Cowley: Hendry deserves chance to fix Cubs’ mess
By JOE COWLEY firstname.lastname@example.org February 20, 2011 10:35PM
General manager Jim Hendry (left), talking with announcer Bob Brenly, accepts responsibility for the situation the Cubs are in. | Gordon Wittenmyer~Sun-Times
Updated: February 19, 2012 6:57PM
MESA, Ariz. — The second-floor office at the Cubs’ spring-training facility is comfortable enough to feel lived in, but not overly decorated to the point where a few boxes couldn’t empty it in a hurry.
Fittingly, it belongs to Cubs general manager Jim Hendry.
This will be Year 10 for Hendry, who took the post in July 2002. And while there have been a few October teases, the Cubs’ trophy case remains coated in layers of dust.
The new ownership is going into a second season, and the new manager is going into his first season without the ‘‘interim’’ tag, yet Hendry, 55, has been the one constant the last decade.
It should seem cut-and-dried. No titles, despite title-like spending at times? Goodbye to Hendry, even with a contract through 2012.
If only Hendry had dealt with cut-and-dried circumstances.
‘‘I think it grows a little bit,’’ Hendry said when asked if the years of falling short have mounted on him. ‘‘You do it for a long time, there’s a grind part to it. You want to [win it all] before you’re done, so, yeah, I think that’s true.’’
But will the Ricketts family give Hendry that chance much longer?
‘‘We expect the best out of our baseball department every season,’’ chairman Tom Ricketts said. ‘‘I wouldn’t read any more into it than that.’’
Hendry has become the easiest target for the storied failure of the Cubs, not only from certain members of the media — including myself — but from fans.
But while it’s easy to pile on, here’s perhaps the first tight curveball after a week in which pitchers and catchers reported: Hendry should be given the chance to clean up the mess.
Not out of sympathy or loyalty, but because of accountability.
Mistakes have been made, and the refreshing thing about Hendry is he accepts responsibility — maybe to a fault.
‘‘I look at it as, I was given a great opportunity, and in my heart I’ve done the best I could,’’ Hendry said. ‘‘Obviously, not everything I’ve done has been the right move. In the end, you’re judged by the results of professional baseball. If we don’t win enough games over an extended period of time, I shouldn’t be the general manager.
‘‘I’m harder on myself than anyone else can be, and I fully expect us to be a lot better this year. If we’re not, that responsibility falls on me.’’
But Hendry’s tenure was made extra bumpy during the 2007 and 2008 seasons, when Tribune Co. knew it was in a sell mode but still went on a spending spree with long-term, back-loaded contracts. Insiders have said those deals, which happened on Hendry’s watch, were out of Hendry’s hands.
Why not do what New York Yankees GM Brian Cashman did this winter, after the Yankees paid a ridiculous amount for reliever Rafael Soriano, and say, ‘‘I didn’t recommend this deal’’? No one would’ve faulted Hendry for protecting his resumé when ownership obviously no longer was concerned about the long-term product.
Hendry said that wasn’t an option.
‘‘No, not really because, truthfully, I’m not made that way,’’ he said. ‘‘And, well, I didn’t fight it.’’
Tough to argue with that, considering GMs dream about having the ability to throw money Band-Aids on roster wounds rather than hoping they heal themselves.
So did he get caught up in the spending? Yes.
Did he know it would come to a halt once new ownership was found? Yes.
More important, has Hendry made the adjustments to add talent to the Cubs but be more fiscally responsible? Yes. Insert starting pitcher Matt Garza, reliever Kerry Wood and slugger Carlos Pena.
‘‘Would you do some things differently from what we did a few years ago? Of course you would,’’ Hendry said. ‘‘I’m not putting it on anyone but me because it was better than the alternative of ‘We’re going to cut $20 million off.’
‘‘I put that behind us now. From now on, there is a high level of fairness here from Tom. We certainly knew six or even 10 months ago that we weren’t going to be big spenders this offseason. Probably another year before some of the significant money comes off. For what we had to work with, the mixes and matches, I thought we did pretty good . . . we have a fresh start now.’’
Considering the roller-coaster ride the Cubs and Hendry have been on the last 10 years, a fresh start sounds really good right about now.