Chicago Sun-Times reporter / columnist Debra Pickett wrote an article for the Times called "Sunday Lunch with... Jim Hendry". That article is a truly unique look at the personal life and side of a team General Manager and it has been reprinted in full below:
Sunday Lunch with... Jim Hendry
Jim Hendry might be the only Polo-shirted dad watching his kids play sports in bucolic, suburban Park Ridge willing to give you an honest assessment of their athletic ability.
Lauren, his 8-year-old daughter, is "a real good fielder and runs well, but her hitting is hot and cold." John, his 6-year-old son, is "a pretty good hitter, [has] a pretty good arm, [but is] just an average-type runner for his age."
There's something jarring about the honesty of it, especially since both kids are on all-star teams and keep up with game and practice schedules that could exhaust a varsity letterman.
Hendry, the Cubs' general manager since 2002, describes himself as an obsessive sports guy. He is also a guy who does not waste words, does not believe in softening the truth or coddling anyone's ego -- his highly paid players', his adorable kids' or even his own.
Talking about his Florida childhood over a couple of huge salads at the Goose Island Brew Pub in Wrigleyville, he says he "played 'em all, played all the sports growing up, didn't love anything but sports, have remained the one-dimensional person that I was when I was a kid.
"I don't know much about anything else in the world," Hendry says, delivering his life story in rapid-fire staccato, in the tone of someone so busy he cannot waste time on personal pronouns. "All my heroes growing up were sports figures. Everything I did in school, all the library books I ever checked out, all the papers I ever wrote were sports-related, unless they were mandatorily something else, and pretty much remained that way. Good youth athlete. Just baseball at the college level. Not good enough to play after that. Still love sports totally, so I wanted to be a sportscaster or work for a sports team."
Cycle accident ended hopes
It's Tuesday afternoon, and Hendry is a few hours away from re-signing Cubs stars Nomar Garciaparra and Todd Walker. His cell phone rests on the table next to ours, ringing and beeping periodically. Hendry cannot bring himself to ignore it, though he dispatches calls quickly -- "Can you buzz me tomorrow? Today's my arbitration day." -- and rarely loses his train of thought as he talks, picking up where he left off, even at mid-sentence.
Hendry, 49, has decided he is too fat and says he's been trying to watch what he eats. A slightly pained expression crosses his face as he removes the potatoes from his well-dressed salad. He eats the lettuce in thick hunks, like the act of chewing it might somehow fool it into tasting like a steak. He drinks his diet soda in gulps.
A high school motorcycle accident ended Hendry's hopes of becoming a star baseball player. It is not the sort of thing he spends a lot of time reflecting on, even as he spends his days in a world of dream-come-true players and their any-dream-is-possible salaries.
"I don't sit here at an older age and say, oh, I would have been this if that hadn't happened," he says. "I think the only thing that I could assure you of that would have been different is that I would have been a catcher in college rather than a right fielder, and I probably would have gone to a bigger school. But to go any further than that would be what I call the typical middle-aged guy that thinks he was better than he was, you know. So I don't ever get caught up in that. The way I look at it, it took me on a path that I wouldn't change for anything. I'm not the guy who sits in a bar and says, if I hadn't gotten hurt, I would have been in the big leagues. ... That becomes a very self-serving, late-in-life kind of thing."
Instead of becoming a player, Hendry became a high school and then a college coach. And then, after a win in the College World Series and "coach of the year" honors, Hendry landed a front-office job with the Florida Marlins just as the expansion team was getting started. After three years, he joined the Cubs, where he's quickly risen through the ranks.
Rich but cheap? He rejects it
"I don't want to say I work harder than anybody else," he says, "but, I mean, I understand what it is here. I get it. You get one shot at this. You don't get a second crack at being the general manager of the Cubs."
Hendry knows his own luck, that he's gotten some breaks along the way, gotten noticed at just the right time. And he has a lucky man's confidence, a trust of his own gut instincts. He doesn't mind being second-guessed by the columnists and reporters who cover his every move.
"I have no problem with them voicing their opinions -- 'I think Jim made a good trade' or 'a bad trade,' or, 'We should get this guy instead of that guy.' That's all part of doing their job. That sells papers."
But Hendry rejects the oft-repeated criticism that the Tribune-owned Cubs are rich but cheap, that they don't spend enough to get the very best players.
"I think that's a very unfair rap," he says. "Sometimes, honestly, having the most money and spending more than anybody else doesn't make you successful. ... [And] the same people who would be complaining about that, by the middle of the summer they'll be complaining about, 'Why did you give that guy a five-year deal? He stinks.' "
Still, Hendry's job, especially at this time of year, as the annual general managers' meeting -- the archetypal smoke-filled room that is still the scene of much of baseball's wheeling and dealing -- draws near, has as much to do with keeping to a budget as it does with scouting player talent. He is always prepared to walk away from a negotiation if the price goes too high.
He's got the team's infield set and says he assumes that Sammy Sosa will remain with the team, but there is a lot left to do.
"We'll address our backup-catching situation, what we're going to do in the outfield, how to pursue some extra bullpen help, possible extra infielders," he says, stopping himself before going into too much detail.
Talking about the team's prospects for the season, he says, "I feel like we're going to have a good ballclub. But I say that thinking about last year, when everyone was telling me, 'You're going to the World Series' and 'St. Louis is going to be terrible,' so you never know."
One subject slows him down
There are, it seems, a million factors in a team's success, from players' health to something very much like fate, and Hendry thinks about them all. Like ringing phones, the possibilities wake him up at night. He can explain each one in as much detail as an interviewer can process over a one-hour lunch.
In fact, there is only one subject that makes him fall silent, one thing that slows down his are-you-getting-all-this patter. He does not have much to say about the steroid scandal that is rocking baseball and the sports world and casting a new, unflattering light on the home-run bonanzas of the last several seasons.
"You know, I don't feel that the one or two instances that are coming out are going to have a major impact on whether somebody comes to the ballpark," he says, too smart to even try to answer the larger question of what it all really means and where the sport is going.
What matters, right now, is that there are deals to be made and calls to be taken and a short walk back to his office at Wrigley Field, leaving him just enough time to remind himself that he is a very lucky man.
Source: Chicago Sun Times (Debra Pickett, 12/12/2004)