Hendry discusses health scare, Cubs spending spree
Posted: Friday December 15, 2006 12:21PM; Updated: Friday December 15, 2006 12:36PM
Ted Lilly's career record is 59-58, but he still landed a $40 million deal.
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No general manager in baseball has had an offseason quite like the Cubs' Jim Hendry. Not only has he brokered the biggest free-agent contract since 2001 -- a stunning eight-year, $136 million deal for Alfonso Soriano -- but also he's made several other important moves in an attempt to improve a team that lost 96 games last season. Tops among them are the re-signing of third baseman Aramis Ramirez (five years, $75 million) and inking highly sought-after lefty Ted Lilly (four years, $40 million).
The Lilly deal was notable for a reason beyond its sheer size: Hendry took the call from the southpaw agreeing to the contract while the 51-year-old GM was in an Orlando-area emergency clinic, hours before he was to undergo an angioplasty.
I spoke with Hendry earlier this week on his health, the health of the Cubs and the state of the game. Here are some excerpts:
SI.com: Welcome back. How are you?
Hendry: I'm feeling terrific, I really am. Obviously, I got a heck of a scare. But in the long run, it's going to be good for me. Some of it was a genetic problem with one of my arteries. And, obviously, I'm going to have to make some adjustments, get in a little better shape and eat a little differently. But, overall, I feel great. I'm fortunate that it was caught when it was.
SI.com: I'm sure you heard from a few people in and out of the game.
Hendry: I'm very fortunate. I guess sometimes I don't realize how fortunate I am. I heard from hundreds of people, from as far back as guys who played for me in high school, to kids from Creighton [Hendry was the head coach there from 1984 to '91], and friends I've had for life that have nothing to do with baseball. And I heard from so many of our players, and other GMs, and people in Chicago. I'm very grateful for the people that cared enough to let me know it.
SI.com: The Lilly signing has become nearly legend already. Set us straight: You took the call from him while you were hooked up to an electrocardiogram machine?
Hendry: To be honest with you, the story is very true. I was hooked up to the EKG machine for the initial test. At that time, I had not had the alarming news that I was going to be having surgery in a couple of hours. So I didn't feel the need to tell Ted anything. I thought I was just in for some tests. Ted called to tell me that he had made his decision and he was coming with us. I was thrilled. We had been waiting for that phone call all day. The story's true, but I guess the only thing that people are laughing at is, why did I have my cell phone in my hand when the machine was doing the test ...
SI.com: You have to admit, having a cell phone in your hand while you're hooked up to a heart monitor ...
Hendry: Well, Scott Nelson [director, baseball operations] and [new Cubs manager] Lou Piniella drove me over at the insistence of our doctor, but I was really under the impression it was just to get a couple of quick tests and get back to the hotel and get back to work.
SI.com: You haven't slowed down all offseason. You started off with a bang, re-signing Ramirez, worked out a couple of other deals, got the contract done for Soriano, inked Lilly. Last year, you lost out on Rafael Furcal early in the offseason. Is this your way of making up for that?
Hendry: Right after the season, when John McDonough became the president, we went down and met with our superiors at the Tribune Tower, and we made a decision that we were going to try to go after the best guy. The good thing about having a bad ballclub is, the last two or three months of the season, we were off our regular coverage; there wasn't any advance scouting. We took all of our major-league scouts and a few of our other talented scouts and really went after, hard, a two- or three-month scouting project of all the free agents, all the five-plus [year] potential guys to trade for, guys with larger contracts that are five-plus guys that might be available. We just went about our business, probably from the middle to end of July on, with the mode of 'We've got to get better in '07.'
We had made some decisions already about ranking free agents and priorities and how to set up the club right after the season. We decided that, you know, we never have landed the best guy. We were going to go after the best guy. And our guys clearly felt that Soriano was the best guy. It worked out well from there. We had a good plan.
We have some tinkering left. Other than that, it's been a real productive offseason, the type of offseason that reshapes a club right away, and at the same time keeps you very solid for the future.