There was a time where Rick Hahn seemed to be the medias favorite to be the next Cubs general manager. It got to the point where Tom Ricketts sort of shook his head, because the chairman had never actually met the guy before.
Ricketts told Jim Hendry that he would be fired during a secret meeting on July 22, 2011. Hendry kept the news buried for almost a month, not telling even some of his closest friends and family until just before the news conference inside the Wrigley Field interview roomdungeon.
With Ricketts looking for someone with a different analytical background, Hahn immediately emerged as a possible connect-the-dots candidate. Hahn had grown up in Winnetka and graduated from New Trier High School before getting degrees from the University of Michigan, Harvard Law School and Northwesterns Kellogg School of Management.
This was almost exactly one year after the Cubs won their press conference and put Theo Epsteins name in lights on the Wrigley Field marquee. Hahn looked around a U.S. Cellular Field conference room on Friday, looking for his parents and thanking them for never trying to talk sense into me as I was potentially flushing away a lot of education.
This is what Hahn had in mind, and the White Sox had been plotting this move for years. After 12 seasons in the front office and multiple interviews in other big-league cities Hahn finally realized his dream of becoming a general manager here.
It just wasnt going to happen on the North Side.
There was a lot of speculation last year about what was going on over there, Hahn said. I think they were pretty singularly focused from the start about what they wanted to do and they were able to accomplish that. It never arose anywhere close to the level that I think was speculated publicly.
Obviously, that would have been an opportunity to be a GM in my hometown, which has a lot of appeal. But it also would have been leaving the people here who Ive had long relationships with, so I didnt get too hung up on it, especially since I had sort of a sense of where this was heading pretty early on.
At the time, Epstein looked like a total reach. There was no "Theo Watch" yet.
Sure, maybe the Cubs would try to copy the Boston Red Sox model and go after Ben Cherington, Epsteins assistant general manager and eventual replacement. There was a national buzz that they were interested in Brian Cashman (who had long respected Hendry and would hire him as a special assistant with the New York Yankees).
There were suspicions that Josh Byrnes was angling for the job, though this chain of events would ultimately help make him the San Diego Padres general manager. Chicago guy Mike Rizzo whose homegrown core would win 98 games this season went on the defensive and denied interest in leaving the Washington Nationals.
Epstein left Boston for a presidents title and total control of baseball operations at Clark and Addison. From San Diego, Epstein brought in Jed Hoyer as general manager and Jason McLeod to oversee scouting and player development.
The job is 247, 365 days a year for Type A personalities. In moving up to executive vice president, Kenny Williams talked about how hed feel the pain in his neck and the churning in his stomach while watching games.
Williams played football at Stanford University and liked the Oakland Raiders, and he took that Silver and Black mentality into everything. He described how hed leave during the middle of the game and steer his car onto Lake Shore Drive to look at the water and try to find some calm.
After almost a decade of relentless scrutiny in Boston, Epstein sensed he was nearing his expiration date. He really felt energized during a recent trip to Arizona, watching prospects in instructional league and seeing The Cubs Way come to life.
John Paxson and Gar Forman are running the Bulls for Jerry Reinsdorf, but Hahn stressed that every situation is unique. Mark Shapiro and Chris Antonetti created a partnership within the Cleveland Indians, while Nolan Ryan and Jon Daniels have turned the Texas Rangers into an annual contender.
Theo and his staff is just another example of a different sort of set-up, Hahn said. But what matters from my standpoint when I look at it is the efficacy within the office, how its going to work. Do we have the right people having the right input and the right resources? And thats what Im comfortable with here.
The media has fixated on the attendance problems on the South Side, where the White Sox were in first place deep into September and still drew less than two million fans. The Cubs lost 101 games and almost reached three million.
Hahn thinks the White Sox can reach that level, though he admits that they missed an opportunity after winning the 2005 World Series.
If we win, absolutely, Hahn said. I do feel that if we followed up 05 fairly quickly in 06 or 07 with another one or at least a deep, deep run that probably would have swayed some of the momentum in our direction. (But thats) not going to change the decision about whos on the field. So its not for me to worry about. I got enough to worry about.
So Hahn isnt going to turn into Ozzie Guillen and provide bulletin-board material for Cubs-Sox.
I really dont view it as competing with them, other than when we play, Hahn said. That may be different from a marketing standpoint, or it could be different from a fan-experience standpoint, or how others approach it. But for me, theyre another opponent and I want to beat them when we play.
Probably the ideal situation would be for both of us to have success and see what happens in this town if we actually squared off in October.