FanPost

BP's Steve Goldman Laments The Cubs (A History Lesson)

Its a pay article,  but the title "Every team has a special GM, except the Cubs" pretty much sums up the article. I don't think he understands Cubs history as well as he should to write such an article, but I honestly can't disagree with the main point he's making: That the Cubs have never formulated a plan to win ballgames and are too content to just be average and profitable.

He doesn't mean the article as an attack on Jim Hendry, but rather on every GM who's ever held the position, with the possible exception of Dallas Green.  He claims that pretty much every franchise in baseball has employed, at one time or another, some sort of baseball genius who has led them to the promised land.  I can't really argue with that point.

However, I do have some nits to pick with the article.

Beyond the obvious nit (the tautology in baseball that GMs that win championships are considered geniuses because they've won championships), I'd argue that the issue with the Cubs throughout their history has always been ownership, not whoever is the GM.

First off, in the days of William Wrigley and William Veeck, the Cubs built a great team that won four pennants in ten years (although neither one was alive to see the final two). They also led the Cubs to a pennant in 1918. (Yes, the Cubs win the pennant every final year of a World War.)  The two of them made some mistakes, most notably firing Joe McCarthy, but the team they built was solid enough to continue to be a pennant-winning team five years after their deaths. Wrigley and Veeck had a long-term plan that worked, but they had the bad luck to run into some of the greatest teams of all-time in the World Series (1929 Athletics, 1932 and 1938 Yankees) in three of their four trips to the Fall Classic.

But PK Wrigley simply didn't care about winning. He was more concerned about turning Wrigley Field into a shrine to his father and family entertainment. He cared more about having loyal people near him than competent people. Al constantly brings up Wrigley's firing of Phil Cavaretta, and while Cavaretta may not have been the Cub to lead the Cubs to the Championship, the circumstances of his firing is a perfect example of PK Wrigley simply not understanding, or not caring, how to win baseball games.

In many ways PK Wrigley was a visionary. In fact, many of us are Cub fans today because of Wrigley's visionary plan to get as many games on the radio and TV as possible in a time when most owners considered broadcasting to be the enemy of baseball.  But he tended to distrust any idea that didn't come from his own head. That's why Wrigley Field didn't have lights: PK Wrigley didn't want the Cubs to be like every other team. This also led the Cubs to having a lousy farm system: Wrigley wasn't going to copy the ideas of other owners. Conversely, he was too enamored with his own ideas, which led to disasters like the College of Coaches.

The Tribune took over in 1981 and contrary to what a lot of people around here think, I believe the Tribune was very interested in putting a winning ball club on the field. Their problem was one of incompetence and impatience, not desire. The hired a brilliant GM to run the club in Dallas Green, but his abrasive and obnoxious attitude didn't fit in with the corporate culture and they forced him out the first time things went sour. This led them to spend the next several years kicking around without a plan, bringing in Jim Frey and Larry Himes, neither one of whom knew what the hell they were doing. Both were fired quickly enough, but not without doing lasting damage to the farm system and organization as a whole.

In Andy MacPhail, they hired a team president who at least had a plan and they stuck with him for a while. GM Ed Lynch carried out that plan.  The issue was it wasn't a very good plan.  MacPhail kept talking about doing things the Atlanta way which would have been good if he'd have actually been able to develop pitchers the way the Braves had done. Instead, we drafted a bunch of high-risk arms year after year and had no clue as to how to turn them into major league pitchers.  Of all of them, only Kerry Wood really seemed to pan out.

Jim Hendry came in first under MacPhail and then took over himself. To Hendry's credit, he at least seems to understand that to build a team you need to be strong everywhere, and he's hired some good baseball people in scouting and development.  The problem always seems to be on the major league level, where he's always been on thin ice. He's always sacrificing the future for enough short-term gains to keep his job.  This almost worked in 2007 and 2008. Now we're paying for it.

Getting back to the original article, I'd argue that the Cubs failure to find some sort of Branch Rickey like genius to run the Cubs is because PK Wrigley was never looking for one and the Tribune only wanted one if they fit in with their nice corporate culture.  I'd also argue that William Veeck was that man, if only he and William Wrigley hadn't died a few months apart in 1932-33.

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of SB Nation or Al Yellon, managing editor (unless it's a FanPost posted by Al). FanPost opinions are valued expressions of opinion by passionate and knowledgeable baseball fans.

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