Goatriders of the Apocalypse

The Case Against Andy MacPhail

PART TWO: CHICAGO'S REIGN OF TERROR

Part one can be found here.

Being a huge baseball geek since 1979, I was aware of the Twins' two World Series titles and was immediately suspicious of them. I may have been one of the few who, when Andy MacPhail was hired by the Cubs in 1994, was unimpressed with him. Since then, MacPhail has done nothing in those twelve seasons to make me think my instincts were wrong.

He is a fraud. Tell your friends. Tell your neighbors. And it is just our dumb luck as Cub fans that we've had to suffer through twelve years of this fraudulent management.

As for MacPhail's Reign of Terror in Chicago, well shoot. Where do you start?He's burned through three general managers, one of whom was himself, who signed a thirty-one year old Todd Hundley to a four-year deal.. His teams, coming into this season, have compiled a woeful 850-915 record. MacPhail's teams have finished above .500 only five times in his twelve seasons, which is also the same number of seasons in which his teams, including this year's, will have lost at least 94 games. In those twelve seasons, the Cubs have yet to have developed a legitmate, blue-chip offensive starter. They've wasted #1 picks on such forgettable names as Todd Noel, Ben Christansen, Luis Montanez, Bobbie Brownlie and Ryan Harvey. Some of these players are out of baseball, and some are still flailing away in the minors, apparently no closer to the majors than they were when they were drafted by Andy MacPhail's "braintrust".

When they have drafted well (usually because their own godawful seasons landed them a Top-5 pick), they haven't had any organizational skill at bringing players along. Mark Prior was gift-wrapped and, on Andy MacPhail's watch, has been used, abused and put away wet by Dusty Baker and Larry Rothschild. Nobody in the organization took a proactive approach to refining Kerry Wood's delivery until it was far, far too late. They drafted Corey Patterson, rushed him to the bigs, then sent him out of town for a case of Rawlings after they successfully jerked him around. One of the few bona fide big-leaugers that the MacPhail regime did draft--Jon Garland-- was allowed to be dealt by a panic-stricken Ed Lynch--MacPhail's right-hand man--for a middle reliever who was out of baseball by the time Garland had arrived in the bigs.

The plan, as it appears to have been during the MacFailed Era, is that there is no plan.

The sick part of this is that the bar had been set so low for MacPhail when he arrived. His two predecessors, Larry Himes and Jim Frey, did their best to drive the franchise into the ground and yet--and YET--MacPhail has still managed to underperform each of those bozos. With the help of a clueless Stanton Cook, Himes ran off Greg Maddux while Maddux was in his prime, and rationalized it by idiotically asserting that in acquring Jose Guzman, Dan Plesac, Randy Myers, Willie Wilson and Candy Maldonado, he was being more efficient than he would have been had he re-signed his reigning Cy Young Award winner. Sheer stupidity. Himes also fired his first managerial hire--Jim LeFebrve--after LeFebrve had led the Cubs to only their third above-.500 season in 21 years. Having alienated pretty much everybody in the organization, Himes was shown the door after three seasons in 1994.

Himes was preceeded as general manager by Jim Frey. Frey, who managed the aforementioned 1980 Royals to their first-ever American League pennant, and led the Cubs to their first postseason in 39 years when they won the NL East in 1984, turned out to be disastrous general manager. One of the first moves Frey made was dealing his '84 closer, Lee Smith, for Calvin Schiraldi and Al Nipper, two pitchers whose contributions to the Cubs would be minimal, at best.

Sure, Frey's 1989 Cubs team won the NL East, but this was almost entirely due to the outstanding, young nucleus that his predecessor, Dallas Green, had assembled--Ryne Sandberg, Rick Sutcliffe and Scott Sanderson had been Cubs since Green traded for them, and Shawon Dunston, Greg Maddux, Mark Grace, Les Lancaster, Damon Berrhill and Joe Girardi were Green draft picks. Like Andy MacPhail's pickup of Jeff Reardon in 1987, Jim Frey's one helpful move was the acquisition of a closer--Mitch Williams. However, in acquiring Williams, Frey dealt two other talented picks of Green's--Rafael Palmeiro and Jamie Moyer. While Palmeiro went on to hit 500 home runs (with a little help, of course) and Jamie Moyer went on to win 200 games, Mitch Williams was dealt out of the Cubs organization two seasons after he was acquired.

