Monday, October 02, 2006

big nothing

it has been an exciting 24 hours in cubdom for some, dear reader.

first the team itself ended the 2006 campaign by avoiding its 97th loss -- but the damage, to say the least, had already been done. the 66-96 (.407) saga of this year is the worst cub season since 2000's 97-loss entry and becomes the second-worst year of the tribune era (behind only 2000).

subsequently to the conclusion of the game, team president andy macfail resigned, with marketing guru john mcdonough moving into the spot of interim team president.

MacPhail's departure had been in the making since midsummer. FitzSimons termed it "a baseball decision." The Cubs made great strides in generating revenue and modernizing Wrigley Field on MacPhail's watch but continued to flounder on the field, reaching the playoffs just twice.

MacPhail operated with a handshake agreement rather than a contract.

"It's time," he said. "The clock on the MacPhail-o-meter has run down to zero."

MacPhail said he met in July with Crane Kenney, Tribune Co. senior vice president and general counsel, for "an A-to-Z evaluation of the team" and offered his resignation.

"Obviously, this has been an awful season," MacPhail said. "I reminded Crane, 'Look, this relationship has to be one where both parties have to be satisfied that they're getting everything they need out of the other party, and if you need my resignation, you can have it when you want it.'"

Weeks later, MacPhail met with FitzSimons, who said, "Look, Andy, we've got to try something different."

MacPhail took responsibility for the Cubs' failure to field a consistent winner during his tenure.

"It's not just that we had a terrible season," he said. "I've been here 12 years, 12 seasons, and we've had only two postseasons. That's not what I came here to do. Obviously, I haven't been as effective as I wanted to be. It's pretty thin soup for a franchise that's had a payroll generally in the top four, or five or six or seven, over the course of that time.

"We should be doing better, and we're not. And I'm the CEO, and I'm responsible. I've been in the business my entire life, and there's one rule that applies to everything. You've got to win, and if you don't win, it's subject to change."

macfail's record in chicago ends as one of repeated disaster -- as has often been noted, his twelve years were notably worse on the field than the years that preceded them. that attendance has spiralled ever higher is a function of both the marketing genius of mcdonough and the economic and residential renaissance of wrigleyville over those years, but certainly nothing the team has done between the lines.

third, and least surprising, dusty baker will be dismissed as manager of the team later today.

Baker said he will leave with his head high, knowing he never backed down from his principles or let his critics change him into something he was not.

"I am what I am, and I am who I am," he said. "My dad taught me a long time ago, speak the truth and be yourself, with no regrets."

the dusty watch is ending after just 15 months. no new manager has yet been announced.

so much sound and fury -- but what does it signify?

sadly, dear reader, very little. placing the mastermind of "beer-and-ivy-and-who-cares-what-the-score-is" at the head of the team tells everyone everything they need to know about what tribco's priorities are and have always been -- now such a noncontroversial fact that the tribune itself will tell you so. enticing words from dennis fitzsimons or mcdonough mean nothing. this club is concerned about profitability, not winning; mcdonough's promotion is yet another in a long, long line of crystalline signs confirming the verity of that statement.

the hard truth is that the baseball operations of this franchise are a disaster from head to foot. with extremely little positive except ticket sales to talk about, nothing will be revolutionized in a day -- the scale of the troubles is simply far too great for quick fixes. the process of rehabilitating the chicago national league ballclub will take years, probably several years. dumping macfail and baker -- while certainly necessary -- is but a minor first step. the words spoken by fitzsimons and mcdonough are signal of nothing so much as their complete lack of understanding of just exactly how horrifying the condition of their ballclub is. and why should they know? neither of them has the faintest idea about how to evaluate anything related to baseball operations.

this writer would like to call the events of the last day a great step forward for accountability for this ballclub, to say that they gave rare credence to those who would argue that the management really do notice what happens on the field and take it seriously. but it seems that just the opposite is the deeper message of these events -- particularly in light of the continuing presence of the incompetent boob most responsible for the ridiculous state of the team, general manager jim hendry.

without question, macfail and baker were part of the problem at clark and addison. but what the events of the day have shown, dear reader, is that they are not so much the cause of the problems as symptoms of problems that clearly persist, as the promotion of mcdonough and continuation of hendry indicate. this is a happier day for cubdom, perhaps, for seeing the backs of these two -- but you'll pardon this page, dear reader, if it exhibits something less than exhiliration over what has happened. though glimpses of a new dawn are perhaps visible, a great deal more than this will need to transpire before anything like reason for optimism becomes here apparent.

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