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I would love to get a beer with Jim Hendry.

Even now – or maybe especially now – that he’s no longer the General Manager of the Chicago Cubs, I’m sure Hendry would regale me with stories about the ill-fated 2003 team or the powerhouse 2008 squad. Joyful, funny stories. Deeply personal stories. Because, if there is one thing that has become clear in the wake of his firing, it’s that Jim Hendry loves the Chicago Cubs.

How else can you explain a man, subjected to as much vitriol as any Chicago executive in 25 years, offering to steward for a crucial month the very team looking to leave him behind?

That’s exactly what Jim Hendry did when he was told on July 22 that he would be fired.

He even agreed to keep the firing a secret from everyone, including the players he loves so much. To hear him speak of certain players, you’d think he was speaking of his children. Maybe he thought of some of them that way. I’ll confess, reading about Hendry’s emotional goodbye to the players in the clubhouse on Friday made me a little misty-eyed, too. The love was palpable.

And the Cubs’ organization loved Hendry, too.

Even after showing Hendry the door, Tom Ricketts had nothing but positive things to say about the man he’d just fired. He added that “we’ll all miss seeing him every day at the office, for sure.” Mike Quade called Hendry his “friend” no fewer than four times on Friday.

The players agreed.

“If you showed up on time and you played hard, he had nothing but good things to say about you,” Ryan Dempster said of Hendry. “We’ll be friends a long time after baseball is over with.” Kerry Wood said Hendry wasn’t a “typical GM,” and that their relationship would last for many years.

Alfonso Soriano, perhaps, put it best: “It’s very sad for Jim and for the players because we love him.”

Yes, Jim Hendry was loved by the players he’d watched over, and was a friend to the organization with whom he’d spent the last 17 years.

But that affection and loyalty – that friendship – was also probably Hendry’s undoing as a general manager. Frequently called a “player’s GM,” Hendry seemed to get too attached to “his guys.” He bent over backwards to accommodate difficult players like Carlos Zambrano – someone Hendry had signed to the Cubs’ organization as a teenager. He extended his favorites. He gave them no-trade clauses.

Too often, Jim Hendry put personal relationships above his own success.

That made him a great man, to be sure (a better man than I). But it made him a terrible general manager.

Sure, Hendry had his highs as a GM – landing Nomar Garciaparra for chump change in the most exciting deadline deal I can remember, adding Aramis Ramirez and Kenny Lofton for the 2003 stretch run, getting Derrek Lee for a shell of Hee Seop Choi. And who could forget him nailing down the Ted Lilly signing while laid up awaiting surgery.

And even many of the stinkers of his era – the Alfonso Soriano 8-year, $136 million monstrosity and Carlos Zambrano’s 5-year, $90 million extension – come with built-in excuses (the former was reportedly finalized by then-President John McDonough without Hendry’s approval, and the latter was arguably an under-market deal at the time).

But baseball is a business of results. Wins. Losses. Stats. These things matter, and, all too often, the back of Hendry’s baseball card fell short (you’d throw it out in favor of the stick of gum, lamenting that Hendry’s card made your gum stiff and tasteless).

And it was in large part because of Hendry’s loyalty to “his” guys – washed-up veterans, and two (now three) managers who should have been, but weren’t, fired at various times. Hendry also always carried with him a friendly, pleasant approach to dealing with other teams. Great for beer-drinking, not so great for winning games.

People tout the Cubs’ three playoff appearances under Hendry’s watch as the best in a generation, but what exactly did you expect in nine seasons with a payroll far eclipsing your closest competitors?

I expected more. I expected a playoff win in the last eight seasons. I expected a team that didn’t finish in the bottom half of the division more times than it made the playoffs. I expected results.

And Tom Ricketts knows how we feel. He also knows how Jim Hendry feels about the Cubs.

Ricketts, who had nothing but glowing remarks for Hendry, knows what way the wind blows. A successful business executive, Ricketts determined what had to be done as far back as early July. This new company needed new management. It needed a controlled burn. Jim Hendry had given Ricketts plenty of reasons to like him, and too few reasons to keep him.

With input from some of baseball’s brightest minds, Ricketts decided that it would be imprudent to toss Hendry overboard immediately. With the trade deadline approaching, as well as the draft pick signing deadline, Ricketts knew that he needed someone in charge who knew the system intimately well. Someone who could help keep up the appearance of stability. So he asked Hendry if he would stay on for a little while to help ease the transition to the next GM.

