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Under fire from fans, Rickettses rosy about Hendry, Ryno, more

Cubs owners (from left) Todd Pete LaurTom Ricketts sign autographs Saturday during an appearance marked by tough questions. | Rich

Cubs owners (from left) Todd, Pete, Laura and Tom Ricketts sign autographs Saturday during an appearance marked by tough questions. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

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Updated: April 30, 2011 4:46AM

The second year for the Ricketts family at the Cubs Convention wasn’t any easier, with fans wanting answers about the team’s fifth-place finish in 2010 and the 97-year-old ballpark. One fan brought the two most loaded questions of an hourlong session Saturday:

‘‘How in the world could you let Ryne Sandberg leave the organization?’’ And, ‘‘How does Jim Hendry still have a job?’’

But the Rickettses came bearing news, if not gifts, in the form of a planned statue of Ron Santo at Wrigley Field and a continued pledge to pump all profits back into the team and to seek an All-Star Game — possibly 2016. They didn’t offer much satisfaction to some of the disgruntled fans by expressing ‘‘growing confidence’’ in Hendry and putting Sandberg’s departure on Sandberg’s shoulders after the Hall of Famer lost out on the manager’s job and elected to cut ties and later join the Phillies organization.

As for regrets during the first 14 months of ownership, chairman Tom Ricketts claimed one: last fall’s ill-advised, poorly timed plea for public funding for Wrigley renovations.

‘‘I think we lost control of the dialogue a bit,’’ he said of public reaction to a plan that called for the Cubs to receive future growth in revenues from the game-ticket amusement tax. ‘‘From our standpoint, it was just a discussion with a handful of people about what we could do for next year, and I think once the media got a hold of it, it wasn’t a fully baked solution. It was just a discussion, and it ran through a bunch of people that didn’t have much of the information, and everybody had an opinion, and before you knew it, it was just kind of a mess.

‘‘Just to remind everyone in the room, what you read isn’t always the full story,’’ Ricketts said, adding that funding efforts are still going on behind the scenes. ‘‘Of all the things in the first year that if I had a re-do, I would probably re-run that one.’’

Reports suggesting that Hendry, who has two years left on his contract, is on a hot seat this season appear to be at least premature.

‘‘Over the past year, I’ve had growing confidence in Jim, to be honest,’’ said Ricketts, who spent much of that year evaluating the organization top to bottom. ‘‘He has a good team of people he’s put together. I’m not going to hold [the losses in the playoffs] against him. What I am going to judge him by is how many players we’re consistently bringing up to the major leagues, and are the dollars we’re spending on the big-league team being spent well? .  .  . I think Jim’s doing a good job. I think we’re starting to see some of the fruits of his labor.’’

On Sandberg’s exit, Ricketts called media reports on the subject ‘‘misleading’’ and said Sandberg ‘‘understood our decision and respected the decision’’ to go with Mike Quade as manager instead of Sandberg.

‘‘And there’s no hard feelings,’’ Ricketts said. ‘‘He certainly wasn’t asked to leave or nudged in any way.

‘‘Obviously, Ryne Sandberg is a highly valued, treasured member of the Cubs family. And the fact is that he was always welcome here, he always will be welcome here. He is one of us.’’

‘‘On the manager side,’’ Ricketts added, ‘‘I’m certain we made the right decision.’’

NOTES: Ron Santo’s statue is to be dedicated Aug. 10 at a location to be determined. The Cubs also will wear patches on their uniforms this season to honor the legendary third baseman and broadcaster, who died last month after a second battle with bladder cancer.

◆ Q&A of the day: A fan asked Carlos Zambrano if he planned ‘‘to open a rehab center for Gatorade coolers.’’ Said Z: ‘‘Maybe. Maybe. I’ll think about it.’’

◆ Hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo said he expects newly acquired Carlos Pena (.196 last year) to travel to Dallas immediately after the convention to start working with him. Jaramillo was the hitting coach when Pena was a Texas Rangers rookie 10 years ago.

◆ The Cubs say they struck a deal with AT&T to make $5 million in upgrades to the Wi-Fi capacity at Wrigley Field, turning the ballpark into a hot spot.

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