By the time Jim Frey was canned in 1991--his ill-advised free agent signings of oft-injured Danny Jackson and over-the-hill Dave Smith were the last straw--all of the work that Dallas Green had put into the farm system had turned to dust. While the devastating long-term effects of the Dallas Green firing at the hands of John Madigan and the arrogant Tribune management in 1987 deserves its own entry (and this writer's had the screed rattling around in his head for over a decade now), suffice it to say that Jim Frey only required four years to quash any momentum that the franchise had built under Green. Larry Himes merely shovelled more dirt on the mess.

And yet as bad as Jim Frey and Larry Himes were, even they were not as bad as Andy MacPhail has been. MacPhail has managed to do worse than both Himes and Frey. No easy task, to be sure.

As general manager, Larry Himes' winning percentage was .483 (211-226). Jim Frey's record was actually above .500, as his teams, bolstered by the '89 club, went 324-322. Combined, in seven seasons (or, a little more than half the time that MacPhail has been in charge) the Frey and Himes regimes collectively went 535--548, for a .494 winning percentage. As of this writing, Andy MacPhail's Cub teams have gone 906-998. A .476 winning percentage after twelve seasons work is hardly the work of a genius. The fact that he cannot measure up to proven losers like Frey and Himes is bad enough-- but the fact that he has had more resources to spend than not only Himes and Frey, but Dallas Green as well, and underperformed them all is beyond appalling.

But not nearly as appalling as the fact that he's still in charge of this club.

At some point this weekend, Andy MacPhail will have presided over his 1,000th loss as the Cubs CEO. Assuming he's still here--and nothing Tribune Company has said or done would hint otherwise-- he will not get his 1,000 victory until some time in 2008. At this juncture, more than a few people--particularly some of the inert fatheads at Tribune Tower (*cough**dennisfitzsimons**cough*)-- ought to start asking the question:

"If Jim Frey could be fired after four seasons, and Larry Himes after three, how on earth can Andy MacPhail still be employed by the same organization after twelve seasons?"

It's a legitimate question but one that has, apparently, never been asked by anybody in power.

Andy's a popular guy at Tribune Tower. Thanks to the Cubs' carnival barker John McDonough, who has been with the organization since those halcyon Dallas Green Days, the Cubs are able to make money in the marketing department to mask the failure of the front office. Still, shouldn't that be painfully embarassing to Andy MacPhail? That this third-generation baseball man will go down as a more valued advertising executive than a baseball man? That he's proven to be nothing more than a latter-day PK Wrigley?

It doesn't matter to Andy, though. Where there should be pride, there is only blinding arrogance. He's more secure than any executive with his track record has a right to be. While this writer can only hope that these words are read by Someone Who Matters at Tribune Tower, and subsequently forces said person to finally, once and for all, understand the magnitude of Andy MacPhail's fraudulence, he knows that the only way we will be able to rid ourselves of MacFail will be when MLB commissioner Bud Selig finally steps down from his post, allowing Dandy Andy MacPhail to make a clean exit from 1060 W. Addison, without ever having to truly answer for this catastrophic tenure here.

May that day happen sooner than later.

kurt

A great column, Mike. This is very well-written, and I do indeed hope that a lot of people get to read it. Well done!

greg

Interesting article. You make some good points. I like what you said about Corey Patterson because it is true and i fear that the same might happen to Pie. But i have a few questions, if the cubs drafted and traded so well under Dallas Green and Jim Frey why did their clubs have such average records? Just a thought.