Hendry could have told Ricketts to pound sand. But Ricketts knew Hendry would offer to stay. Ricketts knew how Hendry felt about the Cubs.

That crummy GM with the bubblegum-stained back of his baseball card was a good man. A friend. He would stay.

You might say that Ricketts used Jim Hendry’s love of the Cubs to ensure a stable period of transition, rather than wade through a rudderless midseason, knowing that his favorite replacement candidates would not be available to interview any time soon. After all, Hendry leading the trade deadline and draft signing period – even if Hendry were on his way out the door – was better for the organization than an interim GM whose agenda might not square with Ricketts’.

Was it unfair of Ricketts to rely on Hendry to get the organization through this rough patch? To allow Hendry to face the brunt of the public’s ire for a disastrously quiet trade deadline? Maybe.

But it was certainly the best decision for the Chicago Cubs. And that’s where Tom Ricketts wins my support.

Jim Hendry is a funny, affable guy with whom no one shared a cross word. His players loved him, and the organization considered him a friend. He gladly put those relationships ahead of his own aspirations for success. It’s a wonderful story, but it doesn’t win championships.

When it comes to building a franchise, I’ll take Ricketts’ cold calculation over Hendry’s friendship. It makes me feel icky. It also makes me feel optimistic.

There are brighter days ahead for the Chicago Cubs, and Tom Ricketts’ vision will take the team there under the guidance of his hand-picked GM. But it’s ok to remember the last guy fondly.

Even if you’d rather have a beer with him than fill out a roster.

  • Bails17

    Great piece. Well done.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Thanks, Bails.

  • pfk

    Brett, very well said. I can get emotional with the best of them and can feel the sorrow. But I’ve not been this excited or optimistic about the Cubs future in my 60 years of being a Cub fanatic. I think Ricketts is spot on with his planning and execution for building a Series champion and breaking the drought. I really feel that we have joined the elite level in baseball. We aren’t winners yet but we have joined that level of professionalism.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Thanks, pfk. That was my feeling as well.

  • Jim

    Do you think you’ll ever get that beer?

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      I’d put it at about 10%.

      • Jim

        As well as this article was written, I’d say its no less than 20%.

        • Brett

          Thanks, Jim. I’ll take it whenever he’s ready. I’ll even buy.

  • NL_Cubs

    Good article Brett. Telling, calculating and well thought out…just as I suspect Ricketts’ long term plan for the club is.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Thanks, NLC. I was hoping that would be the reaction – and anyone who writes things like this one is hoping to get that kind of response (if they say otherwise, they’re lying).

  • Ron

    It is like putting down the family dog. You hate to do it but everyone is better off in the end.

    • philoe beddoe

      especially if that dog is leaving big piles of shit in the house….like Bradley and Silva

      and tiny piles like Aaron Miles, Blake DeWitt, and Doug Davis

  • Internet Random

    My complaint about Hendry has never been personal. He is, to all appearances, a quality human being.

    My chief (perhaps only) complaint is not enough winning.

    I’ve never feel like I have standing to criticize individual decisions, because I have neither the knowledge nor all the facts required to do so with authority.

    What I am qualified to complain about is the record—the results.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      I’d say that’s fair.

    • EQ

      Just heard Buster Olney talk about how desirable of a job the Cubs GM spot is… he laid out a scenario in which the Cubs could/should/would go after Theo Epstein for a Prez/GM position. He thinks the Cubs job would be attractive to almost any GM out there. If any of that is true, then we need to really, carefully choose the next GM wisely.. if everyone seemingly wants it, then we just have our pick of the litter… I doubt Epstein would bolt from beantown to Chicago, but how fllippin’ cool would that be??

  • Coale

    How bout this trade. Cubs send Marmol and Colvin to the Marlins for Nilasco (sp) Nunez and Morrison. We get a number 2 pitcher starting LF and a closer to take marmol spot

    • MichiganGoat

      Why would the Marlins want this? Marmol is not worth a #2 and every team knows this.

      • EQ

        yeah, we’d have to throw in a lot more than that to make that trade…

  • Toosh

    What about the players he helped the Cubs sign this year who thought they’d play for him? He mislead them, at the least. Everybody’s a great person after they’re fired or dead. Jim Hendry might be the nicest guy in the world. But as you said, Brett, he was a terrible GM.

