Cubs GM Hendry needs a piece of the action

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Cubs GM Hendry needs a piece of the action

Thursday, March 31, 2011Posted 11:00 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

There used to be a saying around the baseball offices at Creighton University: Jim Hendry could sell ice to the Eskimos and make them think they were getting a good deal.

Elvis Dominguez hesitated to use the word salesman, because in his mind, it implies that Hendry was pushing something that you didnt really want or need.

What Dominguez meant was that Hendry saw how good you could be and would tell you how to get there.

Dominguez was born in Cuba and moved to Miami at the age of eight. He played at Columbus High, the Catholic school where Hendry taught English and made a name for himself as the youngest baseball coach in the state of Florida.

Dominguez became the first in his family to go to college when he followed Hendry to Creighton. He stayed in Omaha, Neb., as Hendrys graduate assistant to begin his climb. Hes now the head baseball coach at Bradley University.

Its The American Dream, a great immigrant story. Dominguez looks back on his experience and speaks for everyone who bought in at Creighton: We walked out never saying, What if.

Its easy to picture Hendry dominating living rooms and reeling in recruits. His personality was perfect for the job shaking hands with parents, schmoozing boosters and telling the best stories at cocktail parties.

But it wasnt enough. By 1991, Hendry had led Creighton to the College World Series. His ambitions drove him back home again, to work for a start-up company based in Florida.

From the ground up

The Cubs will run out across Wrigley Field on Friday with an Opening Day payroll that USA Today calculated to be 125 million, the sixth-highest in the game.

Cubs accounting will probably have it closer to 133 million, which roughly represents a 10 percent drop from the year before.

A quick way to annoy the Cubs general manager is to suggest that hes just found religion about budgets, or suddenly realized the importance of homegrown players. Hendry hates the perception of being a checkbook executive.

Hendrys roots are with the Marlins, in scouting and player development, building something from scratch.

Im not so sure I could have ever done it better entering pro ball (and) going with those guys on an expansion team, Hendry said. We didnt play for two years. It was such an education from the ground up. (They gave me) such a variety of jobs. (It) was tough love. They were hard on me.

I was Joe College, Hotshot Coach and I got reminded of that a few times. (This) wasnt college baseball anymore.

There, Hendry worked alongside Dave Dombrowski, the architect of the 1997 World Series champions and future Tigers general manager. Hendry got the job in part through Gary Hughes, one of the top 10 scouts of the 20th century as judged by Baseball America.

You can still see Hughes in Mesa, Ariz., riding around the teams facilities in a golf cart. Hughes is a Cubs special assistant and that is probably Hendrys greatest strength the people he surrounds himself with.

Staying power

A Google search for Fire Jim Hendry yields 174,000 results. There is obvious impatience with Hendry, whos entering his 17th season in an organization that hasnt won a World Series since 1908.

Pat Gillick the executive who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame this summer described his work this way: The job of the general manager is not to select the correct players. It's to select the correct people to select the players.

This is Year 2 under the Ricketts ownership group. Theyve mostly stayed out of baseball operations, while explicitly saying what they want a strong farm system, the sustainable model to create an annual contender.

The Ricketts family routinely praises scouting director Tim Wilken and vice president of player personnel Oneri Fleita as the best in the business. The money is flowing toward their spheres of influence. Those investments in the amateur draft and Latin America are supposed to yield the next generation of Tyler Colvins, Andrew Cashners and Starlin Castros.

Wilken grew up with Hendry in Dunedin, Fla. Hendry recruited Fleita to Creighton and even honored the commitment after the pitcher went to Dr. James Andrews for surgery and had to convert into a position player.

Hendry is signed through the 2012 season, along with his key lieutenants in the front office, including assistant general manager Randy Bush. The group is fiercely loyal to their leader.

I have a good relationship with Tom Ricketts, Hendry said. I dont want to stay unless he thinks Im the right guy for the job down the road.

I got a great group of people under me. Thats (most) important to me what they would think of me, not (necessarily) other factions of the game. Its the same thing with the clubhouse I dont ever try to be everybodys best friend. All I ever want in that clubhouse is their respect.

The next window

Hendrys not a laptop geek, and he strolls through the clubhouse more than most in his position. Only eight general managers in the majors have held onto their job longer than Hendry, who took over in July 2002 and has watched his teams make the playoffs only three times since then.

Hendry is 55 but feels much younger than that. He has built the relationships with Greg Maddux and Kerry Wood that helped bring them back into the organization.

Especially in this business, sometimes you can find that theres a lot of dishonesty floating around out there, said outfielder Reed Johnson, who made the team after signing a minor-league deal in January. Its hard to trust people. (Hendrys) not going to tell you what you want to hear. Hes going to tell you how it is.

