Having met you a few times I will readily admit that I have been one of your most ardent supporters. Your vision for the future and plans to go about being successful have been a breath of fresh air to this lifelong Cub fan. The fact that you spent tens of millions on the player development side of the business is something the prior ownership never did. When I saw the announcement of the signing of this year’s draft picks and the amount of money committed to them as compared to the previous owner, I commented to many friends what an indictment of the Tribune Company and how uncommitted they actually were to create a truly winning organization.
Many times friends would ask me if I thought Jim Hendry or Mike Quade should be fired. My answer was always to ask them how many GM and managers have they fired since 1909? Hasn’t worked in over 100 years, what makes you think it will work this time?
I was very much a Hendry supporter feeling that many of the moves he made were a result of the Tribune Company trying to sell the team with no regard for the future with the size and back loaded contracts that were given out. I was somewhat surprised when I read that he was terminated on Friday. After reading most every piece of information I could get my hands on, I realize I should not have been.
Tom, for well over a decade, GE was a major account of mine during the era when Jack Welsh was the CEO. I learned many lessons from them and Jack was credited with explaining complicated issues in ways that made it easy to understand. As I thought over your decision and the remarks you made I really connected with some of those lessons.
One of those remarks you made was pretty simple, “We did not win enough games and that has to be the accountability”, if I may paraphrase your remarks a bit. At one time one of the GE divisions I was working with was having problems caused by previous management and really needed to be radically changed. The analogy they used was this. It was like trying to change a flat tire on a car while you are still driving down the road. The point being that sure, big changes needed to be made but you could not just stop, you still have a competitive business to run, sales and profit objectives must be met while those necessary changes are being made. Seems to me to apply to the Cubs very well.
I was pleased when you mentioned winning and accountability in the same sentence, something I do not recall Mr. Wrigley or the Tribune Company ever mentioning. I always believed the accountability for GM’s in the Tribune area were based on profitability much like every other operating division within the company. Winning was only important to the point of the effect on the bottom line profitability.
As I read your remarks about the criteria for the new GM there were several things that grabbed my attention. First was that person must come from outside the organization. Additionally they must have a history of building a successful minor league player development system, a history of winning and the ability to apply some logical analytical measurement to the players side of the business.
That is when it all came together for me. One of the popular terms in the business world a few years back was the term “Corporate Culture”. It was defined as “the unwritten norms, beliefs and values that define appropriate behavior.” For years I believed that the culture change in a broken organization had to start at the top. For the Cubs to get better they needed to get an owner committed to winning.
What a breath of fresh air it was in your first press conference when you said the goal was not to win one world series but to build an organization that competes year in and year out to have a legitimate shot at winning the big prize year after year.
What I realized when you said the new leadership had to come from the outside was this. You appear to have concluded that indeed the entire Cubs organization needs a culture change. I italicized the word unwritten for a reason. There were many times when I was working with GE we would ask someone why they did this or that and the response was a shrug of the shoulders followed by “that’s the way we have always done it!” I cannot fathom how tough it must be to try to change a culture of losing for over a century. Someone from the outside must challenge each and everything and revisit just exactly how that contributes to team success on the field.
OK, you cleared the decks and now are looking for your new change agent. I suspect you realize the easy part is done. While it had to be emotionally difficult to let Jim Hendry go, the hard part is in front of you. Now your accountability is on the line, you have to get this right first try. Last night I read an article about senior citizens investing their life savings in the stock market needing the income in order to survive. The author surmised that it is no longer investing hoping to get a good return in the market; but rather it is a matter that they must make a good return in order to survive. Tom, I think that applies in this situation also. Hoping you get it right is not good enough, you must get it right.
With that being said I offer you one piece of advice. It is not time for you to select a GM on his/hers learners permit. I have looked at several articles about potential candidates and many are second in command, ready for the opportunity etc. A team like the Cubs, with its big market and resources should certainly be attractive to experienced, successful candidates with a history of success in the past. You have a terrific opportunity for the right person, when they win it all they will be enshrined in history. That was certainly the appeal that got Lou Pinella here; he wanted a shot to break the curse.
I may also caution you that such a person will not likely be a “yes” man telling you what you want to hear. There is a good chance that they would not even accept a job offer unless you agree to some substantial roster moves that may involve millions of dollars so they can build their team. Hopefully you will welcome that kind of person.
I might also suggest you go to WGN radio and listen to a tape of a recent pre-game interview with Don Sutton, the Braves broadcaster. In a few short minutes he outlined some things about the Braves farm system and player development that was quite revealing. The pitching coaches at all levels not only taught the same thing, what he called the Braves way, but also how they taught were equally as important. The Braves wanted their personality and teaching approaches to be similar. In addition he added some of the Braves criteria for drafting and signing players which not only included their play but also their personality.
In summary, I appreciate what you have done and your explanation for doing so. While I still believe Jim Hendry took the fall for the Tribune Company, at this point it is irrelevant. You have decided to bring in a change agent from outside the organization which makes good sense.
When I saw the Tribune was going to sell the team I had just some simple criteria for the new owner I wanted as a fan. I wanted an individual who had the resources to build a winner. I wanted that person to be committed to winning, highly visible to the public and accountable. Like many Cub fans I have already had several conversations with you in the past and it appears to me that you certainly meet the aforementioned criteria. Doggone sure you are more visible and accountable than any other owner in my lifetime. Now for the hard part.
I am 71 years old, like many fans I have supported the team for generations. I should also mention I am a season ticket holder. Take your time and get it right, us senior Cub fans have seen way too many screw ups in the past. Am I trying to put pressure on you? Darn right I am, you are on the right track in my opinion, just get it right on the GM call the first time.
Best personal regards,