Offseason interesting for Hendry, Cubs - in more ways than one
He thought he was just having some routine tests. He had no idea how serious the situation was - let alone that he'd be on an operating table later that night having angioplasty.
Besides, it was Lilly who made the call.
As for those other calls ...
``I was making the calls pretty much all the way in the ambulance,'' Hendry admits, somewhat sheepishly.
Hardly a surprise to anyone who's ever spent five minutes around the 51-year-old GM.
Hendry and the Cubs already were big news this winter, spending money as freely as a teenager let loose with a credit card. Add in Hendry's wheeling and dealing from a hospital bed, and his offseason quickly reached mythical proportions.
Time was, another dismal showing by the Cubs would have been greeted with a shrug. With expansion teams hoisting World Series trophies and the crosstown rival White Sox ending their drought, the landscape has changed. A sun-splashed summer at Wrigley Field is no longer enough, and the Cubs aren't quite so cuddly when they're losing in bunches.
When the Cubs lurched to a 66-96 finish last season, changes had to be made.
President Andy MacPhail resigned before the season ended, and manager Dusty Baker was quickly ushered out behind him, leaving Hendry to fix a team gone horribly wrong.
``I don't know if pressure is the right word. I feel the same responsibility that I always have,'' Hendry said. ``It's a very, very big market with the best fan base in the world. For the last year and a half, we've done very poorly. It has to be fixed in a short period of time.
``Our failures haven't been out of a lack of effort,'' he added. ``I'm not here to give anybody any excuses except we need to do better, and I put that responsibility on myself.''
Genuine and personable, constantly running a hand through his hair and yapping a mile a minute, Hendry comes across more like the neighbor across the street than the general manager of one of baseball's biggest teams.
Spend some time with him, though, and you can feel the energy. This is a hard-charging guy, a man who gets things done.
``Frenetic,'' Atlanta Braves GM John Schuerholz said when asked to describe Hendry. ``He always goes hard.''
Never moreso than these last few months.
With Mark Prior and Kerry Wood injured - again - and Derrek Lee out for most of the season, the Cubs were a lost cause by the All-Star break. Although that made for a long second half, it also allowed Hendry and his staff to get a head start on their renovation project.
It was an extensive one. The Cubs needed offense and defense. They needed infielders and outfielders. They needed starting pitchers and relievers. They needed lefties, and they needed righties.
In short, they needed just about everything.
``We had,'' Hendry said, ``a lot of ground to make up for how poorly we played.''
Hendry and his staff started by identifying the best players who might be available in the offseason. The discussion was a quick one: Alfonso Soriano led their list, with their own third baseman Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Lee right below him.
``We felt like we had never gone out and got the best player out there. We were going to give it our best shot to get the best guy,'' Hendry said. ``It was imperative we try to keep Ramirez. I think that helped us get Soriano. And I think getting Soriano helped us get the rest of them.''
On the first day free agents could talk money with all 30 teams, the Cubs locked Ramirez up with a $73 million, five-year deal. Though Ramirez is only 28 and has hit .298 with 120 homers and 353 RBIs in three-plus seasons in Chicago, his contract was the first sign the owners were ready to binge.
A week later, Soriano agreed to a $136 million, eight-year contract with the Cubs that's the fifth-richest in baseball history.
By the time Hendry finished shopping, the Cubs had spent almost $300 million on new acquisitions or to re-sign their existing players. More than $300 million counting new manager Lou Piniella.
``I think the market was going to go that way, anyway,'' said John McDonough, the Cubs' interim president. ``It wasn't so much about going out and finding the most expensive free agent on the market.''
Although Hendry doesn't spend $300 million lightly, he and McDonough said the Cubs aren't trying to buy in to Boston and New York's arms race. Yes, Chicago spent a ton of money, but it didn't mortgage the team's future.
Most of the money went to Soriano, Ramirez and Lilly, all of whom are 30 or younger. (Soriano and Lilly turn 31 next week). The Cubs bolstered their infield (Mark DeRosa), bench (Daryle Ward, Henry Blanco), rotation (Lilly, Jason Marquis, Wade Miller) and their bullpen (Neal Cotts, Wood), yet held on to their young pitching and farm talent, including highly touted outfielder Felix Pie.
``Our situation is not something you're going to buy your way out of,'' McDonough said. ``You're not just going to try and allocate as many free-agent dollars as you can and all of a sudden you have a championship team.
``You need to cultivate the farm system, you need to have players on the way up who can contribute,'' McDonough said. ``It's important for the Cubs to win and to win consistently.''
Though McDonough has been with the Cubs since 1983 - he started the trend of teams giving away Beanie Babies - it is Hendry who will get the credit or the blame for this rebuilding effort.
He is well aware all eyes in Chicago are on him, but that wasn't the reason he found himself in an Orlando hospital earlier this month.
``The last couple of years, I haven't done a real good job of paying attention to myself,'' he said. ``I probably put on 15 to 20 pounds in the last two or three years just out of my own lack of discipline. You get a little older, your metabolism changes and I didn't get the exercise I should have.''
Hendry said he wasn't feeling poorly when he got to the winter meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. By the night of Dec. 5, though, he was having chest pains. He ignored them but felt them again the next morning during a meeting.
A doctor examined Hendry at the hotel and recommended he go to a clinic for more tests. Piniella and Gary Hughes, one of Hendry's mentors who is now a special assistant, urged him to go, too.
Finally, Hendry agreed.
``When I went in for the tests, I thought it was going to be a quick hour and then back to the hotel and get to work,'' he said.
That's why when Lilly called, Hendry didn't think anything of taking the call - EKG machine or not.
Within about a half-hour, though, there was cause for alarm. Doctors discovered one of his arteries was completely blocked, and Hendry had angioplasty that same night.
He spent two days in the hospital and returned to Chicago that weekend. He's on a diet and exercise program, and already has lost close to 10 pounds.
``I actually feel a lot better now than I have in a couple of years,'' he said. ``You find out how many people care about you. And it gave me a little bit of a heads-up.
``My kids aren't very old yet,'' said Hendry, whose son and daughter are still in grade school. ``I need to give them a better effort to make sure I'm around.''
But don't expect Hendry to become the retiring type. He was back in his office the Monday after his angioplasty - that's five days, for anyone counting - and finalized the deal with Marquis a week after that.
Though his blockbuster deals are over, Hendry likely will tinker with the roster before spring training. The Cubs have a lot of ground to make up, and Hendry wants to be the one who makes it happen.
``I do like my job, and I like a lot of the things that are happening here,'' he said. ``I feel the future is good here, I really do. I feel great about Lou and the staff. We're off to a great start together, and I certainly foresee us being very competitive over the next few years.''FanNation.com via AP
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