Jim Hendry doesn’t shy away from the old-school label, but the straight-shooting Cubs GM is by no means narrow-minded in his approach. In his current position since July 2002, Hendry has seen the game through a wide array of lenses, having served in multiple capacities at both the college and professional levels. Named the National Coach of the Year after leading Creighton University to the College World Series in 1991, he subsequently spent three years working with the Florida Marlins before coming to Chicago in 1995. Since joining the Cubs organization, the native of Dunedin, Florida has worn multiple hats, including those of Director of Player Development, being in charge of scouting, and Assistant GM/Director of Player Personnel.
David Laurila: How would you describe Jim Hendry, the general manager?
Jim Hendry: I don’t know. The “I” stuff isn’t real big on my agenda. You know, I just try to hire good people and let them do their jobs. I try to stay on top, like everybody else, every day. There are only 30 of us in the world and I don’t consider myself to be any harder-working than anybody else. You kind of just have to stay with it every day and try to be honest and fair to players. That’s kind of how I approach it. I try to treat people the same every day and not react to somebody playing well, or not playing well, or whether we won today or lost today. I try to be consistent in the way I act.
DL: There are a lot of young general managers in the game today. Do you feel that they approach the game much differently than you do?
JH: I don’t know. I try not to judge how other people do their jobs. Everybody has a different way of skinning a cat, you know. I think that I’m very comfortable with a lot of the old-school ways, but at the same time, I have a lot of people who help me. We’re certainly not oblivious to statistical analysis and things like that. At the end of the day, I’m a believer in hiring good people and letting them do their jobs. I put a premium on scouting and development and try to do it in the way that I’m comfortable with and how the people I surround myself are comfortable with it.
DL: Chuck Wasserstrom serves as your Manager of Baseball Information. How would you describe the work he does?
JH: He’s outstanding. He does a ton of work. Randy Bush, my assistant, is an ex-player who is totally committed and does a great job, in and out of the office. That’s been a real good balance for me. It’s a real nice situation where you’ve got a guy who played eleven years in the big leagues and is also very talented in the scouting and evaluation processes, and very good in the office. He also has a lot of respect in the clubhouse. Randy’s addition in the last couple of years has really made my job easier. And Chuck has been tremendous for us, so we don’t think we’ve been missing anything in the modern-day way of doing things.
JH: It was one of those things where we were looking for the best possible hitter, left-handed or switch, and if you’re going by the statistical analysis way of looking at it, he fit the bill perfectly. He led the American League in on-base percentage and almost won the batting title; he played in the All-Star Game. He was exactly what we were looking for. Unfortunately, right now his production hasn’t been what it was last year. We looked at all of the other people too, and felt like, in our spot, in right field, that he was the best fit.
DL: Your background is more scouting-oriented, while Wasserstrom’s is more statistical-analysis based. Are you finding that the two of you generally come to similar conclusions regarding the projectable future performance of players you look at?
JH: Absolutely. At the end of the day, I make the final call, but we put months into that decision. Obviously, what [Bradley] did the last couple of years, offensively, was exactly what we were looking for. Of course, they’re not all robots and they don’t always do what you want them to do. We had eight guys in the All-Star Game last year, who are this team right now, and I don’t know if any of those eight are going to make it this year. It’s hard to put your finger on that and predict.
DL: You have a coaching background. Does that make you more sensitive to what your manager feels the team needs in order to win?
JH: No, it was a long time ago that I coached, and I certainly didn’t do it at this level. Lou and I have a real good relationship because of the mutual respect you need between a GM and a manager. One, I trust that the 25 guys we give him-he’ll do the best he can every day to win a ballgame with them. And there is mutual respect in that he knows that I’m doing the best I can to get him the best players with the payroll we have. So I don’t ever try to put myself in the coaching seat any more. That was a long time ago and it’s certainly not appropriate at this level. But Lou and I talk every day. Every manager always wants more players, you know, but we do the best we can. At the end of the day, we’re the ones who are in charge of providing Lou with the roster, just like I would never tell him who to bat first or third, or who to start tomorrow against Pittsburgh.
DL: How much value do you place on defense?
