While many Cubs fans, as well as some national writers like ESPNs Keith Law and Baseball America's Jim Callis, were impressed by the Cubs performance in the draft, it also highlighted what the Cubs have been sorely missing during the Crane Kenny/Jim Hendry era: leadership.
What made this draft successful wasn't luck or extra hard work -- Wilken and his staff always work hard. The difference this year was Rickett's leadership in the process. He took charge. He made sure that the Cubs scouting efforts were not made in vain. It was a refreshing change for a team that hasn't seen someone just take control and made sure things got done in quite some time.
The problem I have with this is that it shouldn't be the owner of a team stepping in and getting things done. It should come from the President of Baseball Operations or the GM.
It was pointed out to me by an astute reader that when Ricketts was asked whether having a successful draft and building a farm system was simply about putting more resources in to it, the Cubs chairman somewhat disagreed. He said, "it's more than that" but said nothing else on the matter, leaving us to wonder what exactly he meant by that statement.
I now believe he meant leadership. After all, the resources were in places. The money is there. The Cubs have the right scouting personnel. What was missing was someone to say, "Here's what we're going to do, you just put in the work and I'll make sure you have everything you need to get it done." That's what was missing and that's why Ricketts had to step in.
Where was Crane Kenney? Where was Hendry?
This is the single biggest concern I have with that pairing. It isn't the bad contracts and the recent failures. It's their inability to provide any kind of leadership to a franchise that has lacked direction for a very, very long time.
This isn't just about the draft. This is about not having a single, coherent team philosophy that starts at the top and permeates down to the last coach in the minor league system. What is the Cubs plan? What is their identity? When you're a Cub, what exactly does that mean other than being a lovable loser? Do you think it's like that with the Red Sox or the Yankees...or even the Rays or Rangers?
The closest thing I can see to a plan with this team in Hendry's tenure is, "Let's go into the offseason, spend some money, patch a few holes and hope everything pans out." That can get you an occasional good year or two, but it doesn't build you a consistent winner. It doesn't build an organization with a strong foundation that you can continue to build on year after year.
The Cubs, of all teams, should recognize this. They've had two separate eras where I believe they were on the brink of building this kind of organization: The Dallas Green era in the 80's and the Andy McPhail era in the early 2000's. Both provided strong leadership at the top and had a definite philosophy as to how they wanted to build a team. Both built a strong farm system that was among the best in the game. What stopped both from continuing forward was a meddlesome, profit-oriented ownership. In each case, these baseball men stepped down out of frustration and were replaced by lackeys willing to follow the business model of the suits in charge. In Green's case it was Jim Frey, who went on to dismantle everything that Green had built; and in McPhail's case it was John McDonough, who ushered in the spending frenzy era, and then Crane Kenney who's most known for his conspicuous absence from any important baseball decisions.
But I'm not absolving Hendry from this either. When he was under McPhail's guidance he had some direction and looked like a promising GM. Under McDonough, he just went along for the ride -- but he was young, and didn't have the clout to step in yet. It's under Kenney where Hendry has really failed. There was a total void in terms of leadership and Hendry did not step up and take charge. It took Ricketts to come in and eventually take control. That should not happen. That's why it's time for the Cubs to make changes at the top and bring in some real leadership.
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