I’ve been an outspoken critic of Jim Hendry since I first began writing for View From The Bleachers.  I’ve trashed his record, mocked his intelligence, and painstakingly pointed out a variety of his failings.

So you can imagine my elation at the news of his firing last Friday.  To me it felt like Cubs fans everywhere had been pardoned and released from prison.  We were finally free from Hendry and his toxic tenure at the helm of our beloved team.

And then Hendry gave this press conference.

Through his tears, he talked about his time with the Cubs, the deep relationships he’d formed with players and front-office staff, his respect for Tom Ricketts and many of the other men he’s worked with and for, and most importantly, his understanding that this was the right move for the team*.  He didn’t make excuses for the poor performance on the field these last couple seasons–in fact, he accepted the blame.

*A couple quotes: “Better guys than me have lost their jobs in professional baseball.”  “That’s all you can ask for in life: opportunity, not security.”

What struck me most about Hendry’s comments was his genuine love for the Cubs.  Certainly he was feeling a variety of mixed emotions, but the one that came through most clearly to me was disappointment, primarily in himself.  He owned up to his shortcomings, and despite what I’ve previously said about him in this space, I respect him for that.

No matter what it might have looked like, I always tried to be relatively fair in my criticism of Hendry.  I couldn’t tear into him for all his short-sighted moves and bad decisions without at least acknowledging his successes, too.  And now that he’s gone and the Cubs are looking for a fresh start, I think it’s appropriate to look back at those successes once again.

It’s worth pointing out that Hendry left the team with a winning record, albeit by a one-game margin (749-748).  I’m not sure that could have been planned, but it works out well for a guy who would otherwise still go down as one of the Cubs’ most successful GM’s.

His legacy with the team is forever tied to the Cubs’ three trips to the playoffs in 2003, 2007, and 2008.  He was also in charge during their first back-to-back winning seasons (’03 &’ 04) and their first back-to-back-to-back winning seasons (’07, ’08, & ’09) in seemingly forever.  If nothing else, he’ll be remembered as the guy who helped bring hope and the expectation of success back to Wrigley.

Does he deserve all the credit he’s received for those winning seasons?  Probably not–at the very least, it’s debatable.

What isn’t debatable are the contributions Hendry made through clever trades for Aramis Ramirez and Derrek Lee, shrewd free-agent signings like Ted Lilly and Mark DeRosa, and profitable gambles on scrap-heap players like Ryan Dempster and Reed Johnson.  He was in charge of the farm system that developed Kerry Wood, Carlos Zambrano, Geovanny Soto, Carlos Marmol, and Starlin Castro.  And by bringing in two potential Hall of Fame managers in Dusty Baker and Lou Piniella, he sent a message to Cubs fans and the rest of the league that he expected to win.

What is abundantly clear in his departure is that Hendry wasn’t just another executive.  We can discuss some other time whether or not it’s good for a GM to form close relationships with his players–either way, Hendry was that kind of GM.  He was a guy players like to play for, and he fostered a family environment around the club.  The players, coaches, and even members of the press corps that follow the team were legitimately sad to find out about his dismissal last Friday–how often does that happen?

Moreover, Hendry deserves a lot of credit for keeping his firing a secret for a month.  It’s hard to tell yet if the secret was worth keeping, or if his willingness to stay on was the right move.  Regardless of the outcome though, I think it speaks to his love for the team and his respect for Ricketts that he didn’t throw a fit or storm out in disgust.  He stuck around to do what he thought was best for the Cubs, and held onto a devastating secret–one he even kept from his own sons–to fulfill his remaining responsibilities.

Based on how well-liked Hendry is throughout the league, I have no doubt he’ll find another job in baseball.  While he may have contributed to the Cubs current mess, he also had to do a whole lot right long before he ever became our GM.

For my part, I’m not going to dance on his grave.  Instead, I’d simply like to say thanks for the good times, the happy memories, and for doing what may well have been the best job he was capable of.  And I’d wish him well wherever he lands next.

Unless it’s with the Cardinals.  Or the Brewers.  Or really anywhere in the NL Central.  Or the Mets, Braves, or Phillies.  Or the Dodgers.  Or…you know what–maybe I’ll hold off on those well-wishes for the moment.

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