Thursday, July 06, 2006

will he or won't he?

speculation continues to swirl around dusty baker's tenure with ever greater intensity in the aftermath of some comments made by general manager jim hendry over the holiday.

Dusty Baker and some of his coaching staff may have a restless All-Star break after general manager Jim Hendry announced Tuesday he will use the four-day break to decide whether an overhaul is in order.

Hendry declined to go into specifics, but Baker and coaches Gene Clines, Larry Rothschild, Gary Matthews and Juan Lopez could be dismissed as early as next week.

"I'm evaluating everything," Hendry said. "When you're having this kind of a year … I'm evaluating all situations. When you're 20-plus games below .500 … we certainly want to give us a chance to see if we can make a run here before the break, see if we can do well the rest of the week. I'll spend a lot of time over the break [evaluating], not just the way the [coaching] situation is, but also with your own players.

"You're getting ready to go into a month where you have to evaluate what you have and who you for sure think is going to get better and you want to keep, and in some other cases, maybe move some guys. You want to give everyone a fair chance to succeed."

this page hesitated to endorse those comments as the latest episode in the long-running dusty watch, and now it appears perhaps that was not the dumbest thing we've ever done. (it would take quite a lot more to rise to that level, dear reader, be assured.) hendry clearly put some distance between himself and all the talk by meeting with baker yesterday.

While Hendry wasn't backing off comments he made Tuesday about evaluating everyone during the four-day break next week, he said speculation Baker and his several of his coaches could be gone by next week was premature and that the evaluation process could go on longer.

"My situation is no different than it always has been," Hendry said. "It's a constant evaluation of the entire process. Dusty understands that. Obviously we need to play better, but there never has been a time frame set by myself. And I'm really the one who's going to make the call.

"I'd like to see us play better before the break, and I'd certainly like to see us play the rest of the year a lot better. The situation right now is that we just have to play better and win some games."

clearly, baker is still on the hot seat. even when under the lazy eye of a distracted leviathan like tribco, where mere failure is often grounds for promotion, spectacular failure can sometimes stimulate a purgative response.

but this is a process that hendry is, if taken at his word, clearly loathe to engage in. just a few days ago, he was claiming that no massive effort was required to right the ship. he has taken every opportunity to publicly play down the scope of the failure, and continues to insist that an initial evaluation still lies ahead. and he bizarrely implies that, should the team play a bit better over the next few weeks, that both baker and he himself would somehow be vindicated of this travesty.

this page finds it incredible, even shocking that hendry doesn't seem to understand that the ship is not just listing but has capsized, broken, sunk and now lays on the floor of the deep over only a thin layer of mud called the pittsburgh pirates -- and that only just for now, for the cubs have secured the worst run differential in the national league a very wide margin, thanks to scoring significantly less than anyone else and allowing the fifth-most runs. at negative 103, the cubs outpace the next worst nl team by run differential (milwaukee, at -62) by 41 runs. but then, if hendry feels he has yet to make an appraisal of the situation sufficient to determine what needs to be done with baker and his staff, perhaps devastating ignorance should not be surprising.

to be sure, this writer would like to accord hendry the courtesy of presuming that his words are merely polite lies covering decisions already made, with the spate of speculation over baker in the tribune amounting once again to just so much management of expectations.

but it behooves us now, in light of the devastation before us that is the 2006 chicago cubs, to consider the appropriate maxim honored by time and use called hanlon's razor: "never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity." and high stupidity is clearly one of the few talents which the cub organization is experiencing a glut of.

moreover, hendry must know in his heart of hearts that he has been one of the two primary architects of one of the great laughingstocks in baseball, quite possibly the most bungled effort at misspending $100mm in the history of the game. the venerated cubs, with a payroll in the top third of baseball, are going to record wins and losses comparable to some first-year expansion franchise teams. many a man would have great difficulty, in the face of such awesome culpability for complete disaster in a field in which one is supposed to be expert, doing anything but furiously denying to himself that the disaster in fact exists. that is quite probably particularly true of hendry, never a rationalist, who -- as is noted by mike kiley in the sun-times -- "goes by gut feeling on many decisions".

so, while baker may indeed be fired in the next week -- and while that would certainly be a step in the right direction -- this page remains unconvinced that it will happen. whatever the psychological reason, it seems here all too possible that jim hendry is still in deep denial about the magnitude of the disaster over which he has presided -- a spectacular flaming crash from the heights of a lucky 2003 and a good if insufficient 2004 to their woeful and putrid current state.

it would take much more than a fortunate week or two to make retaining baker a good idea, and more than a good month or two to make this team that hendry and macfail built anything like respectable -- but it may only take that to fortify hendry's underlying desire to simply go on as things are, making excuses all the while that purport to exculpate him from the consequences of his decisions regarding this pitiful ballclub.

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