Blowing past a Third of the Way Through: Management Review
Andy McPhail: You can start writing the hate mail now, but I like McPhail. Perhaps it is because I have only been around long enough to compare him to Larry Himes, but McPhail has steadily transformed one of the worst managed clubs in baseball into a team that is no longer a lovable loser.
In the ten years since McPhail has taken control of this franchise, the Cubs have had five seasons where they finished above .500, although their overall record is 771 - 832 (.481). However, despite some truly awful years, this team has been remarkably more competitive during the McPhail era than any other management era since the early 1970s.
Chief among McPhail's accomplishments have been the hiring of Jim Hendry, and the continued focus on marketing. Hendry has shored up the team, while John McDonough and the marketing department have kept the Cubs in the high revenue club. Despite one of the smallest stadiums in baseball, and the decided lack of parking revenues, the Cubs have the bucks to field a championship caliber team. On the otherhand, I'm still waiting for a World Championship. Career Grade: B
Jim Hendry: Because Hendry's work is more visible than McPhail's we can grade him on his work from the end of last season, through today. Despite having some tremendous moves in the past few years, Hendry has hit a rough patch lately. Following the September collapse of 2004, the Cubs underwent intensive chemotherapy to purge all clubhouse cancers from the roster.
However, after eliminating bad boys such as Kent Mercker, Sammy Sosa, and Moises Alou, Hendry failed to significantly improve the team. The Burnitz signing was pretty good, the Aramis Ramirez long-term contract is still up for debate, but is looking decidedly 'iffy' right now. The Sosa trade was an absolute bloodbath, but the Hawkins trade has potential. In the end though, the Cubs no longer feature Matt Clement, Moises Alou, Mark Grudzielanek, Kent Mercker, and Sammy Sosa. Instead we now have Henry Blanco, Jeromy Burnitz, and Jerry Hairston Jr. Mid-Season Grade: C
Dusty Baker: Hailed as a triumphant savior, Dusty lived up to his billing in 2003. The following season, the team had some internal conflicts, which did not help endear fans to Dusty's management style. This season, well its been interesting.
Normally a results oriented individual, I was so frustrated with our early season losses, I called for the head of Dusty Baker. Since then however, I have been strangely silent. While many of Dusty's early season moves were thouroughly illogical, I believe a tremendous amount of credit for this club's mid-may surge belongs to 'the Toothpick.'
Looking back at the injuries that have sidelined several of the Cubs' key players, I see a team that has perservered. It has not quit, which I think many other teams would have. Dusty has the guys motivated and is being rewarded with outstanding performances from some of his bench 'veterans'. Don't look now, but he's got young guys like Will Ohman, Michael Wuertz, Carlos Zambrano and Jason Dubois playing key roles. This might be controversial, but I haven't bought my Fire Dusty shirt — yet. Grade: B
Chris Speier: Third base coach... not sending runners to certain death at home plate (well there was that one.) They say its hard to take over for a legend... well its a lot easier to take over from Waving Wendell. Grade: A
Gene Clines (& Gary Matthews): The hitting coach has been a disappointment. After swapping positions with Gary Matthews in the offseason, Clines has failed to instill patience in many of the Cubs bats. Several Cubs are having high-profile struggles, but none more so than Corey Patterson. Its tough to grade a teacher by the performance of their pupils, but thats the way it must be done. Grade: C
Larry Rothschild: The pitching coach has done a magnificent job of making Jim Hendry look better than he really is. After a horrid April, Rothschild has the bullpen and the starting staff settled down and pitching well. I'm a Rothschild fan, and I think he's turned a rookie laden bullpen into something decent. Grade: A-
Juan Lopez, Dick Pole, Sonny Jackson, and Gary Matthews: I don't really know what they do, so I can't grade them fairly. I understand bits-and-pieces of their jobs, but I can't evaluate them. Matthews' grade probably ought to be lumped in with Clines, but the rest of the guys?
Tom Hellmann: This occasional bat-boy/home clubhouse manager was forced to go above and beyond the call of duty to satisfy superstition (or the Tribune's need for a human interest story.) The guy's got a pretty good winning record, so I'm gonna give him an A+.