out of whack.

 

  • Michigan Goat

    Ace, excellent response! We are passionate but impatient fans and I like how Ricketts has been cool and calculated this year, and I’m certain he has exploratory committees that are researching the who/what/when of the next GM/Prez. He is a savvy, calculated business man and I’m sure he is always considering his options and thinking best/worst case senarios with current and future moves. I am going to trust him and wait, I think he will make both the right baseball and business move for this team. However,I do think the trade deadline will give us some insight on Hendry’s future. If Jimbo makes some wild trades that involve top prospects I will see Ricketts giving him a chance Rostock around, but if we make minimal, low risk/salary dump moves then I will know Ricketts has pulled in the reigns and plans on replacing him. The next few months should speak volumes on Hendry’s future.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Ace

      Thanks, MG. That’s the way I see things.

  • Michigan Goat

    Rostock=”to stick around” stoopid iPad… Maybe my iPad is telling me to go to Germany this summer, Apple is now telling me where to vacation… That’s marketing

  • Keith

    Great article Ace – I have been in belief that Ricketts has been doing the right things all along – the status of this club will not be fixed overnight – they bought a mess and they are picking away at it – Quade was the perfect piece, unassuming, no expectations leading a young and misfit team – he is put into a position to fail why would you put an icon like Ryno there and compound the problem or hire a quality manager who will get frustrated with these pieces – there is no quick fix right now – it is a long process that will have to be carefully and meticulously executed

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Ace

      Thanks, Keith. I just suspect there’s a lot going on behind the scenes that we, for obvious reasons, don’t know about.

  • Hogie

    GREAT article Ace! This kind of read between the lines, and like you said, managing expectations, is the kind of cool reaction that I feel like many of us Cubs fans need once in a while. Obviously I am a big fan of this site, but for me this was one of the best I’ve read here. Also, you get a ton of credit for (as usual) giving us great information in a conversational, fun to read tone that displays integrity without giving up your voice as a fan, so thank you.

    To MG- Totally agree with trade deadline giving us an idea of what will happen.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Ace

      Wow, thanks, Hogie. That’s high praise. Appreciated.

  • http://www.gravatar.com/avatar/5386b75c5ecdcd1a7490dde9cd6dd3fa?s=80 Jeff

    This is entirely too optimistic an article for me. I’m not saying it’s not well written and doesn’t have some valid points, but it’s not the viewpoint I have taken after the press conference. The shift in Hendry’s comments from “all in” for this year, to “building the team for the future, moving forward”, coupled along with the support from Ricketts, leads me to believe Hendry has Ricketts ear, and he’s such a nice guy, that Ricketts is going to let him keep running things. I have no faith that he’s going to re-evaluate the situation this offseason after he made the comments about Hendry “being the guy who’s going to decide how to spend the big money coming off the books this offseason”. He is clearly primed to let Hendry continue to run the team, he’s going to allow Hendry to burn more huge money, on back loaded, no trade clause contracts, and most importantly ,Hendry is going to get to rebuild this team FOR THE THIRD TIME. I wish I could share your view Ace, but I think Ricketts has his mind made up, and he’s got his people in place already. Those who don’t remember the past are doomed to repeat it, guess what, we are getting ready to repeat the Hendry money bags fiasco all over again, and the mediocre to terrible Cubs will remain.

    • MichiganGoat

      Jeff, I have those same fears, and if Jimbo is still here next year I’ll have a hard time having any confidence in Ricketts. But for right now I just have to “believe” (aka drink the Cubs Kool-aid) that Ricketts will bring in the right pieces to help us be competitive in the following years.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Ace

      I hear you, Jeff, but it’s just not the way I interpreted things after thinking about it. He had to say something, and he couldn’t say Hendry was out the door. So he gave a crafty statement of support. I think Ricketts was leaving open the possibility of Hendry being back in 2012 simply because Ricketts is a smart business man, and he knows you can’t set yourself up to look like an idiot. Leave open all possibilities.

