You might say the Tom Ricketts era began in earnest Friday.
And it began in a bizarre way.
Just days after allowing Jim Hendry to help sign the Cubs' important picks from this year's amateur draft, Ricketts officially showed Hendry the door by announcing his firing.
Actually, Ricketts never uttered the word "fired," opting for the more sanitized "stepping down."
Even more strange, Ricketts actually informed Hendry he would be "stepping down" on July 22 before a Cubs home game against the Astros. Even Hendry joked that it was "maybe one of the best-kept secrets in Cubs history."
Between then and now, Hendry presided over the July 31 trading deadline and the key draft signings.
Ricketts said the search "for a new general manager effectively begins today" but added there was no timetable for having Hendry's successor in place.
The future does not look bright for field manager Mike Quade, promoted from third-base coach last August after Lou Piniella retired and retained in the fall as Hendry bypassed Cubs Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg for the job. Ricketts said the new GM would make the decision on the new manager.
For his part, Quade said he has not even thought about his situation.
Assistant general manager Randy Bush takes over as interim GM, but Ricketts made it clear the Cubs would look outside the organization for the new GM.
The Cubs entered Friday having lost two straight games at Houston, taking a record of 54-70 into the weekend series with St. Louis.
Hendry took over as GM on July 5, 2002 after serving as Andy MacPhail's assistant. The Cubs compiled a record of 749-748 during Hendry's tenure, but the team backslid badly after back-to-back division titles in 2007-08.
"The reasons for this decision are twofold," said Ricketts, who took over as owner in October 2009 but did not make wholesale changes at the beginning. "First and foremost, we just didn't win enough games. The team performance over the last two years was not where it needs to be. In a culture of accountability, we need to look at these kinds of results.
"Secondarily, our goal is to win the World Series. To do that, we have to get better. I just believe that by bringing in new leadership for the baseball organization, we'll get some different perspectives, and there will be some different ideas on where we go in the future."
Hendry showed his emotions several times during his news conference, which came before Ricketts spoke.
But on entering the dungeon of an interview room near the Cubs dugout, Hendry gave the assembled reporters a "How we doing?"
Hendry said he was disappointed only in himself, and he expressed no bitterness toward Ricketts.
"Seventeen years, a variety of jobs, great place to work, great fans, greatest ballpark in the world," said Hendry, who joined the Cubs in November 1994 as director of player development. "Obviously, I've been very fortunate to be with the people I've been with. At the end of the day, I'm not leaving here with any problems. Tom Ricketts is a good man. We just didn't win enough ballgames. That's the bottom line. It's professional baseball. You don't win enough games over a couple of years, you can't fight change."
Hendry was hired when Andy MacPhail was team president. Interestingly, Hendry went out of his way to mention MacPhail, but one of the few people he did not mention was current team president Crane Kenney.
"I'm trying to reflect on a lot of great things that happened here," Hendry said. "You couldn't have worked for a better guy than Andy MacPhail. He gave me a (heck) of an opportunity. That's all you can ask for in life: opportunity, not security. What a gesture he did. He worked (as GM) for a couple of years after Ed (Lynch) left (in 2000), and when it got to the point where we might be able to be good, he gave it to me. Not many people do that.
"I will leave here with nothing but gratefulness to be able to be part of an organization for 17 years. Not many get to do that. Not many get to be the GM for nine without a world championship. I got more than my share. I'm disappointed in myself that we didn't do it the first 5-7 years when I thought we could. I'm really thankful for the way I've been treated."
As far as the players go, they said they felt partly to blame.
"Of course the players are responsible," said third baseman Aramis Ramirez, for whom Hendry traded in 2003. "He signs guys, makes trades, brings in the manager and coaches. Bottom line is, the players have to get it done between the lines, and we didn't."
"He's a good person and a good man," said pitcher Ryan Dempster, who signed with the Cubs after having elbow surger in 2003. "He's been a big part of my life."
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