JH: I value defense tremendously, and we had a very good defensive ballclub last year. Some years you play better defense than others-some years, guys who had great defensive years the year before might not play quite as well. You can’t find any better than Derrek Lee, a Gold Glove winner. [Aramis] Ramirez has become a real good third baseman. We put a lot of emphasis on it. Wrigley Field isn’t the hitters’ park that a lot of people think it is. That being said, you’ve got to have people who can hit the ball out of the ballpark too, and they’re not always your best defenders.
DL: Are defensive metrics an important part of your evaluation process or do you rely primarily on scouting?
JH: It’s scouting for me. People scout players and they rate their defense, and that’s what I go by-and the personnel that we have in our own dugout.
DL: You hired both Dusty Baker and Lou Piniella. Can you compare and contrast the two as managers?
JH: They are both very good. They are both outstanding baseball guys who were real good players, and they’re both really good human beings. You know, they have a lot of similarities and obviously everybody’s personality is different, so they have some differences. But they’ve both been very successful wherever they’ve been. I’ve never really spent a lot of time thinking if they are a lot alike, or a little alike, or this or that, but I’ve been very blessed-I’ve enjoyed my time with both of them, which is now probably about a seven-year stint with the two of them together. They’ve both done very, very well and I’ve enjoyed all of my time with them.
DL: Some managers wear out their welcome over time, often because of their personalities. Is that something you need to monitor closely?
JH: I’ve never even thought about that. To me… nobody has ever worn out their welcome around me because of their personality.
DL: I was actually referring to how players will sometimes begin to tune out a manager, and not play as well for him, after a few years. Billy Martin might be a good example.
JH: Well, I don’t think that happens here. It didn’t happen with Dusty; I think that the players had a lot of respect for Dusty. We had a lot of unfortunate things go wrong at the end of Dusty’s tenure. The pitching staff got broken down with [Kerry] Wood and [Mark] Prior and things like that. And I certainly don’t find the players turning Lou off at all, so I haven’t been in that situation as long as I’ve been with the Cubs.
DL: You were born in 1955. Do you ever wonder how different your job would be had you been a general manager in that era?
JH: Yeah. In fact, I always used to say that I’d have loved to have been a general manager back in the era I grew up in. There were 16 teams, so the talent level must have been extremely good with that few teams. You didn’t have a lot of free agency, or minor league free agency, then. I think that all of the baseball trades back then were talent for talent; you weren’t worried about exchanging a lot of contracts or eating money. The players did their contracts with the GM. I think that would have been more of my style. I would have liked that era, even though the money was obviously a lot different.
DL: What were your baseball allegiances growing up?
JH: I was a Giants fan, because I loved Willie Mays, even though I grew up in Florida. I was also a spring training bat boy for the Phillies, in Clearwater, for a couple of years, when I was about eight and nine. I was a fanatic, a real baseball junkie.
DL: Mays has an unsullied reputation, while a number of players in the current era, such as Sammy Sosa, do not. What are your thoughts on that?
JH: Well. I think there was an era there, whether it was 10 years or 15… you know, we could waste a lot of time trying to decide who did what, and why they did what, and speculate and pick out a handful of names and be accusational. I just feel bad for the hundreds, and thousands, of guys who played the game without any additives who get lumped into that era. You know, I’m not here to decide who did what or what was morally right or wrong, but I think it was an era where there wasn’t testing. MLB and the union never could get it together on that until recently, so there is no sense worrying about it. Now they have a lot stronger program intact and you kind of move on and go.
DL: What does Wrigley Field mean to the game of baseball?
JH: It’s the greatest. I love it and I try not to forget, on a daily basis when I walk in there, just how lucky I am to be there. Yeah, it’s a special place; it’s a great ballpark. I know our guys love playing there and that visiting teams love coming in. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience and when this job is all gone someday for me, I’ll certainly be grateful for the time I had here.
DL: When that time comes, how do you hope to be remembered?
JH: Well, I hope that I’m remembered as a guy who took the job very seriously and understood my responsibilities to the city of Chicago and to the fans. I hope that they feel that I treated the players with honesty and respect and that I was loyal to the people I worked for, and to the ones who worked underneath my role. And hopefully someday I’ll be remembered as having been the GM when the Cubs won the World Series.