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Pressure high, Dunedin native leads Cubs

(ran SS edition of Metro & State)

The gloomy generations of Chicago Cubs fans now turn their angst, frustration and woe to a Dunedin native.

It's Jim Hendry's job to end baseball's longest drought.

"I understand the responsibility," said Hendry, who was named the Cubs' general manager July 5. "No one will be harder on me than myself. And if I do my job, people won't have a lot to complain about."

The Cubs haven't won baseball's top prize since 1908. Hendry knows that Cubs fans don't need another malfunctioning cog in a massive machine that hasn't worked in 94 years. There have been plenty of teases: Ryne Sandberg and Rick Sutcliffe were one win from the World Series in 1984. Mitch Williams and Jerome Walton got the Cubs close five years later. Last year, the Cubs were cruising toward a division title.

Then sputter, stall and splat. Cubs lose. Cubs lose. Cubs lose.

"We've struggled," said Hendry, who turns 47 this week.

Wrigley Field's been a tourist attraction of late. This year's Cubs were supposed to be better. This was supposed to be the year.

Well, there's always next year.

The Cubs, who are 40-53, have fired their manager and hired Hendry as general manager. It's his job to bring a World Series to Chicago, something so many others have failed to do.

"We felt we were going to be better," said Hendry, who started the year as the Cubs' assistant general manager. The Cubs won 88 games last season and added a star-provenleft fielder to complement slugger Sammy Sosa. "We just got out of the gates so badly. We just played awful in April and May and got behind the eight ball."

It's a tune Cubs fans have heard a lot. Hendry's job is filled with pressure. Fans want promises to produce results.

He covets the challenge.

"I'm living my own dream," Hendry said. His office overlooks one of baseball's sacred shrines, Wrigley Field. "This is the greatest job in the world."

But a baseball job started as a way to make a few extra bucks. It wasn't a career choice.

Hendry graduated from Spring Hill College, a small Alabama school, with a degree in communications. After a summer job with the St. Petersburg Times covering baseball, he thought he'd be a journalist.

When those jobs proved scarce, he took a teaching position at Columbus High School in Miami. He also helped coach the varsity baseball team. He had always loved the game _ he had spent many afternoons hanging around Jack Russell Stadium as a kid watching the big leaguers play.

He thought he'd be a player, not a coach.

But after a year as an assistant at Columbus, Hendry became the head coach at the age of 23.

At 28, he was the nation's youngest Division I college coach. Soon, he'd have Creighton University, a small Nebraska school known for acting as a host to the College World Series, playing in it.

"They really took a heck of a chance on me," Hendry said.

A Creighton committee initially decided to give the job to Danny Hall, who was an assistant coach at the University of Michigan. Athletics director Dan Offenburger even called Hall and offered him the job. As Hall took the night to think about it, so did Offenburger.

He wanted Hendry, no matter what the committee said.

"By credentials, it wasn't even close," said Offenburger, who left Creighton in 1985. "I had to work to make sure Hendry made the cut when the committee narrowed the search. I knew Hendry and knew how much he wanted this. At Creighton, we always thought we were better off with a notch less talent if a kid really wanted to play for us. The same thing goes for coaching."

So after a sleepless night, Offenburger called Hall and rescinded the offer before Hall could even speak. Hall now coaches Georgia Tech and took his 1994 team to the College World Series.

Offenburger then called Hendry and told him that he had the job.

"You could see it even then _ he was so big league," said Offenburger, who had to pet the egos of the committee he had just ignored. "He could schmooze a crowd of three secretaries, or the baseball team, or an auditorium filled with students. He was electric."

Jack Dahm remembers a wiry blond guy coming into his Chicago-land living room telling him that Creighton would be one of the best baseball teams in the country. It took a little while for Hendry to convince Dahm to play for the Bluejays. It took a while to convince everyone, though.

"People thought we were okay for a northern school," Hendry said.

Dahm, who now coaches Creighton and played and coached for Hendry, said Hendry got the most from his players. It translated into a third-place finish in the 1991 College World Series. Hendry was named the college's best coach that year.

"As a player, you didn't always know why he was doing some things. He could jump on you as good as anybody," said Dahm, who was an assistant on the 1991 team. "As a coach, you really saw how he handled people. He has a gift for figuring what each player has inside them, and he knew how to bring that out."

Hendry left the city and the job he loved after that season to help bring baseball to Florida. He worked in the Florida Marlins organization for three years, scouting talent, coaching and assisting the Marlins then-general manager Dave Dombrowski.

"He is a great talent evaluator," said Dombrowski, now the president and CEO of the Detroit Tigers. "He deserved to be a general manager one day. You knew it was going to happen."

Hendry said he learned a lot from Dombrowski and others in the Marlins organization, including that his mission was to run a major league front office, not manage a team on the field.

"It was a tremendous variety in introducing me to pro ball," Hendry said. "The college coach of the year stuff didn't matter anymore. No one cared. It was hard the first year, because I missed coaching games, but after the first year, I knew where my future was."

After switching organizations in 1994, Hendry ran the draft and the minor league for the Cubs before his chance came to run the big league team. Andy MacPhail stepped down as general manager when he fired Cubs manager Don Baylor July 5. MacPhail, also the team's president and CEO, had too much on his plate, Hendry said.

MacPhail left Hendry in charge of the on-the-field product. The decisions start with hiring a new manager to replace Baylor. Bruce Kimm has the position on an interim basis for the rest of the season.

Hendry also picks the players.

That's why the pressure's squarely on his shoulders.

Dahm said that's fine. And he's not speaking as a friend. He's a diehard Cubs fan who wants the World Series slump to end.

"If there is anyone that can get it done, it's Jim Hendry," Dahm said. "I remember a blond-headed guy telling me some day Creighton will be in the College World Series. And I remember him telling me he's going to be a general manager. And he said he's going to win a World Series. Every goal he sets, he gets accomplished. This is the ultimate goal.

"I'm sure he won't quit until it's done."