CHICAGO – Through his wheeling and dealing, Jim Hendry helped the Chicago Cubs reach the playoffs three times as general manager. He also saddled them with big contracts and underachievers to go with a few troublemakers — and now, he's out of a job.
The Cubs fired Hendry on Friday amid another disappointing season that will add to their historic championship drought. Assistant GM Randy Bush will serve as interim general manager.
"First and foremost, we just didn't win enough games," chairman Tom Ricketts said. "Our team's performance over the last two years is not where it needs to be."
Ricketts said it's time for a "fresh approach in our baseball leadership" and that the search will begin immediately. He said the new general manager will come from the outside, meaning Bush is not in the running, and that he will seek advice from other owners and "industry veterans" on handling the task.
Ricketts also said the new GM will report directly to him, and that whoever gets the job will determine whether manager Mike Quade returns for a second full season.
Ricketts promised a major emphasis on player development and the minor league system, and that Hendry's replacement will need to be in tune to the newer statistical formulas for analysis.
Hendry said he was informed July 22 that he would not be back next season but agreed to stay on through the non-waiver trade deadline and long enough to sign all the draft picks. He did not tell his two children he was being let go until Thursday night.
"I could have left that day and Tom would have understood but I didn't think that was the right thing for the group," he said. "I care too much about the people who work under me. It would have been shameful."
Ricketts, who took over the Cubs last year and consulted with his siblings on the board in making the decision, said it was a "credit" to Hendry's character "that we were able to operate under that kind of awkward situation and do as well as we have done."
Now the Cubs are in for more changes.
The team went into the All-Star break 18 games under .500 and wasn't much better Friday at 55-70, nearly 20 games out in the NL Central after beating the St. Louis Cardinals 5-4 in 10 innings. Much of the attention has focused on Quade, who got the manager's job last October after leading the Cubs to a 24-13 record late last season on an interim basis after Lou Piniella abruptly retired.
"Real tough day," Quade said. "As good a guy as I've worked for in the game and I've worked for a lot of them. I'll miss him a lot, that's for sure."
Asked if he'd thought about his own future, Quade responded: "Nothing. This day is not about me. It's the furthest thing from my mind. Everybody lost a good friend today."
One-time ace Kerry Wood had similar praise for Hendry, saying, "As a player, you can't ask for a better guy to be around, to go to talk to. You get that feeling from him that you don't get from too many other guys."
Alfonso Soriano added: "He was very honest with the players. He did the best for the players and for the team, too."
Pitcher Ryan Dempster said: "It's a tough day for everyone because a really, really good person and good man gets let go because we didn't do our job on the field."
He added he will "always be grateful" for the chance Hendry gave him.
The 56-year-old Hendry was named general manager in July 2002 and he spent 17 years overall with the organization. He paused several times to compose himself while talking with reporters.
"Not many get to be the GM for nine without a world championship," said Hendry, who had a year left on his contract. "So I got more than my fair chance to do that. I'm disappointed in myself that we didn't get it done in the first five to seven years when I thought we could. I'm very thankful for the way I've been treated."
Asked about Ricketts, Hendry said: "I think he understood that we probably weren't going to be great the way things were set up. Moving forward there are a lot of huge decisions that have to be made this offseason and I think that if I was the one making them and they all didn't work out, then the person after me would have to wear some of those for longer."
One name that has surfaced as a potential candidate to replace Hendry is White Sox assistant GM Rick Hahn. He wrote in a text message, "Like everyone else here, my focus is currently on the 2011 White Sox. Questions about my personal future can wait for another time."
White Sox GM Ken Williams made it clear he thinks Hahn is the right man for the job, calling him "one of the most qualified men to assume the position moving forward. What Mr. Ricketts does is his own business, though."
He also said Hendry is "good at what he does" and "swung for the fences."
There were too many misses recently. This season has been particularly tough, and the Cubs' search for their first championship since 1908 will continue.
Dempster got in a shouting match with his manager, the disabled list has been crowded, and Carlos Zambrano — who criticized his own closer early in the year — was banished from the team for a month after walking out of the clubhouse on a night he surrendered five home runs.
Hendry tried to bolster the lineup and drew some buzz by bringing back Wood with a one-year, $1.5 million deal to be a setup man for closer Carlos Marmol. Yet fat contracts for Zambrano, Soriano and Aramis Ramirez have always had fans wanting more from their stars, and the only move the Cubs made at the trade deadline last month was dealing outfielder Kosuke Fukudome to Cleveland.
"Jim, I think he did a great job," Ramirez said. "It's just that lately — '09, last year and this year — we haven't gotten it done. You can't release 25 guys. Somebody has to pay the price."
Hendry was behind deals in 2003 to bring Ramirez, Kenny Lofton and Randall Simon to the Cubs, pushing them into the NLCS. They came within five outs of the World Series, with Hendry and the rest of Cubs Nation foiled in part by fan Steve Bartman's foul ball attempt in Game 6 of the NLCS against the Marlins.
The next year, Hendry landed pitcher Greg Maddux and traded for Nomar Garciaparra to set the Cubs up for another playoff run — only to watch them blow the wild-card lead in the final week of the season.
Over the years, Hendry hired veteran managers Dusty Baker and Piniella, hoping to mold the perennial losers into a regular contender, but he handed out big contracts to underperformers and at one point brought in Milton Bradley (three years, $30 million) for a brief, explosive stay in Chicago.
Hendry's clubs went 749-748 during his time as general manager. He joined the Cubs in November 1994 as the club's director of player development and later served as scouting director before being promoted to assistant general manager.
Before that, Hendry spent three seasons with the Marlins and eight seasons as head coach of the Creighton Blue Jays, where he was named the 1991 National Coach of the Year after leading Creighton to a third-place finish in the College World Series.
Bush, 52, has been the assistant general manager with the Cubs for five seasons. He played 12 seasons with the Twins and won two championships (1987 and 1991).
"I would love to stay on in some capacity," Bush said. "I'm very realistic. I understand that the new GM will come in and evaluate who fits where and how it all fits going forward. But this has been a great opportunity for me. I've learned a lot."
Ricketts indicated he would like to retain player development executives Oneri Fleita and Tim Wilkin, but said that ultimately will be up to the new general manager.
He also said team president Crane Kenney was doing "a good job" with the business side, and that there is "a really great win-win solution out there" that will spur economic growth as the team tries to secure public funding to renovate Wrigley Field.
AP Sports Writer Rick Gano and freelancer writers Joe Esse and Bradford Doolittle contributed to this report.