Zach

THANK YOU for mentioning how Larry Himes treated Greg Maddux. I'm sick of people blaming Maddux for being a traitor even though Himes told him at the ASB that he'd never won 20 games or the Cy Young so he didn't need him. Maddux promptly did just that, and Himes wouldn't return any of his or his agent's calls at the end of the season. (Have you read Ryne Sandberg's autobiography 'Second To Home' by any chance? The sheer idiocy perpetrated by Himes was covered in detail.)

kurt

Greg - I can take a stab at answering that. Green drafted and developed a lot of guys who turned into good ballplayers. Unfortunately, the Cubs did not keep a lot of them - take Raffy Palmeiro and Jamie Moyer as two examples. The Cubs also dealt Lee Smith. So, the Cubs lost two guys with HoF credentials, and another guy who has turned out to be a very quality lefty starter.

There were years when the Cubs finished with 77 wins where those three players alone could have made a difference of at least 10 games, and probably 15. When Palmeiro was at his peak, he might have been worth 8 to 10 games on his own.

Not to mention that Dallas would have continued to improve the team if he'd stayed, I have no doubt. Regardless, the Cubs were a very young, good team in '89, and they could have been even a lot better than they were.

Mike D.

Greg--

A fair question. The Cubs only had one wining season in Green's 6 seasons.

First of all, Green inherited a mess that was bigger than the one MacPhail inherited. The only quality prospects they had were Mel Hall and Joe Carter--both of whom Green dealt as he quickly worked his way up to the division championship in three seasons.

The '84 team was built on trades. And those veterans that green had acquired began breaking down by 1986. Moreland, Cey, Matthews et.al were finished. It was only by the time that Green was canned--1987, his sixth season--that we started to see the fruits of his player development (tip 'o' the cap to Gordon Goldsberry). So, while Green built the '84 team through trades, the '89 built was built on Green's farm system.

But '87 was the watershed year. That was when we all got a look at Maddux, Moyer, Palmeiro, Dave Martinez and Berryhill. Even though they finished last, they were on their way up. And that was the point when Green, regrettably, got fired.

The first year without Green (1988) saw Mark Grace as Rookie of the Year runner-up. The following year, Jerome Walton WON the ROY and Dwight smith was runner-up. In 1990, Mike Harkey was the runner-up to David Justice. All of these players were drafted as Cubs by Green.

It is my firm belief that had Green been allowed to stay, we would have started to see a run of ABOVE-average seasons and, in my opinion, at least two pennants. Sadly, speculation is all we are left with, as '89 marked the beginning of the end of Green's talent pipeline. If Green were still in charge, 1989 would have instead been the beginning of something special.

Chris Wilson

Fantastic column, very well written and stating the complete truth about the situation. We can only hope this coming offseason for momentous, positive changes in the organization.

Mark Jizz

Great article. And what is most disappointing is the fact that unlike his predecessors, Andy has a budget to outspend everyone in his division, including the Pirates by 3:1 and the reds by 2:1. It is unbelievable that they will be in last place again this year. His "great trades" Lee and Ramirez were really a direct function of economic disparity--the poor Bucs and Fish had to dump very good players for prospects before they hit free agency, and the Cubs then immediately had to pony up big bucks to keep them, so it almost is more of a free agent signing than a great trade.

The drafting of undisciplined toolsy players (Patterson, Harvey, Dopirak) also has been a huge problem. You were kind in not mentioning Dontrelle Willis as well. Painful.

Don

Excellent piece. But why is McPhail's incompetence so obvious to use, but not to Tribune management? With thousands of empty seats for the remaining games and TV ratings in the toilet, Tribune management does (must) know that it is losing money. The Yankees do not have a 200 million dollar payroll because of ticket sales but because of TV revenue. TV revenue distinguishes the large market from small market teams. Cubs TV ratings for late August and September will cost the Tribune millions.

Michael

Just in case the Tribune still isn't getting the message, I propose that we take a page from the 1980 New Orleans Saints fans and start attending games with paper bags over our heads. Tacky? Yes. Worth it? Definitely.

Mike D.

Michael,

Look at the Desipio homepage (www.desipio.com). Upper right-hand column. That's me in the blue shirt.

This was after AJ's 2-out, 9th inning home run off Dempster July 1st.

