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Northside Archives: The Epstein Bar

Written by , Posted in General

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

  • Buddy

    Do you remember the players Himes brought in with “the money we would have given Maddux”? Pretty sure Randy Myers was one of them. My memory gets worse every year, but I believe the rest of the sorry bunch included Willie Wilson, Candy Maldonado, and Jose Guzman. Brilliant!

  • Dusty Baylor

    Let’s not forget Danny Jackson….ah I know that was in 91…but man that sucked too…

  • My top three, in order of amusing names:
    1) Salty Saltwell
    2) Wid Matthews
    3) Herman Franks

  • BLPCB

    How could the Cubs be so stupid to have let Maddux go? Still boggles my mind.

  • Jeremiah Johnson

    Wow. Just a stunning collection of incompetence and futility. Hiring Epstein really does represent a seismic change in leadership. Hope it’s for the better.

    jswanson–any idea what “Wid” is even short for?

  • Eddie Von White

    Now I know where Jedi has been all day.

  • I understood that the Cubs offered Maddux more money than the Braves did, but Maddux figured he had a better shot at a ring with the Braves. Which still reflects poorly on Larry Himes.

  • BLPCB

    Theo has his first test already: Ramirez wants a multi-year contract. I think we should let him go

  • Seymour Butts

    The Cubs offered Maddux considreably less than the Braves. He felt unwanted and left bitter.

  • Buddy

    Sounds like the Astros move to the A.L. is all but done.

  • “Maddux‚ who turned down a $28.5 million contract extension in mid-season with the Cubs‚ signs for $28 million [with the Braves]”

    http://www.baseballlibrary.com/ballplayers/player.php?name=Greg_Maddux_1966&page=chronology

  • Chuck

    From what I remember Maddux turned down more money from the Cubs because he “wanted to play for a winner.” This is the reason why will always dislike him. I could never understand why everybody welcomed him back with open arms. This is also why I despise the Braves.
    May the fleas of a thousand camels infest their jock.

  • Buddy

    And I think he turned down a lot more money from the Yankees.

  • Randall

    Find it fitting that my anti-spam word to write this is suckage. lol. This is a highly crappy list of GM’s that blows my mind. This is why the team has been destined for barely above or way below .500 mark. Geezzz. There are two things that we know about Theo… 1. He has been given the keys to the car by dad with no restrictions on where he can go. 2. Theo surrounds himself with young, brillant up and comers who know baseball and moneyball. As a die hard fan all I ask of Theo is a couple of things. 1. Hire Ryne Sandberg as coach. He has paid his dues and is ready to lead the team. 2. Do not raid the entire Red Sox line-up. 3. Respect the history of the club. 4. When we win it all, shed tears of joy like the rest of us.

  • Dusty Baylor

    I had heard, about the Maddux thing, that he asked for a couple of days to think over the offer, and when he came back Himes told Maddux that the offer was not on the table anymore. Then Maddux signed with the Braves.

  • Jedi

    I believe Maddux has said on more than one occasion that he would’ve felt differently about the Cubs if Himes hadn’t been the GM. Not sure I can fault him for that…

  • Seymour Butts

    I lifted the following from another source. I guess it depends onwhere you get your infomation. Word amongst his team mates is that Maddux was dissed big time.

    Going into his “walk” year of 1992, the Cubs began negotiations with Maddux. One of the worst days in Cubs history occurred somewhat anonymously in December 1991 when the Cubs sent Ned Colletti and Dennis Homerin to his Las Vegas home to strike a deal with Maddux and Boras. They all “agreed” to a five year 25 million dollar deal but Maddux, who was anxious to settle down asked for a no trade clause. The Cubs negotiators said no and left suddenly saying they had a plane to catch. Maddux thought it over for a day, and decided since he was very good and very young they wouldn’t trade him anyway and faxed in his acceptance. Boras called a week later and they said they had to run it by Tribune CEO Stanton Cook; after two more calls and two weeks later Maddux (with undoubtedly some encouragement from Boras) was getting frustrated. He personally wrote a letter to Cook that was delivered on Monday of that week giving the Cubs until 5 PM Friday to agree to the 5/25 deal. The Cubs called him at 5:05 that Friday. “Five minutes!” Maddux said. “They could not have phoned at 5? They could not have responded to my fax 3 weeks earlier when I accepted the original deal by passing on the no trade?”

    For the record, Cook admitted this is exactly how it happened, and tried to explain by saying, “Picking up the phone and getting something done with one call is not quite that simple. This is big business. There’s protocol to follow, a certain amount of posturing done by both sides.”

    What was really going on was a power struggle in which the Tribune which was determined not to let a player and his agent be seen as having the upper hand. For all the later issues re: Boras’ encouraging Maddux to leave as a free agent, this was the Cubs’ Waterloo in terms of dealing with Maddux. He believed he had a deal and the Cubs backed out. Maddux told the Cubs he would give them a fair chance to compete for him AFTER the season as a free agent. While Maddux was at the All-Star game in 1992 the Cubs met with Boras to try to work on a deal and Boras told them the price was now $32 million for 5 years, the Cubs offered 27.5. The Cubs tried to make Maddux out as a self centered greedy player for turning down a deal that would have made him the highest paid pitcher in baseball, to which his teammate Sutcliffe responded, “To people like Greg Maddux, winning is more important than a few dollars. Maybe he wants to see what direction (‘the organization’) is going.”

    Maddux also resented the Cubs attempt to portray him as someone eager to flee the Cubs for the big bucks:

    I am not trying to get out of Chicago. Why would I want to go anywhere else? The people are so friendly. Not just the fans but the cabbies, hotel people, folks on the street. It is not like in other cities where they act like they are doing you a favor.
    Maddux has his best season to date in 1992, going 20-11 on a team that pretended to contend, but finished 78-84. He won the Cy Young award collecting 20 of the 24 votes while pitching 268 innings with 9 CG, 4 ShO, 199 K to 70 BB and an ERA of 2.18.
    After the season ended Boras negotiated with the Braves, Yankees and Cubs, and Maddux still felt both loyalty and frustration with the Cubs. Himes signed Jose Guzman for 4 years and 14.35 million dollars and told the media, “I have the starter that I need to replace him”. Maddux made one last call to Himes personally before he signed with the Braves. Himes told him the Cubs had signed Randy Myers that day and they had no money left. “His” money had gone to Guzman and Myers. After turning down a 32 million dollar offer from the Yankees Greg Maddux signed for 5 years and 28 million dollars with the Atlanta Braves. The Cubs never raised their offer past 27.5. Himes said he didn’t think it was right to go back to the Tribune and ask for more money after the budget had been “set”.

  • Jedi

    Nicely done Seymour. And the Cubs’ tactics worked for a long time; a lot of Cub fans, me included, needed a lot of convincing before we could believe Maddux wasn’t a vindictive money-grubbing Boras client.

  • Seymour, I take it this is your source?

    http://www.bleedcubbieblue.com/2007/2/1/92435/72323

  • Doc Raker

    I can believe Seymour source on the account of the Maddux dealings, it makes perfect sense on how a corporation would deal with players. Fast forward to the future with the Cubs hiring player friendly Jim Hendry as GM. Hendry seemed to get every player he wanted and how many of us wish he didn’t? Blunders go both ways but I think underperforming expensive contracts are more debilitating to a club than the missed HOF contract since the Maddux situation is very rare, the vast majority of FA’s do not become first ballot anonymous hall of famers. An excellent comparison in the pitfalls of free agency for both sides of the coin.