Cubs GM Hendry is in it for the long haul

Cubs GM Hendry is in it for the long haul
March 11, 2011, 2:47 am
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Thursday, March 10, 2011
Posted 8:47 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MESA, Ariz. In one week the Cubs received nearly 3,000 responses to a want ad for their next public-address announcer at Wrigley Field. So just think how many would love Jim Hendrys job, or think they could do it better.

Cubs honor Santo in Arizona

The Cubs general manager did not play professional baseball or graduate from an Ivy League university. Yet he is sitting behind his desk at HoHoKam Park on Thursday, the names of all the organizations players lining one office wall.

This marks Hendrys 17th season with the company, which in corporate America is stunning for any employee in any field. That doesnt even take into account ownership instability, an industry that burns through executives, or a team that is on Year 103 since its last World Series title.

I get labeled as this old-school guy all the time, and part of that I take a lot of pride in, Hendry said. (But) I dont think Im unbending. (I) want to come to work every day and get better. I didnt get to be the GM of the Cubs because of some good-old-boy network. I did a lot of jobs on the way up and probably beat a few odds.

Only eight general managers in the majors have held onto their job longer than Hendry, who took over in July 2002. Only two are in the National League San Franciscos Brian Sabean and Colorados Dan ODowd.

Hendry knows he bought some time by immediately winning the division in 2003, and admits that if Lou Piniellas teams hadnt done the same in 2007 and 2008, hed probably be gone by now.

After a fifth-place finish last season, Hendry is overseeing the next rebuilding project. At the age of 55, he has already survived several boom-and-bust periods.

The dominos

The free-agent spending spree ordered by the Tribune Co. when the team was up for sale wasnt going to last forever. The Cubs had committed around 145 million for last years Opening Day roster. Sources say they will begin this season around 133 million, though the overall budget for baseball operations has remained the same.

You work under the parameters of the payroll you have, Hendry said. Higher or lower, it will never be an excuse not to win.

The Cubs discussed three obvious needs at the organizational meetings last fall in Arizona, but even these names exceeded their wildest dreams.

How (Hendry) did it? I have no clue, especially with what he had to work with, outfielder Marlon Byrd said. Thats why hes one of the best GMs. Im excited. Matt Garza, Kerry Wood, Carlos Pena you couldnt ask for anything more.

All the dominos fell just right. Pena, a left-handed, Gold Glove first baseman, accepted a signing bonus and deferred money on a one-year deal worth 10 million that will be paid out over 13 months.

Wood, a power arm for the bullpen, felt the pull of home at Ron Santos funeral and signed for 1.5 million, an amount that initially looked like a misprint.

Economic circumstances made Tampa Bay willing to take a package of prospects for the 27-year-old Garza, a frontline starter and the 2008 ALCS MVP.

Chairman Tom Ricketts has said that Hendry did a great job this offseason, and indicated that hes grown in confidence with his general manager. The chairman expects the club to be an annual contender.

We expect the best out of our baseball department every season, Ricketts said last month, before the teams first full-squad workout. I wouldnt read any more into it than that.

The blueprint

Hendry credits Tribune Co. leadership for once taking a chance on an old Creighton University coach. Andy MacPhail, the teams former president and chief executive officer, helped give Hendry a three-dimensional education.

Hendry rose as a player-development director, scouting director and assistant general manager, where he first got exposure to working on contracts and arbitration cases. He tries to stay grounded in those roots, and doesnt like the perception of being a checkbook general manager.

Ricketts can be vague in some of his public statements, but he has a very clear idea of what he wants from baseball operations: A strong farm system to keep producing talent.

I owe the Ricketts family, Hendry said. We need to put a good product on the field pretty much every year. Were headed that way, (but) Im really glad that Tom is outspoken about player development and scouting.

Because from the first time I met him I told him the real blueprint to win down the road isnt what we did in 07 and 08. Its to keep getting good players. Dont ever cut that part of the budget down.

That doesnt mean you put Triple-A Iowa at Wrigley Field and charge big-league prices. Its identifying the prospects that are untouchable, the ones that can be traded in certain deals and the ones that are disposable. Sometimes you flip assets for a player like Garza, the way the Cubs acquired Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez.

If you know your own system inside and out, Hendry said, you got it knocked.

The future

Roughly 100 employees report to Hendry and he has surrounded himself with what he likes to call high-end guys.

The Ricketts family views scouting director Tim Wilken Hendrys childhood friend from Florida as one of the best in the business.

A Cubs board member described vice president of player personnel Oneri Fleita who once played for Hendry at Creighton as a kind of father figure to all their prospects in the Dominican Republic.

All this has created a sense of loyalty. Hendry is signed through the 2012 season, as is Wilken, Fleita and assistant general manager Randy Bush.

The other day Hendry sat in the front row next to the Cubs dugout at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. He wore a baseball cap and sunglasses and held a clipboard. Surrounded by front-office lieutenants, he charted pluses and minuses, situational hitting, throwing to the right base, the details that he thinks win or lose baseball games.

Hendry looked like just another scout, even though his job responsibilities have multiplied toward the media, the budgets and the office politics. Near the end of the game, he stood up for a couple of fans with a camera. He tries not to get caught up in the pressure, or what his next job might be, or when this one will end.

Youre the greatest when youre winning, Hendry said, and you also read some days when you should be shipped out of town. I got a pretty good perspective on both ends of it. I dont shy away from the public. I never turn anybody down that wants a picture or a handshake. I think its just something youre supposed to do. If youre not careful, someday youll wish they asked.

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