Jim Hendry was one of the longest-tenured general managers in Cubs history, holding the job for more than nine years. He presided over five winning seasons and three playoff appearances, more than any Cubs team in more than 70 years.
Yet when he was fired on Friday, replaced on an interim basis by assistant GM Randy Bush. Hendry came to be reviled by most Cubs fans, some of whom had been calling for his ouster for more than two years. Why?
Hendry's success was due largely to luck rather than design. He lucked into acquiring Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez in salary dumps, and those two players were keys in the division-title-winning years. But often, Hendry was reactive instead of proactive. After the playoff debacle of 2008, Hendry decided to ship away nearly half the 97-win team's 25-man roster, partly due to manager Lou Piniella's stated opinion, "We're not left-handed enough." That led to a search for a lefty RBI guy and the signing of Milton Bradley to a multi-year deal, even with Bradley's known behavior issues and the fact that he wasn't suited either to an every-day role or the intense media scrutiny he would face in Chicago.
That's another issue with Hendry's regime -- he was well known as a players' GM, a guy major leaguers loved to have as a boss. Frequently, he'd find spots on other teams for players who didn't fit with the Cubs, as he did when he threw Sam Fuld into the Matt Garza deal last winter. Fuld had no place on the Cubs, but he had a nice little run for the Rays before falling back.
And this led to another criticism of Hendry -- that he ran the place like a good ol' boys club, hiring his buddies (or rewarding buddies of colleagues, as when he hired Bush's college roommate Mike Quade to manage) and that the inmates ran the asylum. You need look no further than the recent Carlos Zambrano incident to see that in action -- it took four years' worth of Big Z meltdowns to finally get the Cubs to take action. Further, Hendry never seemed much interested in using advanced metrics to analyze players; while too much can be made of those methods, ignoring them in modern baseball is done at a GM's peril.
That also relates to another of Hendry's failures. There never seemed to be a "Cubs Way" of doing things from the lowest level of the minors to the majors; poor fundamental play and no team discipline, represented by something as simple as not having the entire team standing outside the dugout at Wrigley Field for the national anthem, even as visiting teams did. The message was clear: "Cubs can do whatever they want."
Friday, owner Tom Ricketts sent the clear message that this sort of thing won't be tolerated, by saying the new GM will come from outside the organization and would report directly to him. That, at least, should get Cubs fans to put their torches and pitchforks away and have a glimmer of hope for the future.
For a while, anyway.