Cubs brass deftly answered many tough and pointed questions from fans at this weekend's Cubs Convention.
Perhaps Tom Ricketts should bottle the way he began his family's appearance to begin the full day of Cubs Convention activities on Saturday.
Give Cubs Universe some good news to start off and get in a good mood. No, not a successor to Ron Santo. Well-publicized candidate Keith Moreland, who wants the job, hasn't even been interviewed yet.
Something more grand. Namely, Cubs uniformed personnel wearing No. 10 on their sleeves in 2011. And even better: a statue of Santo joining the bronzed versions of Ernie Banks and Billy Williams -- the Sixties' 3-4-5 hitters all together again -- to be dedicated at Wrigley Field on Aug. 10. By now, the original statue, of Harry Caray, is almost left out, a relic from a bygone bread-and-circuses Tribune Co. era.
The fans, crabby all winter, treated the ruling family of all four Ricketts siblings on the lectern, with respect. There were no questions about $81 bleacher tickets for 13 supposedly prime games. Queries about Wrigley Field were more information-seeking than critical.
But when Tom Ricketts answered a question from 'Linda from Schaumburg' about supposed payroll restrictions, he lost his chance to truly beat his chest over boosting player development, the family's avowed goal upon taking over the Cubs. He told of “much higher” spending for player development. He could have quantified the $250,000 addition of salaries, benefits and expenses for scouting chief Tim Wilken for three new scouts last July. Such specifics would have impressed the crowd and showed how Ricketts had put his money where his mouth was.
The only real discord was two questions from 'Joe from Skokie': “How in the world do you let Ryne Sandberg leave the organization?” and “How does Jim Hendry still have a job?” Tom Ricketts responses: “Ryne decided he has a better chance to be a major-league manager if he left the organization…There’s no hard feelings. Our hope is he’ll be at Conventions in the future.” As for Hendry, “I’m not going to hold (2007-08) playoff losses against him…I think Jim’s doing a good job.”
In a back-to-back session after his bosses, Cubs GM Jim Hendry figured to really take a barrage from the fans, who have focused their ire on the team's decline since Oct. 2008 and some dead payroll money on him rather than RIcketts or his ownership predecessors, who encouraged the mega-spending. But Hendry hardly had to duck and weave, while manager Mike Quade was a master of the kind of candor and wit that should serve him well during daily media interrogations throughout the season.
Asked what he did to get the Cubs to finish 24-13 after his hiring last August, Quade said he was "fairly demanding," tired of the excuse that team failures were due to young players, while he acted to "lean like heck" on the veterans to lift the Cubs out of their deep ditch.
Then it was Hendry's turn. A fan, citing Soriano’s age and injury history, asked if someone else should play left field despite four hefty contract years remaining.
“I think we all feel Sori’s got some solid years left,” replied Hendry. “I think he’s very capable of hitting 30 homers.”
Then it was manager Mike Quade’s turn. Displaying alternating wit and candor, he fended off a question directed at both him and the GM: "If Carlos Zambrano has a relapse in his temper outburst, will the brass ask him to waive his no-trade clause?”
Some fans and media could not understand why program emcee Dave Kaplan, citing Aramis Ramirez as an example, asked Quade why a cleanup hitter could not be asked to sacrifice with runners on first and second.
"I think he's paid $15 million to drive in the winning run," replied Quade. "You start asking him to play small ball, you're asking for trouble."
Quade again handled the load when both he and Hendry were asked if Carlos Zambrano had a relapse in his anger-management situation, would he be asked to waive his no-trade clause?
“I’m going to look at it as if those problems aren’t going to happen,” Quade said. “The things that go south, you deal with along the way.”
Another questioner asked if Zambrano might benefit from an “emotional coach” in Hendry assistant Greg Maddux to teach calmness on the mound. Quade’s comeback if key players had individual coaches: “We’re not going to have a big-enough plane.”
Perhaps the best question of the session, also asked of Wilken at a live taping of the new "Diamond Gems" video show at O'Donovan's the other night, focused on acquiring players who could understand the pressure of playing for the Cubs under the eccentric Wrigley Field conditions and with talk rife of curses and 102-year championship droughts.
Hendry calmly responded that his organization studies how the player performs in day games vs. night games, and if he's out all night when he's off-duty.
Still another fan looked askance at signing backup catcher Koyie Hill for $850,000.
"For $850,000, you got a guy who does a lot of things you don't notice from the stands," Hendry said. Added Quade: "It's the value of experience. Your bench is huge."
Somehow, Ozzie Guillen's name finds his way into the discourse. Wrapping up the session, a fan, while ripping new Cardinal Ryan Theriot as a “pipsqueak,” said he was happy Quade managed the Cubs instead of “that scumbag Ozzie Guillen.”
Relief filled the room. The worst barbs were directed at an ex-Cub who opened his mouth a bit too much as well as Wrigley Field's severest critic who can't control his own son's tweeting. The Cubs brass survived a Convention that could have turned out a whole lot worse for them.