Northside Archives: The Epstein Bar
With Theo Epstein “on the cusp” of becoming the 15th general manager (or is he “on the cusp” of hiring the 15th GM?) in Cubs’ history, now is probably the right time to remember what we’ve had. Only then can be truly thankful for what we’re getting.
By all accounts, the Cubs need to agree to some form of compensation for maneuvering Epstein out of his final year in Boston. Then someone has to go tell Crane Kenney that he’s 1) going on a long vacation and/or 2) being neutered. Once that’s done, we should get a press conference.
Even if Epstein’s arrival doesn’t bring about a World Series champion, he (or whoever he hires to be GM) seems destined for more success than almost all 14 of his predecessors. It might require more work to get to the bottom of this list than the top – the bar is incredibly low.
Randy Bush (8/11 – 10/11) – it’s almost unfair to include Bush here, but he IS the Cubs’ interim general manager (as long as I get this posted soon enough!). He was asked to keep the seat warm – Theo will likely find that he’s done his job.
Jim Hendry (7/02 – 8/11) – a lot has been said about Hendry, no need to go back over it. Unfortunately as this list unfolds it’ll become apparent that Hendry was a world-beater compared to most the previous GMs.
Andy MacPhail (7/00 – 7/02) – his true desire was to be a club president. He achieved that goal with the Cubs in 1994, but added GM to his duties in mid-2000. He largely laid the foundation for the Dusty-era Cubs. He also helped the Cubs dump a lot of those guys at his next stop with the Baltimore Orioles. He also got Mark Grace a World Series ring.
Ed Lynch (10/94 – 7/00) – best career move ever. The guy hired after Larry Himes was going to be afforded several opportunities to fail. Lynch drafted Kerry Wood No. 4 overall in Lynch’s first crack at the draft. Eight months into his tenure, that was the high water mark for Lynch.
Larry Himes (11/91 – 10/94) – wouldn’t pay Greg Maddux, brought in a bunch of other garbage instead. Grace, who at one point was allegedly dangled as trade bait by Himes, said he wasn’t so upset about being possibility traded as he was about the other guys that Himes forced him to play with.
Jim Frey (11/87 – 10/91) – he performed as GM in a manner you would expect a former field manager. Constantly looking for the guy who had just “been” good, he often let go of guys who “would” be good. It’s hard to see his promotion from manager to GM as little more than a reward for the man who was the first Cubs manager to lead a team to the playoffs in 40 years.
Dallas Green (10/81 – 10/87) – built the foundation for the ’84 and ’89 teams. Traded to acquire Ryne Sandberg, drafted Mark Grace and Greg Maddux, signed Andre Dawson. This is where the bar is for Theo, it’s also when the Cubs first took the modern GM position seriously.
Herman Franks (5/81 – 10/81) – this is where the bar was set for Randy Bush. Franks was essentially the GM during the ’81 strike.
Bob Kennedy (77 – 5/81) – better known as the “head coach” of the College of Coaches. Another former manager who became GM, his tenure started only one season after the Reserve Clause had been removed (and free agency subsequently a new facet of player personnel decisions). Kennedy still operated largely as an old fashioned GM – one whose duties dealt more with off-the-field issues, while also working out the details of players under contract.
Salty Saltwell (7/75 – 11/76) – the reason Steve Stone first left the Cubs, no matter whose side you believe, Stone and Saltwell had a disagreement that led to Stone leaving the Cubs after 1976. In a few months and with limited responsibilities, Saltwell managed a fair amount of carnage. He traded Don Kessinger and Bill Madlock. There are those that would tell you Salty was a bitter man – his background was not in baseball and it showed.
John Holland (57 – 75) – at this point the GM had very different responsibilities from modern GMs. Players had little bargaining power and were entirely under team control. With respect to players, the GM signed them to contracts and traded them; the player had virtually no recourse except to sulk. Holland’s job was often made more difficult by owner P.K. Wrigley who liked to meddle.
Wid Matthews (50 – 56) – helped the Cubs break the color barrier by signing Ernie Banks.
James Gallagher (40 – 49) – presided over the last Cubs’ team to play in the World Series.
Charles Weber (34 – 40) – the Cubs’ first GM.
In my opinion from best to worst (excluding the first four since their duties were largely very different, and the two interim GMs):
1. Dallas Green
2. Andy MacPhail
3. Jim Hendry
4. Ed Lynch
5. Bob Kennedy
6. Jim Frey
7. Salty Saltwell
8. Larry Himes