By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) If you didn’t hear, Andy MacPhail resigned last week.
Yes, after four seasons of running the Baltimore Orioles’ front office – and amassing four last-place finishes – baseball’s one-time wunderkind had had enough.
Or the O’s had had enough of him.
But, whatever the case, you remember Andy. Back in 1994, the bespectacled 41-year-old rolled into Wrigley Field boasting a genius pedigree and the pair of World Series rings that he’d won as general manager in Minnesota. Twelve years later, having been renamed MacFail by Chicagoans, the Cubs president and CEO limped out of town as a broken man and a baseball buffoon.
Amazing what Cubs pinstripes can do to a guy – and his reputation.
Now, this story isn’t at all meant as a knock on the Cubs’ impending hire of 37-year-old Theo Epstein, this generation’s boy wonder GM. I think Epstein-to-the-Cubs (whenever it happens) is a fantastic move. Rather, the tale of MacPhail is a cautionary one that shows that even baseball’s brightest minds can struggle within the confines of Wrigley Field, which can actually be downright unfriendly.
Never mind the nickname.
But in order to help Epstein not just ease his way into Chicago but to also announce his arrival to the National League, I have a trio of Theocratic Rules I suggest he follow this offseason. And here they are …
1.) Hire Ryne Sandberg
I’ve been stumping for it in this blog and through my newspaper column ever since Lou Piniella turned in his stirrup socks last summer. But forces finally appear to be gathering at Wrigley Field indicating that the Cubs may finally hire Ryne Sandberg as manager.
On Wednesday, the Sun-Times reported sources close to both the Cubs and Sandberg as saying they expect a reconciliation between the franchise and its icon this offseason now that GM Jim Hendry, who passed over Sandberg in favor of Mike Quade last fall, is out of the picture.
Whether or not that reconciliation also results in Sandberg as manager is TBD. But, in my opinion, it’s high time to make that move.
Now, am I certain that Sandberg will be a championship-caliber success at Wrigley Field? Of course not. Since 1908, no one but Frank Chance has had a snowball’s one of making that happen for the Cubs.
But after all the victories that Sandberg has produced in the minors for both the Cubs and Philadelphia’s Triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs, I am certain that Ryno has earned his big league shot.
Here’s to hoping Epstein gives it to him. It’s time to stop wondering about Sandberg and instead find out what the guy’s got.
2.) Pursue Albert Pujols
Back in February, after Albert Pujols’ Spring Training deadline for exclusive contract talks with St. Louis expired, I published a blog entitled, “The Cubs Can Cripple The Cards Without Signing Pujols.”
In it, I wrote: “Smart money – for the time being, at least – probably still has Pujols eventually re-upping with the Cardinals, even if he does reach free agency. But if you’re Tom Ricketts, your job this offseason is to make sure that, at the very least, the Cardinals spend dumb money to get him.
“While luring Pujols to Chicago’s North Side would be the ultimate payback for Brock-for-Broglio and thrill the Wrigleyville masses, the truth is that the Cubs don’t need to steal Albert Pujols away from St. Louis in order to cripple the Cardinals for the future.
“They merely need to make a serious – and seriously expensive – run at him. Because, what Cardinals fans should be most fearful of this offseason – even more than seeing their beloved No. 5 don blue pinstripes – is the Cubs driving the asking price for Pujols so high that by signing him the Cardinals won’t be able to field a competitive team around their first baseman for a decade.”
I still think such a ploy would still be a savvy one for the Cubs to pursue this winter, although it’s no longer the Ricketts family’s job to put it into action.
3.) Sign Prince Fielder
Yes, the guy has a monster waistline and wants a monster contract. But after a regular season in which the 27-year-old first baseman batted .299, slugged 38 homers and drove in 120 runs and a postseason in which he’s helped lead the Brewers into the NLCS, the Cubs should pony up to bring Fielder’s “Beast Mode” to Wrigleyville.
For a franchise looking to make a splash this season, no one would produce a bigger cannonball than Milwaukee’s portly powerhouse. Fielder would solidify the middle of the Cubs lineup and excite a fan base that stayed away in droves this season.
By running Pujols’ contract price into the stratosphere and signing Prince, the Cubs could weaken each of their chief rivals in one fell swoop. And perhaps put the team on a championship path of its own.
(MacPhail would probably appreciate that reminder.)
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com. Read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.