Cubs 101 - Pt 23 - Jim Frey, Manager, GM, Failure
Before he came to Chicago Frey had been a career minor leaguer who got his start in coaching thanks to the legendary Earl Weaver. He served as a coach for the 70's Orioles through three pennant teams before being hired to manage the Royals in 1980. As a rookie manager, Frey would lead the Royals to the World Series where they would square off against a Phillies team managed by -- you guessed it -- Dallas Green.
In other words, Frey cut his teeth in an old school baseball organization where he worked under one of the winningest managers in the history of the game. And while he'd be fired by the Royals the year after he got them to the big show (and you thought baseball teams were quick to act these days) Dallas must've seen something in him because Frey was the replacement of the tiradical Lee Elia. And his first season with the team he hit pay-dirt, getting the Cubs all the way to the playoffs for the first time since 1945.
Then, as quickly as his star rose with the Cubs it set -- just as it had happened in Kansas City. After managing a team with no rotation in 1985 Frey was fired two months into the '86 season. But he apparently enjoyed Chicago as he took a job in the broadcasting booth before being rehired in December of '86 by the Tribune -- this time to replace Dallas Green who'd quit over "philosophical differences" a few months earlier.
That's when Frey jumped the shark, or Bartman'd the game, or whatever you would call the abject failure of a baseball man. Where Dallas Green had made some cunning deals to build a winner, Frey went out and traded the future all-time save leader for a guy who'd pitch 80 innings for the Cubs and be out of baseball by 1990 (Al Nipper) and another pitcher who'd put the meh in mediocre and be out of baseball by 1991 (Calvin Schiraldi).
But Frey must've known he was making a mistake because he turned around after the '88 season and traded for another young, up-and-coming closer Mitch "Wild Thing" Williams. Williams would save 36 games for the Cubs in '89, another playoff year, but he'd wear out his welcome just a year later when he could no longer be trusted "to close my kitchen door," according to Frey. But hey, he was a key component to a divisional champion, and all he cost was future 250-game-winner Jamie Moyer and 3,000-hit, 500-homerun slugger Rafael Palmeiro!
Not to out-do himself, Frey then went out and acquired such stunning free agents as Dave Smith*, Danny Jackson**, and George Bell*** before mercifully getting his ass fired in 1991****.
(*saved 28 games for the Cubs, had a 6.00 ERA
**went 1-5 in '91 with an ERA of 6.75, 5-14 career record with the Cubs with a 5.19 ERA
***washed up, somehow netted a young Sammy Sosa because Frey wasn't the only incompetent GM in baseball
****technically he was re-assigned)
All told, I have to believe that Frey was a pretty good manager even if his organizations kept him on a short leash and he never managed again after being fired by the Cubs. But he was truly a terrible GM. If the Cubs were a good team in the late 80's it was in spite of Frey's bungling moves - with seemingly one after the other done to make up for some other bungling move he made. In reality, the '89 Cubs belonged to Dallas Green.
And perhaps the biggest reason why the team was mediocre throughout the early 90's was because Frey dealt away much of the last round of farm-grown talent that the Cubs organization has produced to this day. It's not exactly the kind of feather Frey would want in his cap, but it's accurate. The Cubs had the components to be something special for years and they dealt it away for two mediocre starters and an erratic lefty with a mullet. Thanks Jim Frey. Thanks a lot.
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