Kid’s wrong number an example of what Jim Hendry did right
By GORDON WITTENMYER firstname.lastname@example.org August 26, 2011 9:48PM
Jim Hendry had opportunities for Danny Mueller (above), the Niles teenager who accidentally called his cell phone in 2005. | Sun-Times
Updated: November 17, 2011 12:22AM
MILWAUKEE — One day during the 2005 season, Cubs general manager Jim Hendry got a call on his cell phone from a number he didn’t recognize.
After letting it go to voicemail, he waited a couple of minutes and called the number back.
‘‘Sorry, I had the wrong number,’’ said a 13-year-old kid on the other end.
‘‘What’s your name?’’ said Hendry, who then identified himself.
Jim Hendry from the Cubs?
‘‘Yeah, right,’’ said the kid.
Hendry wound up in a lengthy conversation, liked the kid’s brass and told him to call him next time he was at Wrigley Field.
‘‘You’ve got my number,’’ Hendry said.
Within a few weeks, the kid’s family met Hendry in his box during a game. Within a few months, the kid was working occasional games as a bat boy — set up directly through Hendry. And these days, that kid is a 19-year-old DePaul sophomore who’s in his fourth season as a Cubs clubhouse assistant and who hopes to build a career in baseball.
When history writes Hendry’s legacy as Cubs general manager, it’s sure to include the misplaced blame for Alfonso Soriano’s contract, the justified blame for Milton Bradley and the post-payday demise of Carlos Zambrano.
But that legacy also includes Danny Mueller.
‘‘That was Jim, his nature,’’ said veteran pitcher Ryan Dempster, whose own relationship with Hendry from his early-career days in Florida is part of why Hendry took a flier on an elbow-rehabbing free-agent pitcher in 2004. ‘‘If you’re a good guy and work hard, good things can happen.’’
‘‘It just shows you sometimes how, as players, you can make an impact on people — as front-office people, too, as GMs. And not just on the field, but people around the field and in the clubhouse.’’
Mueller still can’t believe his luck.
‘‘It was amazing,’’ Mueller said. ‘‘There’s nothing I could do to thank him — for the opportunities, the people I’ve met, relationships, let alone one of the greatest summer jobs you could think of. I thanked him many times. I don’t even know what to say.’’
Never mind the absurdity of having a direct line of communication for two years with the Cubs’ GM, who never brushed him off to a subordinate or sent him to the ‘‘proper’’ department when he came calling for bat-boy dates and eventually a regular job.
‘‘I’ve gotten wrong numbers — I got a wrong number two days ago,’’ Mueller said. ‘‘But most people don’t say, ‘Oh, who is this?’ And one thing I find cool about the whole thing is Jim always talks about having opportunity — like how he was given opportunity to be where he is today and even when . . . he got let go. . . . It was all like he gave me an opportunity, and here I am. It just shows what kind of person he is.’’
Hendry’s personal touch and emphasis on relationships has long been one of his great strengths in the business. It’s hard to imagine pitcher Kerry Wood back with the Cubs organization this year without that. Same with special assistant-to-the-GM Greg Maddux, whose willingness to stay on next year after Hendry’s firing is uncertain at best.
Hendry’s nature might also have been a great flaw at times, allowing the tightly wound Bradley to con him into believing he could handle the unrelenting scrutiny of Chicago. Hendry also had faith that Zambrano, a pitcher with a punch-his-catcher temper, would mature after signing a $91.5 million deal.
Whatever level of strength or weakness, it’s a trait that has left a lasting impression on many inside and outside the clubhouse — not the least of whom is a kid from Niles whose life changed dramatically when he screwed up trying to call a buddy to hang out one summer day.
‘‘When I heard the news,’’ Mueller said of last week’s announcement that Hendry had been fired, ‘‘my stomach dropped. I couldn’t believe it. It was bad. I think it was a bad day at Wrigley for everyone because he was such a great person.’’
Mueller had a chance to talk to Hendry briefly that day.
‘‘Make sure you keep in touch,’’ Hendry told him.
After all, he has the number.