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Jim Hendry’s fall as Cubs GM wasn’t only his fault

Alfonso Soriano (from left) Kosuke Fukudome MiltBradley all joined Cubs under Jim Hendry’s tenure as general manager although Soriano was

Alfonso Soriano (from left), Kosuke Fukudome and Milton Bradley all joined the Cubs under Jim Hendry’s tenure as general manager, although Soriano was signed by then-president John McDonough. | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

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at the helm

How the Cubs did during Jim Hendry’s tenure as GM:

2002* 33-46 5th

2003 88-74 1st

2004 89-73 3rd

2005 79-83 4th

2006 66-96 6th

2007 85-77 1st

2008 97-64 1st

2009 83-78 2nd

2010 75-87 5th

2011 54-70 5th

Playoff history: 2003 — Won NLDS over Braves 3-2, lost NLCS to Marlins 4-3. 2007 — Lost NLDS to Diamondbacks 3-0. 2008 — Lost NLDS to
Dodgers 3-0.

*— Was promoted July 5, 2002.

Updated: November 16, 2011 1:26AM

The beginning of the end for Jim Hendry as the Cubs’ general manager might have come during the second week of December 2008 at the winter meetings in Las Vegas.

In the Cubs’ suite that day, team president Crane Kenney assured Chicago media that payroll wouldn’t be an issue as far as Hendry having the freedom to do what he thought was necessary to upgrade his two-time defending National League Central champions.

This despite Tribune Co. chairman Sam Zell dragging the sale of the Cubs into a third year with mounting uncertainty about the
entire process — and with the team deep into trade talks for Jake Peavy and in search of a free-agent hitter.

In fact, Kenney said, ‘‘If something were to come along that were outsized and we felt we wanted to get some input from prospective owners, I wouldn’t have a problem talking to the groups and letting them know what we were planning on doing.’’

The door barely had shut on reporters when, by more than one account from within the room that day, Kenney reminded Hendry that none of what he had just said was true. For every dollar spent that winter, he told Hendry, a dollar must be shed from existing commitments.

Ultimately, that made a deal for Peavy impossible. More than that, the edict from lame-duck ownership ended two years of ramped-up spending and aggressive promises from the top and made any upgrades all but impossible.

Hendry’s best move at that point might have been to stand pat. But after a 97-victory season, visions of the promised land and cries from his manager to add a left-handed bat, Hendry went hard after the hitter, trading Mark DeRosa and moving what he could of Jason Marquis’ contract to clear payroll room.

And winding up with Milton Bradley.

‘‘My enthusiasm a few years back and my aggression to try to knock that door down probably led to a couple of decisions I shouldn’t have made that ended up being not good for the organization and certainly didn’t turn into more wins,’’ Hendry said during his farewell news conference Friday.

Bradley’s three-year, $30 million signing was easily the worst of Hendry’s tenure and — given the timing, with little payroll flexibility in either of the next two winters — had a negative effect into this season.

Not even the $48 million signing of Kosuke Fukudome before the 2008 season was as bad as the Bradley deal, especially considering that four other teams were lined up with similar offers.

And Alfonso Soriano? That was then-president John McDonough’s signing, not Hendry’s — all the way up to making Soriano the only player on the team guaranteed a suite on the road.

But as bad as the Bradley signing was, the Cubs were still in first place into August in a 2009 season disrupted by Bradley’s antics, distractions and poor performance.

Yet for the first time during his tenure as GM, Hendry wasn’t allowed to play to his strengths and add to a team in contention at the trade deadline because of Zell’s payroll freeze.

Even after being fired, Hendry never used the ownership limbo that strapped the front office as an excuse.

‘‘Obviously, we were going down an aggressive path during early parts of the sale,’’ he said Saturday. ‘‘And after ’08, when we didn’t advance in the playoffs, the sale situation got heated and took a different turn in the winter. At the same time, I expected us to be better.’’

The bottom line is that the guy in charge didn’t preside over enough victories in two seasons under new ownership, which nonetheless thought enough of him to ask him to handle the trade deadline and negotiate amateur contracts for four weeks after firing him.

‘‘I’m sad for Jim, put it that way,’’ said third baseman Aramis Ramirez, whom Hendry acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates in the middle of 2003 in one of his signature moves. ‘‘Did he make mistakes? Yeah, like we all do. Some moves didn’t pay off and probably cost him his job.’’

Would the third-longest-tenured GM in Cubs history — and the only one to produce three playoff teams — have kept the Cubs’ competitive window open longer without the unprecedented burden of three owners in barely three years, each with a different agenda?

There aren’t enough Greek priests and holy water in Chicago to divine the answer to that one.

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