Jim Hendry and Cubs Nation never really recovered from the 2003 NLCS fiasco. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times
Updated: November 3, 2011 11:21AM
It was time for Jim Hendry to go.
He was a good guy, but his moment — moments, actually — came and went. Popped bubbles can’t be un-popped, and Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts fired Hendry, secretly, a month ago.
In truth, Hendry’s biggest bubble might have come too soon. He took over as the Cubs’ vice president/general manager in the summer of 2002 and by the spring of 2003 had assembled a team that was fit to win the World Series.
It goes back to the eighth inning of the National League Championship Series against the Florida Marlins on Oct. 14, 2003, at Wrigley Field, with the Cubs leading 3-0 in the game and ahead 3-2 in the series, needing only five outs to make it to the World Series, when Hendry’s career caved in.
Nobody knew it at the time, but Moises Alou’s outrage over missing a foul ball in the stands was the symbolic knife in the back of not only the GM, but Cubs Nation.
Hendry rebounded and put together teams in 2007 and 2008 that were nearly as good as the 2003 model, but neither won a post-season game.
You could say the culture of Cub-ness ate Hendry up. And you’d be right.
Who hasn’t fallen prey to the Cubs’ meat grinder of failure for, lo, these last 103 years?
But Hendry also sealed his own doom when he took a huge bank account and risked much of it on big names such as Lou Piniella, Milton Bradley and, of course, the delicately wired, fully loaded pipe bomb known as Carlos Zambrano.
‘‘I’ve really been consumed by the Cubs,’’ Hendry said in his emotional exit speech. And it’s interesting that his statement can be taken two ways, neither of which is incorrect.
Obviously, these last two losing seasons were the capper for Hendry’s Chicago legacy. When you have the second-highest payroll in the NL and you’re 181/2 games behind the small-market Milwaukee Brewers, there aren’t many places to hide.
The axing of Hendry seems to show that the Cubs have rolled over in their grave and have decided to begin staggering into the future.
Manager Mike Quade’s tenure can’t be more than another month and a half, and whoever is brought in as the new GM likely will want to show his muscle and make changes all through the Cubs’ field operations.
Has there ever been a general manager who didn’t say upon his hiring that he was going to upgrade the minor-league system, the scouting system, the talent, the cohesion, etc.?
Which makes us wonder why Ricketts, the front man for the family-owned Cubs, didn’t dump president Crane Kenney, too? Kenney has no baseball background, and he’s the man above the man who was deemed a failure. Maybe it’s all who has the boss’ ear, or what kind of scapegoating is enough to pacify Cubs fans for another rebuilding venture.
I mean, the Cubs have been rebuilt more than Dolly Parton, haven’t they? Will you fall for one more silicone injection, one more round of Botox, Chicago?
Ricketts clearly hopes so.
According to a Crain’s Business report, Ricketts has quietly begun a campaign to get $200 million in public funds to help in a $400 million overhaul of Wrigley Field. As you’ll recall, Ricketts’ last attempt at floating public bonds sank like a crowbar, mainly because he didn’t seem to notice that a lot of folks don’t have jobs and can’t pay their taxes, as it is.
But it’s possible a successful Cubs team could fill Wrigleyville with enough people and spending to more than pay back the loan. Possible. Certain? No.
Can Mayor Rahm Emanuel force Ricketts to guarantee the Cubs will make it to the World Series before he approves any such help? Like with a penalty of paying back everything to the city coffers and bathing in goat dung?
Emanuel is a Cubs fan, unlike previous mayor and Sox fan Richard M. Daley, and he might be ready to sign off on a giant cup of Cubs Kool-Aid. Before he does, he might want to remember that former Gov. Rod Blagojevich also was a Cubs fan — still is, I believe — and ponder where Hot Rod will be spending the next decade or so.
You see, most of this is just about luck. And the lack of it.
Hendry brought in good players such as Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, Ted Lilly and Mark DeRosa. But all that work gets trumped by one big letter, ‘‘Z.’’
Set your clocks to zero once again, Cubs fans. (If your clocks haven’t sprung their innards or rusted shut by now.)
After getting the club in 2009, Ricketts said about winning the World Series, ‘‘There’s no load-up for one season or there’s never any one guy or one contract or one level of spending that’s going to get you there. You just have to be consistent.’’
Here we go. Again.