    • hardtop

      I agree with Jeff, too optimistic. I also believe ricketts, despite being a very good businessman, is not a well versed or knowledgeable baseball fan, Cubs or otherwise. I know a lot of people who claim to be Cubs fans, who cry with the rest of us, but still are not connoisseurs of the finer aspects of the game or team. They don’t know the minor league players names. they don’t pay any attention to the draft, they don’t know the history in the front office, salary/contract details, where players came from and go to, etc. They know the record and the details of the Cards series but they may not know the difference between a passed ball and a wild pitch. They just cheer on their team while wearing their favorite players jersey, and say things like “man we stink” around the water cooler at work. Nothing wrong with that, I actually kind of wish I could be that kind of fan, but these people are more “Chicagoan” than ridiculous baseball head, like some of us on this site. To me, it’s clear; Ricketts is one of these types of fans. Which is totally fine, he was probably too busy building a financial empire to be bogged down with the Cubbies every waking moment (ugh, I need to get a life) No, I’m done with Ricketts. He obviously isn’t a baseball guy and doesn’t have enough sense to know it. He could save his reputation and this team by taking the high road and hiring a highly coveted baseball mind to run the show from the very top, take himself out of the loop. This baseball mind, whomever it may, be would likely make firing Hendry his very first move.

      • http://www.bleachernation.com Ace

        Eh. Seems to me you’re assuming an awful lot based on, well, I’m not really sure what.

        • hardtop

          are you reffering to my assumption that ricketts isnt really baseball savy, or my assumption that a new president would can hendry immediatley. in both cases youd be right, i’m assuming, mostly based on what i have read, heard, or feel about hendry. as far as ricketts, im basing my assessment on he’s been saying publicly: he doesnt need a basebal man in the front office, jim hendrys job is safe, we’re fine except for injuries, we need to renovate wrigley to attaract crowds, etc. etc. all of which are silly silly super silly.

          • http://www.bleachernation.com Ace

            The first one – I just don’t know that we have any reason yet to know that Ricketts doesn’t know anything about baseball. I doubt he knows enough to be a baseball executive on his own merit, but I haven’t seen anything yet to indicate that he’s a baseball dunce.

  • Cheryl

    Ace, QWell written article. I agree with your conclusions that any move in regard to Quade or Hendry might be after the season is over, unless something hapoens to force his hand. I am curious how much of a free hand in trades Hendry will have. The draft seemed to go well but I don’t know if this reflects at all on Hendry’s trade possibilities.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Ace

      Thanks, Cheryl. Hard to say – but in theory, his strategy should be the same as the org: build for the future.

  • jstraw

    Ace, can you ‘splain me the “I’m pretty happy” part?

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Ace

      Sure. I thought it added the whole picture – to me, it sounded like a subtle *lack* of confidence, rather than 100 percent confidence. This is my gloss, but here’s how I heard it:

      “How did you like your sandwich?”

      “It was excellent. I wouldn’t have done anything differently. I’m 100 percent satisfied.”

      “How did you like your fries?”

      “They were ok. Acceptable. I’m pretty happy. I don’t know that I would get them again, and I certainly didn’t like them as much as the sandwich.”

      • jstraw

        I’m confused. What part of the Cubs is this perfect sandwich that he wouldn’t change anything about?

        • http://www.bleachernation.com Ace

          No part that I’m making any comment on. I’m just using it as a contrast to saying you’re “pretty happy” about something (as a way of saying that “pretty happy” doesn’t really mean much).

          To be more clear (and I understand that this is totally up for debate): when asked if Jim Hendry’s job is safe (right now), he said, “I have 100 percent confidence in Jim.” For reasons explained in the post, I think that’s just Ricketts saying what he had to say.

          But then, when asked if Hendry was going to be back for 2012, Ricketts said that he’d evaluate in the offseason, and that he was “pretty happy” with Jim. That just screams lukewarm, particularly when contrasted with “100 percent confidence.”

  • EQ

    I have at times been thrilled with Hendry, and at times been ready to lead the lynch mob to his hanging.. but sometimes we get wrapped up in the immediate & emotions of the game..

    Here’s my bullet form thoughts (hopes) on what I think will happen this season:
    * The Cubs will have a decent stretch this year (win 3 in a row at least once)
    * Our rotation won’t end as the worst in the MLB (Garza, Big Z, Demp will rebound and have decent seasons)
    * Aramis, Soriano, Soto, & Pena will all have 20-30+ HRs when the season’s over
    * The Cubs won’t end in 5th or 6th place, most likely 4th.

    So what if things get better? What if we win 8 of 10 or like last year end hot? Would we still hate Hendry & Quade and want them gone?? better yet, what if Hendry can pull off some great trades and unload some problem contracts for good prospects and put us in a great position for next year?

    I guess I just think that this season will turn out better that what we’ve seen so far.. will they win 90 games and get in the playoffs? Hell no… but maybe they can win 78-80 games and have a much better foundation to start from next season, and if Hendry impresses us, maybe we’ll be okay with him for at least one more season??