Though it's be nice if half the park had bags over their heads. Hey, there are still a couple homestands left!

pissedofcubsfan

anyway that maybe the sun times could publish this? i know the trib wont do it. how about the daily herald. send this to someone! put in on someones desk. you guys have got to have a hook-up somewhere, dont ya? great read. reality slapped me right in the face! im slowly awakening, and, and, ahhh yes, its getting clearer to me now. yes, i see that, the cubs are still in last place!!! something has to get the fire burning with the head brass in the organization. could this be the article? i think so!!!

clark addison

Frey dismantled Green's farm system because he and Goldsberry didn't get along. Goldsberry was responsible for drafting the Cubs prospects of the mid 80s, and Frey fired him as soon as he became GM.

Haight

I say bring this to the Convention in January. Pass them around to all the folks that drive in from Iowa for their family vacation and give them a dose of reality. Maybe GROTA could get an exhibit booth.

kurt

I haven't discussed it with our co-writers, but I've actually been thinking about an exhibit booth for 2008. Of course, this site would have to start to REALLY turn a profit first before we could do that...

Clute

NIce piece for all of us that knew something was rotten in Denmark. Understand this however, a corporation's main goal is to maximize profit and to this end the Tribsters have done a marvelous job. Unfortunately for us, every other baseball team has an individual owner that has become an owner not necissarily to maximize his profits but because he loves baseball and cares about winning. As long as he doesn't take a financial bath, he's good to go with pursuing his passion. Of course therin lies our problem with the Cubs. As your article so adeptly points out, that although the GM has a major role in building a successful organization, only dumb luck will land our Cubs in the playoffs. The Tribune Co. canned a good GM like Dallas Green because he didn't kiss ass not because he didn't know baseball. In this potically correct world, puckering up to the Trib. brass counts more than having good baseball sense.

BILL THIEBEN

MACFAIL PROBABLY HAS KEPT HIS JOB, IN PART, BECAUSE OF HIS FAMILY TIES. THE OLD BOYS CLUB EXISTS IN EVERY WALK OF LIFE. I AM SO GLAD DALLAS GREEN IS RECOGNIZED BY SOME FOR DOING WHAT HE DID. A FAN SINCE 1958, I HAVE SEEN MY ONLY REAL GOOD GM IN HIM. I CHEERED IN 1981 WHEN WRIGLEY FINALLY SOLD. LITTLE DID I REALIZE THE TRIBUNE WOULD BE JUST AS INEPT.

Jeff

I Really enjoyed the Article About that Numskull
In the Ceos Office. the way the cubs Are He will
Probably Be around Another 12 Years. most teams
Would have Shown him the Door by Now. But the Tribune Company Has a bunch of Idiots They are Abunch of Idiots. Machphail is an Idiot and a Liar. He tells the Fans what They Want to Hear like any other Liar

CFiJ

So, I'm the only guy who finds it incongruous to compare a CEO with two GMs?

Mike D.

Andy MacPhail is in charge of baseball operations for the Cubs, just as Larry Himes was. Now, with Frey, I can inlude Don Grenesko who, along with Frey comprised the baseball operations management team, although Grenesko was more the "suit". Either way, at least half the responsibility fell to Frey.

Andy MacPhail's in charge. Just because he is seperated from his team by a GM (who--again, was himself for two years), doesn't make it incongruous. He's been a baseball man his whole life and was hired in '94 to be the baseball man in Chicago. Through 12 years and 3 active GM's, he has been the one constant. The fact that he is CEO, and not technically a GM does not absolve him for this mess, particularly since he was hired to turn around their baseball fortunes in the first place. I find the comparisons between MacPhail and the Frey/Himes monsters to be very congruent, as he has been the top dog for baseball operations just as they Himes and Frey were.

Matt

Well, it's over and it's about time. Unfortunately, this means starting over. The Cubs are years away from fielding a competitive team. And it may not get better, because Jim Hendry is apparently going to still be making the decisions on personnel. He's done very little to make me think he has the competence to put a good team out there. Nor do I think the corporation gives him any guidance in making good hires. This is a corporation that got rid of Bernie Lincicome. They can make money, which is what a company is supposed to do, but can they put a product out there that's the best? Experience says no.

Chicago Tribune's Chicago's Best Blogs award