Thursday, March 31, 2011Posted 11:00 PM
By Patrick Mooney
There used to be a saying around the baseball offices at Creighton University: Jim Hendry could sell ice to the Eskimos and make them think they were getting a good deal.
Elvis Dominguez hesitated to use the word salesman, because in his mind, it implies that Hendry was pushing something that you didnt really want or need.
What Dominguez meant was that Hendry saw how good you could be and would tell you how to get there.
Dominguez was born in Cuba and moved to Miami at the age of eight. He played at Columbus High, the Catholic school where Hendry taught English and made a name for himself as the youngest baseball coach in the state of Florida.
Dominguez became the first in his family to go to college when he followed Hendry to Creighton. He stayed in Omaha, Neb., as Hendrys graduate assistant to begin his climb. Hes now the head baseball coach at Bradley University.
Its The American Dream, a great immigrant story. Dominguez looks back on his experience and speaks for everyone who bought in at Creighton: We walked out never saying, What if.
Its easy to picture Hendry dominating living rooms and reeling in recruits. His personality was perfect for the job shaking hands with parents, schmoozing boosters and telling the best stories at cocktail parties.
But it wasnt enough. By 1991, Hendry had led Creighton to the College World Series. His ambitions drove him back home again, to work for a start-up company based in Florida.
From the ground up
The Cubs will run out across Wrigley Field on Friday with an Opening Day payroll that USA Today calculated to be 125 million, the sixth-highest in the game.
Cubs accounting will probably have it closer to 133 million, which roughly represents a 10 percent drop from the year before.
A quick way to annoy the Cubs general manager is to suggest that hes just found religion about budgets, or suddenly realized the importance of homegrown players. Hendry hates the perception of being a checkbook executive.
Hendrys roots are with the Marlins, in scouting and player development, building something from scratch.
Im not so sure I could have ever done it better entering pro ball (and) going with those guys on an expansion team, Hendry said. We didnt play for two years. It was such an education from the ground up. (They gave me) such a variety of jobs. (It) was tough love. They were hard on me.
I was Joe College, Hotshot Coach and I got reminded of that a few times. (This) wasnt college baseball anymore.
There, Hendry worked alongside Dave Dombrowski, the architect of the 1997 World Series champions and future Tigers general manager. Hendry got the job in part through Gary Hughes, one of the top 10 scouts of the 20th century as judged by Baseball America.
You can still see Hughes in Mesa, Ariz., riding around the teams facilities in a golf cart. Hughes is a Cubs special assistant and that is probably Hendrys greatest strength the people he surrounds himself with.
A Google search for Fire Jim Hendry yields 174,000 results. There is obvious impatience with Hendry, whos entering his 17th season in an organization that hasnt won a World Series since 1908.
Pat Gillick the executive who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame this summer described his work this way: The job of the general manager is not to select the correct players. It's to select the correct people to select the players.
This is Year 2 under the Ricketts ownership group. Theyve mostly stayed out of baseball operations, while explicitly saying what they want a strong farm system, the sustainable model to create an annual contender.
The Ricketts family routinely praises scouting director Tim Wilken and vice president of player personnel Oneri Fleita as the best in the business. The money is flowing toward their spheres of influence. Those investments in the amateur draft and Latin America are supposed to yield the next generation of Tyler Colvins, Andrew Cashners and Starlin Castros.
Wilken grew up with Hendry in Dunedin, Fla. Hendry recruited Fleita to Creighton and even honored the commitment after the pitcher went to Dr. James Andrews for surgery and had to convert into a position player.
Hendry is signed through the 2012 season, along with his key lieutenants in the front office, including assistant general manager Randy Bush. The group is fiercely loyal to their leader.
I have a good relationship with Tom Ricketts, Hendry said. I dont want to stay unless he thinks Im the right guy for the job down the road.
I got a great group of people under me. Thats (most) important to me what they would think of me, not (necessarily) other factions of the game. Its the same thing with the clubhouse I dont ever try to be everybodys best friend. All I ever want in that clubhouse is their respect.
The next window
Hendrys not a laptop geek, and he strolls through the clubhouse more than most in his position. Only eight general managers in the majors have held onto their job longer than Hendry, who took over in July 2002 and has watched his teams make the playoffs only three times since then.
Hendry is 55 but feels much younger than that. He has built the relationships with Greg Maddux and Kerry Wood that helped bring them back into the organization.
Especially in this business, sometimes you can find that theres a lot of dishonesty floating around out there, said outfielder Reed Johnson, who made the team after signing a minor-league deal in January. Its hard to trust people. (Hendrys) not going to tell you what you want to hear. Hes going to tell you how it is.
No one in Chicago expects the Cubs to do too much this season. The most optimistic predictions seem to have them around 84 victories, if everything breaks right.
A massive amount of money will fall off their financial books after 2011, which means Hendry could be framing their next window of opportunity.
Hendrys Cubs didnt spend a single moment above .500 last season. The fans have to pay for some of the most expensive tickets in the game. Talking up the system will get real old if all these young players regress this season.
Hendry knows all this. But you dont get to his luxury suite by playing it safe and wondering What if.
You look at someone who didnt play pro ball or go to an Ivy League school. Whatever happens good or bad you ask the general manager of the Chicago Cubs if hell ever have a better job than this.
I never worried about it, Hendry said. I never looked at the next job in my life. Ive only worked in four places in my life and Ive loved them all.
PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.