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Ace

      Unless the Cubs magically make the playoffs AND make a run in the playoffs, predicated on things Hendry has done, I don’t want Hendry back next year regardless of whether the Cubs finish in 6th place or 2nd place. That’s just me.

      But would you really prefer the Cubs do just enough this year to keep the status quo, rather than stink up the joint and have some real change happen?

      • MichiganGoat

        Bring on the stink!

      • hardtop

        I’d like them to make every effort to win, while realizing and owning up to the fact that they generally stink throughout, and shit-can hendry and quade in 2011. Can we have our cake and eat it too? Winning is good for the culture and development of the young guys, even if they arent necessarily participating avtively in the win. It also helps generate revenue needed to financethe new facilities the Cubs need. So, status quo is okay as long as we dont loose sight of the real issues, and we dont forget just how crappy we are right now. Yes, I say dump hendry at the all star break, and quade at year end. I only recommend year end for Mike becasue we dont have trammell to coach the team in quades absence, as Alan had done in Lou’s absence… the last 2 years.

  • pfk

    I’m still a supporter of Ricketts. I don’t let the won/lost record bother me because I didn’t expect anything but a .500 ball club this year. I’m more concerned with the organization’s infrastructure at this point and Ricketts has done a good job with fixing it: The new complex in Mesa, better clubhouse facilities in Wrigley, whole new playing surface, new facilities in the Dominican Republic, more money for scouts, more money to sign draft choices, serious attempt to get money for renovation and the T-Bldg, etc. His endorsement of Hendry was less than ringing. Besides, how many times have you heard, “I support him 100%” only to see a guy fired not long after that endorsement? I don’t like Hendry at all and I’m not sure about Q, but I still think Ricketts is a shrewd guy with a plan.

  • Funkster

    Great article. I wish more people would “get” it. I just can’t understand what people expected him to say. He throws the team and management under the bus and people would be howling he’s doing it the wrong way.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Ace

      Thanks, Funk. And he couldn’t keep hiding from the media, either. I just suspect that he knows what he’s doing.

  • KB

    Ace, did you read Fay Vincent’s attack on Mark Cuban today? He basically says, “Yeah, maybe he’s successful, but these renegade guys are bad news. They’re selfish, and they put their own teams first, instead of the sport in general. He’s not nice, pleasant, and easy to manipulate.” (very slight paraphrasing by me)

    Since Fay was the commissioner before Selig, it’s a good window into how they think. And it’s interesting that Selig is so high on Ricketts. IOW, Cub fans ain’t gonna be happy.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Ace

      Very interesting way of looking at it. The hopeful part of me says that it’s just as likely that, if Bud likes Tom for reasons unrelated to Tom simply being a nice guy, it’s because Bud knows that a good Cubs organization is good for baseball in general. Bud might not be hoping for a renegade, but I don’t doubt he thinks its good for baseball for one of the most popular teams to be competitive.

      I’m going to check out that article. Thanks.

  • Nick

    Great article! I just hope you’re right.

  • http://None Blinda

    Although now it sounds like it isnt going to happen, but if Jim Hendry is fired do you think Greg Maddux takes over as the Cubs gm?

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Ace

      My guess is that Maddux doesn’t want to be a GM. It’s a stressful, incredibly busy job, which doesn’t leave much time for golf (if you’re doing it right).

    • MichiganGoat

      I would be concerned with Maddux as GM for a couple of reason: 1-He lacks the experience I hope the Cubs get in the next GM, someone who knows the game of being GM or has been mentored/groomed to become a GM by a successful organization. 2-Its always dangerous to give a beloved Cub player a position that ultimately ends in disgrace typically, few GM are around for life or leave on their own term, same go for managers which is why I was okay with Ryno not getting the gig. I’d love to see him as a pitching coach one day but the same fears exist there. The best job for his legacy maybe in the special/honorary type of position he is in now.

  • al

    wow i understand every comment here but as a long suffering cubs fan i tend to think in the line of loyalty..this is a tough business to be in…love him when they are up and hate him when they are down…yep believe it or not thats the truth and tright now the cubs are DOWN..a big down.. but i say give him a chance to pull this thing together…weve all seen the bad times(larry himes…dallas green…jim frey..etc) and everyone loved and hated those guys.. do you think hendry is really trying to do a shitty job? he wants to win..but this is a very competitive market and you win some and lose some you cant always be right and you cant always be wrong in that job…where were the haters when the cubs where winning when he was part of this team? NOWHERE so ….lets give him a chance to right the ship…its not going to turn around in a yr and even two…but loyalty goes a LONG way my friends…hendry is a SMART baseball guy …sometimes it just doesnt work out…

  • Toosh

    Dallas Green was the best GM the Cubs have had in my lifetime.