No one in Chicago expects the Cubs to do too much this season. The most optimistic predictions seem to have them around 84 victories, if everything breaks right.

A massive amount of money will fall off their financial books after 2011, which means Hendry could be framing their next window of opportunity.

Hendrys Cubs didnt spend a single moment above .500 last season. The fans have to pay for some of the most expensive tickets in the game. Talking up the system will get real old if all these young players regress this season.

Hendry knows all this. But you dont get to his luxury suite by playing it safe and wondering What if.

You look at someone who didnt play pro ball or go to an Ivy League school. Whatever happens good or bad you ask the general manager of the Chicago Cubs if hell ever have a better job than this.

I never worried about it, Hendry said. I never looked at the next job in my life. Ive only worked in four places in my life and Ive loved them all.

PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Preview: Cubs wrap up series with Nationals today on CSN

Preview: Cubs wrap up series with Nationals today on CSN

The Cubs take on the Washington Nationals today, and you can catch all the action on CSN and live streaming on CSNChicago.com and the NBC Sports App.

Coverage begins with Cubs Pregame Live at 2:30 p.m. Then catch first pitch with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Today’s starting pitching matchup: Jon Lester (5-4, 3.83 ERA) vs. Joe Ross (4-3, 5.40 ERA)

Click here for more stats to make sure you’re ready for the action.  

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Jake Arrieta doesn’t see fractures forming in Cubs clubhouse

Jake Arrieta doesn’t see fractures forming in Cubs clubhouse

WASHINGTON – An erratic, distracted, disconnected Cubs team got a pregame Moment of Zen at Donald Trump’s White House on Wednesday afternoon, a smaller group of players, staffers and executives going back to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. for the second time in less than six months to celebrate their World Series championship.    

The Cubs showed up at Nationals Park and of course had new Joe Maddon T-shirts folded all over the chairs in the visiting clubhouse: “Embrace the Suck” superimposed on the Captain America shield. Miguel Montero’s locker was completely empty after injecting some truth serum into the group media sessions where the Cubs almost always insist that everything is fine and will be all right in the end.

But the Cubs are at an awkward, sensitive point here, 39-39 after an 8-4 loss to a first-place Washington team that saw reigning National League MVP Kris Bryant leave the game with a sprained right ankle and veteran pitcher John Lackey give up all eight runs as his ERA ballooned to 5.24.

Paying $7 million to make Montero go away won’t magically solve the problems. Even the guy who Montero targeted late Tuesday night after the Nationals stole seven bases didn’t really have a problem with the message or the messenger. 

“I’m sad to see him go,” Jake Arrieta said. “I love Miggy. As you guys know, he’ll say some things from the heart, the way he feels. He’s open and honest. That’s the way Miggy is. He regretted what he said. He felt bad about it. I told him that I’m not upset or mad at him. I didn’t even really see the comments, and I don’t care what they were. 

“I know what it was about – and there was a lot of honesty there. I didn’t do him any favors. I was slow to the plate and (Trea) Turner’s one of the fastest guys in baseball, so it just makes it look worse than it was. It’s unfortunate it had to happen that way, but it is what it is.”

[CUBS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

Arrieta took his teammates along for the ride when he transformed into a Cy Young Award winner in 2015. Montero had trouble hiding his frustrations with Maddon and diminished playing time, not exactly pumped about the idea of wearing a onesie on an overnight flight from the West Coast. Montero wound up catching Arrieta’s no-hitter that unforgettable night at Dodger Stadium.    

The clubhouse vibes now aren’t necessarily awful – to use a Maddon term to downplay the injuries that have decimated the roster – but something is clearly off here.  

“It’s been slightly different, honestly, just because we’ve been up and down so frequently this season,” Arrieta said. “As soon as we get on a roll, we kind of hit the skid. We win two, lose two, win one, lose one. It’s just been this back and forth sort of rollercoaster that we’ve been dealing with. 

“As far as the guys in here, everybody gets along great. We got good relationships. Sometimes, there can be a lull in the dugout from time to time. That’s just kind of the nature of the back and forth that we’ve had, ups and downs. 

“But we’re all on the same page. We know that we need to tighten some things up. And it’s not just in one area. We’ve pitched well at times. We’ve swung the bats well at times. 

“Obviously, last season we were able to kind of collectively do all of that at the same time. That’s what we’re searching for. We’re trying to find that consistency on both sides of the ball.” 

The ironic part is that Montero clung to the idea of being Arrieta’s personal catcher last season, hoping that connection would prevent him from getting bumped off the playoff roster, and now it got him designated for assignment.        

“I don’t think either way it would have fractured the clubhouse,” Arrieta said. “There are certain things that are handled behind closed doors, but Miggy wears his heart on his sleeve. That’s one of the main reasons we all liked him. But we’re going to move forward from this and embrace the guys that are here.”