Reporting Dan Bernstein
I want the old Tom Ricketts back.
Introduced as Cubs’ chairman not even a year ago, he stood next to the lectern and described his plans for success with the clarity, confidence and personal connection that had been missing under the leadership of a corporate monolith. Subsequent interviews revealed him to be a modern baseball thinker with strong ideas about how he would run the team.
“I don’t believe in loveable losers,” he said. “And we don’t believe in curses or billy goats.”
Ricketts told people close to him that he was preparing to clean out the organization from the top and start afresh.
So what do we have after a year since the new dawn?
An oily Tribune holdover as team president, firstly (and frighteningly). Crane Kenney, the former director of Tribco’s legal department, wormed his way into the baseball side of corporate operations, and soon began to think he was an actual baseball executive. It was his decision to hire a Greek priest to splash holy water in the Cubs’ dugout before the 2008 NLDS, due to his own, very real belief that a curse needed to be exorcised. Kenney then lied brazenly about it, saying the priest called him.
Ricketts may not believe in billy goats, but the current president of his team does.
Second, general manager Jim Hendry remains the Cubs’ baseball czar. Now in his 16th year with the team and ninth as GM, Hendry embodies an era of wild spending and heartbreak. He is one of the game’s dinosaurs — a hard-drinking, steak-chomping cowboy seemingly at odds with the vision Ricketts described at the outset of his ownership.
Also, Ricketts himself looks and sounds worse at every next press conference. On the miserable day of Lou Piniella’s pathetic surrender, he was downcast and defensive as he soft-launched the news of Hendry’s apparent retention.
Yesterday, the observers comparing him to Michael McCaskey were on to something. Ricketts looks increasingly emasculated — his swagger gone with each indication that Hendry has shouldered him out of the way of the baseball business, shrewdly navigating to not just save his job, but fortify it.
Rather than make tough, strong decisions, Ricketts and his siblings on the board have opted to go soft. Snowed by the sweet-talk from Kenney and Hendry, they seem content in their respective roles as ballpark greeter, reality-TV guest star, and gay advocate, and together as dinner hosts (the image of Eric Wedge, Ryne Sandberg and Mike Quade each taking a turn at a family-dinner “interview” was strange).
Ricketts talked about how important it was that a new manager understand what it means to be a Cub.
I would like to go back to the time when I felt that he knew what it meant to be an owner.