Forbidden Love is a Cubs DNA series where our staff waxes poetic about a player on a team other than the Cubs. Maybe even one you think they should hate. In this installment, Matt offers up some wholehearted appreciation for former Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry.
While Theo and Jed are thought of as the best Front Office combination the Cubs have ever seen (and rightly so), they weren't the first to bring success to the organization. Despite some moments of glory (like the Kerry Wood game), the Cubs were never considered winners. They were most often known as the 'Lovable Losers', until Jim Hendry became the GM and things started to change.
The first team he inherited looked to be pretty decent. They had just completed and 88-74 season, Sosa had just hit 64HR, and Kerry Wood looked fully healed from his injuries. They were a veteran team and needed to replace Kevin Tapani in the rotation, and add a bullpen arm. So they made a trade with Marlins for Antonio Alfonseca and Matt Clement. On paper, it was a good deal. They got a starter and a closer but the A-ball pitcher they sent to the Marlins was Dontrelle Willis, who became ROY in 2003 and threw over 1000 innings of 3.78 ERA ball for the Marlins.
The 2002 Cubs faltered and he was tasked with a rebuild-on-the-fly. His biggest accomplishment as a GM might be the trade of Todd Hundley. Hundley was making good money and only produced a .642 OPS and was generally not a great fit. Somehow he traded Chad Hermansen and Todd Hundley to the Los Angeles Dodgers. This was not just a salary dump as he got back Mark Grudzielanek and Eric Karros, both would become key players on the team.
His next big move was an absolute larceny of the Pittsburgh Pirates at the Trade Deadline in 2003. To no one's surprise, the revolving door at 3B since Santo's departure needed to be filled, again. The Cubs had just lost Corey Patterson to a season-ending injury and needed a CF. So, they sent Jose Hernandez and promising minor-league infielder Bobby Hill to the Pirates and got back Aramis Ramirez and Kenny Lofton.
The 1-2 punch of Lofton and Grudzielanek, followed some combination of Alou, Sosa, and Ramirez was seriously impressive. They started August 3.5 games back, won the division, and were 5 outs away from the World Series. We all know how that went, so we won't rehash it.
Some of his more notable moves included trading Hee-Seop Choi for Derrek Lee. Lee was an underrated star who hit .298 .378 .524 with 179 HR in 7 seasons with the Cubs, while Hee-Seop Choi was out of the league 2 years later.
Fast forward to the 2006 season, it went terrible. The Cubs only won 66 games and it was again time to go in another direction and Hendry was up to the task. He brought in Lou Piniella as manager, re-signed Aramis Ramirez, signed Mark DeRosa, Jason Marquis, and Cliff Floyd. His next two moves were the most memorable but for very different reasons. Alfonso Soriano was signed to an 8yr contract for HUGE money (at the time). Soriano was never able to live up to the hype of his 40/40 season the year before coming to the Cubs. Ultimately, the money was the biggest gripe about the deal and it really wasn't Hendry's fault. In his book, 'If These Walls Could Talk: Chicago Cubs: Stories from the Chicago Cubs' local writer Jon Greenberg has this nugget of information.
The most interesting deal of Hendry's tenure has to be when he signed Theodore Roosevelt Lilly. Our friends over at MLB Trade Rumors have a fantastic write up about it. Ultimately, Hendry was on the phone agreeing to the deal with Lilly as he was on a gurney getting an EKG. Hendry ended up getting an angioplasty less than 24 hours later. It's a fascinating read and we urge you to go read it here.
It wasn't all sunshine and rainbows, though. Hendry signed Milton Bradley, Kosuke Fukudome, oversaw the trade of Sammy Sosa and more. While he brought more good to the organization than bad (my personal opinion), when the Ricketts bought the team they wanted to move in a new direction. Despite knowing his time with the Cubs was at an end, Hendry stayed with the Cubs to complete the 2011 draft. His final first round pick for the Cubs was Javier Baez.
So, while the current Front Office elevated expectations for the team it all started with Jim Hendry. While his final tally of 749 wins vs 748 losses doesn't extraordinary, Hendry was the first general manager in Cubs history to oversee three postseason clubs (2003, 2007, 2008) and was the first to lead consecutive postseason berths since the 1930s. 5 outs from the World Series for the Chicago Cubs used to be a helluva accomplishment.
Thank you for everything you did for Cubs fans, Mr. Hendry. This Cubs fan is thankful for the beginning of the Golden Age of Cubs baseball. I wish you good luck with the Yankees, with the offseason they've had it looks like you need it.