  • MichiganGoat

    Well put Brett, the best thing about BN is how everyone here has been able to voice their frustrations, crack a good joke, but kept everything professional and even-tempered over the past year. Your analysis was spot on: Hendry was too friendly to be successful. Hopefully he will find a job with another organization that will use this strength in a position that he can be successful. I could see him working for the players union where his player first approach would be desired.

  • hardtop

    Wow. Your ass has been thoroughly kissed on this one, but one more smooch won’t hurt. Well done sir. Great perspective and writing.

    • MichiganGoat

      Yeah we really need to be carefully, his ego may destroy us all if were not careful.

      • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

        I am He-Man.

  • NL_Cubs

    Buster reports Pena claimed on waivers.

    • hardtop

      nice. this could be good! lets see what ‘los can get us.

  • auggie1955

    Like most fans, I had been calling for Hendry to be fired. When Ricketts did fire Jimbo, instead of a feeling of jubilation I felt remorse.

    I think it was one of his shortcomings that he was too personal with the players, coaches and managers.

  • NL_Cubs

    So if a deal goes thru and Pena exits, does this mean we get to take a look at LaHair for the next month and that the Cubs “officially” intend to pursue high profile 1st base FA’s in the winter? Hell, maybe they’ll double back and resign Pena!

    • willis

      Zero reason not to bring up LaHair unless they move Colvin there and let him play every day.

      This is good news if they can work something out and get anything decent in return.

  • bacboris

    Brett, Nice Piece and I couldn’t agree more. No matter how unhappy I was with his performance, I could never bring myself to dislike him. The Lilly deal from the ambulance cemented that for me. But what I’ll always remember, now that we can do so fondly without worrying about him at the helm, was what he said about Farnsworth failing in chicago. Without any recording devices around, he told a large group that Kyle was just a boy off the farm who got his head wrapped up in beer and tail.

    When you find a person that genuine and honest, its tough not to enjoy their company. I wish him nothing but the best and while he probably can never be on the cubs payroll again, I hope he gets his druthers in the future with some plaques/convention appearances.

  • Mike Foster

    Brett, think you’d be having a beer with the wrong guy….have the beer with Ricketts.

    And BTW, good thing you saved this one till after the BWB’s nominating….just saying.

    MF.

  • greg b

    Wow! Out of the almost 2 years I’ve been on here reading I think this was the most sincere thing you’ve wrote that’s. Not saying that I don’t enjoy your insite cause bleacher nation is the only site I go to for anything related to the cubs but i feel pretty much the same way about hendry and wish nothing but the best for him

  • Ol’CharlieBrown

    Geese… Hell of an article, Brett. Jim Hendry is a quality man and a true Cubs fan just like the rest of us. I wish him the best, just as I know he will be wishing the Cubs the best.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Thanks, OCB.

  • Ol’CharlieBrown

    I watched a video of a broadcast where Len and Bob gave their thoughts about this whole situation and I really had to agree. It went something like this:

    Len: We feel like we have to put a stamp on somebody’s tenure, whether its a GM or a manager, and say success or failure. I guess considering the Cubs didn’t win the big one under Jim Hendry, you could say failure. But, there were a lot of successes along the way and in the bigger picture of Cubs history, the standard has been set and the bar has been set higher since he took over. I think you have to say that he left this organization in better shape than when he took over.

    Bob: I don’t think there’s any question about it, Len.

    Yea, the Cubs may have choked in the playoffs, but that’s the players that choked, it wasn’t cause Hendry put a crap team together. If that was the case, they wouldn’t have made it to the playoffs in the first place. At this point, this is obviously a great step in the right direction for the Cubs, but let’s all remember we made it to the playoffs in 03′, 07′, and 08′. 3 times in 6 seasons. The 3 previous appearances before that, we had made it 3 times in 14 seasons. Those 3 seasons under Hendry raised the bar and left us with greater expectations for the Cubs. I thank him for that. Like Brett said, “it’s ok to remember the last guy fondly”.

  • willis

    2012 players – minus pitchers
    soto-c
    clevenger-c,1b,3b
    lahair-1b,of
    barney-2b,inf
    castro-ss
    remirez-3b,1b
    lemahieu-inf
    smith-3b,2b,1b
    jackson-of
    campenaris-of
    montenez-of
    snyder-of
    johnson-of

    all others trade, releaseor scrap

    • MichiganGoat

      Wow that a fine AAA team.

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