    • Toosh

      As for giving Hendry a chance, he’s been the GM since ’02. He’s gotten enough chances.

      • http://www.bleachernation.com Ace

        I have to agree. He’s had many chances and huge advantages.

  • LouCub

    Dallas Green never pussyfooted like Jim Hendry does and was always a straight shooter…He most certainly was the best GM and if he wasn’t dismissed the Cubs would have won a Championship or more by now. He wouldn’t take any bullshite like Hendry does..As much as I loved Jim Frey as a manager, he and Larry himes did nothing but destroy EVERYTHING Dallas Green had built by killing our farm system with crapy draft after draft… Remember Ty Griffin, Earl Cunningham, Lance Dickson (had a shot but the Cubs over extended him and blew his arm out),Gary Scott, Jay Peterson, Derrick Wallace oh and the immortal Brooks Kieshnick???? Not many people do unfortunately!!!

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Ace

      Green certainly seemed to do a good job, and I can’t imagine it was easy to work under the Tribune regime.

  • Toosh

    You’re right, Ace. It wasn’t easy for Green to work for the Trib. I remember what he said at his last press conference. The Cubs were in the process of looking for a new manager at the time. Everyone thought that’s what the press conference was for. Green got up to the podium and said “This is not what you think”, then he said he had resigned.

  • al

    dallas was good…i agree but all of the gm’s managers players we all loved them when they are winning but when the going gets tough everybody is calling for heads to roll…jim frey was great as a manager and remember everybody hailed dusty his first year when they pulled off a division then 3 yrs later theyre calling for his head which i agreed on..but eveyone loved hendry when we were winning..and dont say you didnt because everyone loves a winner…everything runs in cycles..hendry will be back doing the right things and pushing the right buttons…

    • MichiganGoat

      Al, your right things are easy when your winning, but there was plenty of complaining when Hendry signed Fonzy. Everyone was excited to get the top free agent that year, but we all knew he overpaid. The only great move he made was trading for ARAM and Lofton for a almost nothing, but his track record is full of over paying, long term, no-trade contracts that suffocate future success. He maybe a smart baseball guy, but he is a poor businessman.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Ace

      Yes, but Hendry hasn’t felt like a winner for a while.

  • JBLACK

    Ace
    I too think you are too optimistic
    Ricketts is a business man
    He will only react when he looses money
    He is doing everything to make Money.Putting a good team on the field is secondary.He knows very well that the Cubs have very loyal fans(including me )
    When the attendance is 10,000 or under every game for a home stand Hendry and Kenny will be gone.
    As long as people buy tickets nothing will change.
    And he already said he does not Need a Baseball man as president. that says more to me than what he didn’t say .

  • Jeff

    A way to optimistic article if you ask me. Sure it was well written, but it was full of the usual sunshine punmping nonsense that Cubs fans eagerly drink like Kool Aid. Hendry should have been gone long ago as his boss.

    If nothing else Ricketts should have brought in a baseball man to give him an independent evaluation of the team and the farm system. Did he do that? Nope. He just keeps ingesting the bullcrap hendry keeps feeding him.

    Ricketts thinks attendance is down because of other issues, but the reason attendance is down is becasue the Cubs suck. I’m sure he is all excited that attendance will be up over this weekend, but folks are coming to see the Yankees, not the Cubs. Until the fans learn to stay away, stop supporting this nonsense and demand a winner (I mean a world series winner) then the same culture of losing will continue.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Ace

      I’m not sure where I see the typical sunshine pumping, but I appreciate the compliment, nonetheless.

  • Pingback: Tom Ricketts Sounds Anything But Confident That Jim Hendry Will Return Next Year | Bleacher Nation | Chicago Cubs News, Rumors, and Commentary

Bleacher Nation Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. Bleacher Nation is a private media site, and it is not affiliated in any way with Major League Baseball or the Chicago Cubs. Neither MLB nor the Chicago Cubs have endorsed, supported, directed, or participated in the creation of the content at this site, or in the creation of the site itself. It's just a media site that happens to cover the Chicago Cubs.

Bleacher Nation is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

Google+