Cubs GM Jim Hendry got his contract extension today. It was neither the three years many thought it would be nor the five that some had reported. Chairman Crane Kenney and Tribune Co. chief Sam Zell settled on four years. In this day and age of short shelf lives for sports GMs, this is nothing short of extraordinary. If Hendry serves out the term of the deal, he will have been on the job for 10 and a half years. Andy MacPhail named Hendry to the post in July of 2002, when MacPhail fired field manager Don Baylor in the midst of a miserable season.
Hendry and the Cubs have upgraded and beefed up the front office by leaps and bounds in the last few years, hiring scouts and scouting gurus and even creating a stats-oriented position. And in the last couple of years, the Cubs have even shown they're serious about those stats and using them the right way.
Now all that's left for Trader Jim is to get the Cubs to the World Series and win it. Since Hendry came aboard in 1994, the likes of these teams have won the Series: the Anaheim-L.A. Angels, the Florida Marlins and the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Colorado Rockies, San Diego Padres, Houston Astros and, now, the Tampa Bay Rays have gotten there. Yep, all of those teams have come into being since the Cubs last went to the Series in 1945, let alone since they last won it in 1908.
The Red Sox have shed their "curse," if such things exist. The White Sox have won a Series. So have the Cardinals. And they won them back to back to back after the Cubs' painful exit in '03.
Hendry's teams have gotten to the playoffs three times, in 2003 (we all know what happened then), 2007 and this year. But no Series win and no Series appearance.
This year's Cubs won 97 games, but Hendry disputed the notion that you have to build a team for October as opposed to building one for April-September. And he's right. You can't win in the playoffs unless you get there. This year's team had the best record in the NL, just as the Angels had the best record in the American League. Both were bounced out of the playoffs in the first round.
"I don't know how you differentiate between you build a team for April to September and then you try to build something different for October," Hendry said. "We had as good a team as there was in the National League. We had the best record. We just played bad baseball for three days. We stunk last year against the Diamondbacks. We're all going to put our heads together and see if there are other ways we think we can improve the club. All you do is try to get in every year and keep working on trying to get better once you get in there to accomplish that goal. There's a whole history in professional sports of clubs that kept getting close and kept getting close and finally they knocked that door in. That's what we're going to continue to try to do."
When and only when that happens will Hendry's tenure be a complete success. As of now, he's done an above-average job, and the Cubs' front office is in as good of hands as it has been since the Dallas Green years.