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Easy to criticize Jim Hendry now for Carlos Zambrano mess

Cubs general manager Jim Hendry pitcher Carlos Zambrano shake hands after announcing sides had reached agreement five-year $91.5 millicontract extensiAugust

Cubs general manager Jim Hendry and pitcher Carlos Zambrano shake hands after announcing the sides had reached agreement on a five-year, $91.5 million contract extension in August 2007. Hendry was fired Friday by the Cubs, days after Zambrano landed on th

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Updated: November 16, 2011 1:29AM



How would you like to be a general manager these days?

And, no, I don’t mean for the Crazy Crackheads club in your office fantasy league. I mean in the bigs, with everybody watching and criticizing, and you’re handling dynamite daily and hoping it doesn’t blow everything to kingdom come.

The rage now is to say that former Bulls GM Jerry Krause deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, and maybe he does. But remember that Krause was riding on Michael Jordan’s cape for the first three of the Bulls’ six NBA championships and on the feathered boa of the lunatic Dennis Rodman for the last three.

Rodman was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame last week. But when Krause first brought ‘‘The Worm’’ in as the player the Bulls needed to continue their run, the move was seen as bold, stupid, brilliant and crazy. Rodman, who just was starting to get really weird, could have destroyed the Bulls. But he didn’t for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was the overpowering fury of Jordan and the tolerance of coach Phil Jackson. And Krause is a genius.

Now switch to White Sox GM Ken Williams. This season, he brought in the left-handed designated hitter — Adam Dunn — everybody agreed the Sox needed and paid him
$56 million over four years. And what does he get? Sawdust.

Now let’s do Cubs GM Jim Hendry. Four years ago, he re-signed pitcher Carlos Zambrano to a long-term, megabucks deal as Zambrano was in the process of going 18-13 with a 3.95 ERA. At the end of that 2007 season, Big Z had gone 18-13, 16-7, 14-6, 16-8 and 13-11 in his five full seasons with the Cubs. He was 6-5 and 260 pounds, and he threw 95 mph with ease.

Nuts? A little. But he was only 26 and had been an All-Star at 23. Would you have let him go and watch him become the Cubs’ next Greg Maddux?

Should Hendry have known?

So, you ask, should Hendry have known that maturity wouldn’t occur to Zambrano in his sporting lifetime? Should Hendry have known Zambrano would win but 29 games in 2009, 2010 and 2011 combined?

Should he have known Zambrano never would be closer to the No. 1 leader of the staff than Blitzen is to Rudolph?

Easy to say now. Oh, so easy. The suspended Zambano never should be allowed back on the Cubs, a team he claims to love but has no idea how to treat with courtesy and couth. The thing is, a GM has to be a psychologist as much as a bean counter these days. Remember that when you’re adding up the stats of your favorite Florida Marlins infielder for the Crackheads.

If you listened to Zambrano being interviewed Monday by veteran Comcast SportsNet reporter Dave Kaplan, you almost could be twisted around by Z’s words until you thought, Hey, what’s the big deal here?

So what if Zambrano went ballistic for the thousandth time, this time after giving up five home runs, throwing at the Atlanta Braves’ Chipper Jones and storming off, seemingly forever? He was just ‘‘frustrated.’’

Retire?

‘‘I did say I wanted to quit,’’ Zambrano admitted ever so humbly, so repentantly. ‘‘I did say that Friday night. I was so frustrated. That never should have come out of my mouth.’’

So he’s reeling it back in, and — gee whiz — everything will be fine.

Not.

All-too-familiar story

The sports world is full of narcissists, Peter Pans, partially disturbed, emotionally stunted, morally ambiguous athletes. The very nature of games and playing them endlessly, of having smoke blown up your rear end and money thrown in your bank account since adolescence because of some physical tool you might possess, all of that makes it hard for a great athlete to be well-adjusted.

Yet many are.

And when they are not, it is the unfortunate duty of GMs, managers, coaches and batboys to make them fit into the team and not blow it up with their issues.

Krause was lucky he could turn Rodman loose on a veteran Bulls team at a time when he was finding his ‘‘inner self,’’ doing hair-dye jobs and guzzling Jagermeister the way most people wash their hands.

Terrell Owens, Manny Ramirez, even young Jereme Richmond — the annals of sport are full of stars who got dumped as soon as their demons overrode their skills and their bosses began thinking they weren’t worth the trouble.

Big Z told Kaplan that he wants to come back to the Cubs, that he loves the Cubs and that ‘‘the organization has been good to me.’’

That’s the problem. That — and the fact fireballers don’t walk into GM offices as young men, hats in hand.



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