By Dan Bernstein–
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) The reports of paranormal activity in the Cubs’ offices began last month. The sightings were frequent, and the stories shared similar, telltale characteristics.
Eyewitnesses insisted that general manager Jim Hendry — or some form of him — continued to roam the halls for weeks, despite having been fired by owner Tom Ricketts.
To hear them, it was convincing, especially for those more willing to accept the possibility that such phenomena exist. Draft picks were being made, they said, even after Hendry was let go. What’s more, most of the selections received massive signing bonuses far larger than other teams were willing to offer, clearly suggesting Hendry’s involvement.
One could actually start to think these people were telling the truth.
The investigation of the claims now takes on greater urgency with the news about Oneri Fleita, and the four-year contract extension he found on his desk Sunday morning.
It could not have come from Ricketts, himself. That’s obvious, since Ricketts made clear recently that Hendry’s replacement would have total power over all baseball staff. Specifically addressing the respective futures of farm director Fleita and scouting chief Tim Wilken at a press conference, Ricketts said he could only make recommendations to the GM, stopping short of insisting on any retentions and underscoring the authority of the new hire.
So Ricketts would never have extended Fleita, knowing he could be looking at an expensive payout if the new guy had other plans. After all, player personnel VP is a critical job. Any candidate worth interviewing would have strong ideas about how he wants the organization manned and structured, and might have second thoughts about an opportunity that came with old-guard holdovers in influential places, beholden to other bosses.
With Ricketts crossed off, team president Crane Kenney is the next logical possibility, but the facts don’t add up. Though he is a lawyer – capable of drafting a contract, certainly – and is known for bizarre, unpredictable behavior, he was accounted for on the night in question.
He spent much of the evening alone in the clubhouse and the dugout, taking pictures of himself in various action poses, and making sure there was freshly-blessed holy water in the fonts he had installed. Security cameras confirm that he then slept in his office, in his “Kenney #1” Cubs uniform, like a big, white Ronnie Woo Woo. Only dumber.
Besides, Ricketts has said that Kenney had no say at all in any “baseball” decisions, despite being the nominal top executive of a baseball team. With that so firmly stated, it would be silly to consider the possibility that it’s not true.
This leads us back to more mysterious explanations.
Fleita’s words Sunday were eerie, as he kept referring to the phantom in question. “Jim’s always supportive of everything I’ve done,” he said. Notice the present tense, as if Hendry were actually still there.
“I don’t do a whole lot of anything without talking to Jim. I’m indebted to him for life. He’s a great person, a great man.”
What did Fleita see? What does he think is real? The mind bends, as we have to consider forces not of this world, beyond our logical comprehension.
We’ll put this in the “Unsolved” file, for now.
But one cold, winter night soon, the new general manager will sit in his Wrigley Field office, all alone, crunching data into the wee hours long after the hallways have emptied. With frigid stillness outside, he’ll stare at his screen, letting the swirl of statistics dance flickering patterns before his eyes — weighted on-base average, fielder-independent pitching and zone ratings forming pictures of players in his MBA-trained mind.
The only sound is the soft, steady whirr of the fan that cools his computer’s busy CPU. Until he hears something.
It’s faint and fleeting, but unmistakable. The dry scrape of pen on paper. Something is outside his door, and it’s negotiating against itself.
Nah, he’ll think, after standing bolt upright and turning on all the lights, not admitting to himself that there’s a lingering smell of scotch and steak. Come on, right? Time to just go home, his head playing tricks after yet another endless day. He doesn’t believe in ghosts.
Dan Bernstein has been the co-host of “Boers and Bernstein” since 1999. He joined the station as a reporter/anchor in 1995. The Boers and Bernstein Show airs every weekday from 1PM to 6PM on The Score, 670AM. Read more of Bernstein’s blogs here. Follow him on Twitter @dan_bernstein.
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