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The End Of An Era

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I had a whole wax-poetic post in my mind on leaving the Cubs' 8-5 season-ending win over the Rockies, how I shared it with my son Mark, on a picture-perfect, cloudless day, saw some well-played baseball (and how rare was that all year?), a stirring comeback, and how we all shook hands among ourselves, as we do each fall, and looked forward to next spring.

Poetic, but ultimately meaningless, as the big story of the day happened right after the game ended, with team president Andy MacPhail's surprise resignation being announced in a hastily called press conference.

Those of you who have been calling for MacPhail's head are undoubtedly dancing happily this afternoon. Me, I'm six-of-one-half-dozen-of-the-other. While MacPhail's term in office was ultimately a failure -- oh, how clever you all are, terming him "MacFail" -- it surely was not all his fault. To his credit, in the press conference, he took responsibility for what has happened to this franchise, said the results were not acceptable, and intimated that this move had been in the works for several months.

John McDonough, who has been the head of marketing and broadcasting for some time, will take over on an "interim" basis. It was not made clear how long this "interim" status will last. In his remarks, McDonough said all the right things -- Mark asked me in the car what he meant when he said "I know what I do not know", and in fact, that's a very important thing to say. It is an acknowledgement that he is smart enough to know that he doesn't know everything about being a team president, and he is willing to listen and learn. Let us hope that he means that.

Many of you think it's likely that Jim Hendry will follow MacPhail out the door, and I don't see that happening; as has been said many times here, the Tribune Co. doesn't like eating contracts or admitting mistakes of this nature, and I do think Hendry is on the spot to produce NOW, or he might be out of a job by the middle of next season. That's the right thing to do. They gave him a vote of confidence with the extension -- now it's put-up-or-shut-up time.

It has been suggested to me that this means a sale of the club is "close". I have my doubts, but only time will tell.

What time will show us for certain, tomorrow, is the expected announcement in a 9 am press conference, that Dusty Baker will not be retained as manager. It could be a contentious press conference if Baker attends; we'll see if he actually does show up. Baker was booed when he came out to replace Les Walrond in the seventh inning, and again in the 8th when he took Will Ohman out, and I heard "Goodbye Dusty" chants in the bleachers toward the end of the game.

As has been written here and elsewhere -- there are, and have been, good and reasonable arguments against Dusty Baker's managerial style and tactics. But the way you read and hear things about him, you'd think he is an axe murderer. He is certainly not that. I believe Dusty Baker is a good human being who failed at his work. This doesn't make him any different from dozens of other major league baseball managers, or indeed, thousands of other managers in thousands of other businesses in this country. You either produce positive results for your business or you are replaced. Baker failed, and we do not have to recount the ways; they are well-known. Tomorrow, the search for his replacement will begin.

About that, the thought has been expressed to me -- and I do not necessarily agree with it -- that since Hendry is under such intense pressure to win now, that he will not entrust whatever the revised 2007 roster will contain, to a first-time manager. There are good arguments both pro and con about this -- look what Ozzie Guillen did as a first-time manager, or Mike Scioscia. On the other hand, would Fredi Gonzalez -- my first choice -- be able to withstand the intense scrutiny and pressure that any man taking the Cubs job would get? That's the great unknown. Joe Girardi? The pros and cons of hiring Girardi have been debated, and well, on this site and others, and it does appear that he will be dismissed as Marlins manager within the next couple of days. Hendry would be remiss if he doesn't at least interview Girardi, and find out what caused all the fuss at Florida. Maybe some lessons have been learned.

We'll find out more, of course, in the days and weeks to come, and see what other managerial jobs are going to be open (at this writing, Florida, Washington, Philadelphia, Texas, San Francisco, Toronto, are all among teams that could be looking for new managers).

It's always a bit sad to leave the season behind, regardless of how bad it was, and this was absolutely, positively, the worst I have ever seen. It has to get better from here, and with this announcement today, the beginnings of the winds of change are already being felt.

Cub record watch: Juan Pierre finished the season with 699 at-bats; he was on deck when Boom-Boom struck out in the bottom of the 8th (let that be Fast Freddie's LAST at-bat in a Cub uniform!). That ties Dave Cash for fourth on the all-time list for most at-bats in a single season. Bob Howry's appearance allowed him to tie the Cubs' club record for games pitched in a season -- 84. And the announced attendance of 39,609 (which looked like about 30,000 in the house, brought out by the nice weather, most likely) made the Cubs' final season home attendance 3,123,215 -- second largest in team history.

Now THIS is something new team president McDonough must understand -- that those numbers are NOT going to be approached in 2007 unless massive changes are made in players and management. McDonough said his nature is to be "aggressive". Good. Start right away.

I like to leave each season with a quote from the late commissioner Bart Giamatti, and if you've been here long enough, you've surely seen this here before -- but it fits so well, as the sun sinks lower in the sky each afternoon, and the temperatures fade into winter:

It's designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything is new again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains comes, it stops, and leaves you to face the fall alone.

One last thing you should know about the game -- I wore the Neifi jersey to the park today. Thus, its record while on my back is 1-0. It shall be worn to the park again!

To success in 2007 and beyond. Don't leave BCB -- there will be plenty to talk about and discuss in the off-season, the weeks and months to come; for the near future, we'll talk about the club's next manager, I'll open playoff game threads each day, and sometime in November, the top-100 Cubs of all-time series will begin (for those of you who volunteered to write profiles -- please start getting them to me!).

To the future!