Theo lauds Hendry influence on Cubs playoff run

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Theo Epstein

Former Cubs general manager Jim Hendry was spotted at the ballpark Saturday night, taking in Game 1 of the Cubs-Dodgers series.

It was his first game at Wrigley Field since scouting duties for the Yankees over the summer.

But that doesn’t mean his presence hasn’t been felt during the Cubs’ playoff run so far.

After the Cubs’ big Game 4 comeback in San Francisco, team president Theo Epstein corrected a media member congratulating him on identifying and developing ninth-inning heroes Javy Baez and Willson Contreras – Epstein crediting his predecessor, Hendry, with those acquisitions.

“Kudos to Jim, [former scouting director] Tim Wilken in Javy’s case, and [scouts] Tom Clark, Louie Eljaua and Alex Suarez,” Epstein said on the eve of Saturday’s NLCS opener. “Great job identifying them.”

Baez, the clear (unofficial) MVP of the Cubs’ Division Series against the Giants, showed his value again in the Cubs’ two-run second, turning a bloop hit to left-center into a double, and one out later turning pickoff attempt into the Cubs’ first postseason steal of home since 1907.

“I think sometimes teams do make a mistake of changing for change’s sake and looking past good players who are already in the organization when you get somewhere new,” said Epstein, who shed the roster and system of dozens of players he inherited after taking over five years ago.

“There’s a history of that,” Epstein added. “And we probably fell victim to it a little bit with the [batting champion DJ] LeMahieu trade [to Colorado for Ian Stewart]. I’m glad that Javy and Willson were able to realize their talents here because it would have been a mistake to get rid of either guy.”

Holdover Wilken also was a key influence in the Cubs using their No. 6 overall pick in 2012 to take Albert Almora Jr., having followed for at least two years before that draft.

Hendry was fired in July of 2011 but allowed to stay on to negotiate the signings of the Cubs’ draft picks – his last official act as GM getting Baez signed minutes before the signing deadline.

“I really don’t deserve any credit for that the way I look at it,” said Hendry, passing the credit for Baez and Contreras to Wilken and former Cubs player development exec Oneri Fleita.

“I’m glad he’s doing great, but I don’t sit there and ever say, `That’s my guy,’ “ Hendry said. “I remember at the end of March, first of April [2011], Tim said, `Hey I think I got my guy. I want you to see him. Right now that’s my dude.’ That was Baez two months before the draft. We found ourselves on draft day just hoping he’d get to us.”

Hendry, now a special assistant to Yankees GM Brian Cashman, still lives in the area. He considers the Game 4 comeback a touchstone moment and predicted this will be the year the Cubs do what he tried nine years to get done.

“You look back and you wish – not that I wanted it to be `I did it’ – but I kind of wanted to be the guy that gave the generations what they deserved. I don’t really look back with regrets. I had a real fair chance.”

He’s a fan of this team and how Epstein has rebuilt under Ricketts ownership, Hendry said.

“They’re in as good of shape as they possibly could be, and they’re going to be good for years,” Hendry said. “The job Theo’s done is second to none. It’s flawless. I’m happy for him. I’m happy for the guys that are still here when I was here. It’s all positive for me.”

<em>Jim Hendry</em>

Jim Hendry

The Cubs made the playoffs in 2003, 2007 and 2008 under Hendry, with his ’03 team finishing a well-documented five outs short of the World Series.

“We had two or three real good runs at it. We did well,” he said. “We never got over the hump.

“They will now. And I think they’re going to be the best team in the game for a few years.”

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