First of all, what a great baseball man. I had the chance to spend almost two years with Jim and loved everything about him. There aren’t many guys like him in the game who are completely honest with their players, they love their players, they love their team. What impressed me the most is not him bringing three division titles here — ’03, ’07 and ’08 — or almost getting to the World Series, or everything he’s accomplished in this game, being here for 17 years. I have even more respect for him because of how he handled this situation. Knowing he was going to be out, handling the trades, doing what’s best for this organization, signing all the guys he signed from the Draft, working as hard as he did. He signed our first rounder 15 minutes before the deadline. He worked hard for the Cubs knowing he’s not going to be the GM — that’s something that is so impressive to me.
There are probably a lot of fans happy that he’s gone and are mad at Jim and mad at the Cubs but at the same time, it’s not his fault. You have to look at the moves he made over the years. You have to look at the hard decisions he had to make, like trading Sammy Sosa, and the good decisions he made, giving guys money who really deserved it, making trades to bring guys over here like Aramis Ramirez — you can’t forget about that. Working with no money like he did this year and going to get Matt Garza and Carlos Pena and bringing back Kerry Wood. He signed Mark DeRosa, and traded him because they wanted a left-handed bat, and brought in Milton Bradley. He thought he was the guy and it didn’t work out. At the time, it was the right move and everyone agreed it was. He put all that together.
He’s a good baseball man. Regardless of what anybody says about him, he did his job the right way. He worked harder than any GM I’ve ever known and I’ve been around a few. It’s a credit to him how he came into the game, 17 years with the Cubs, and how he ended up with this organization. I think Tom Ricketts and his family have a lot of respect for him. It’ll be interesting to see what happens when he takes over another organization and we’ll see what he does over there.
Carlos, everything he’s done in Tampa, he knows how to win. We’ve bonded. We were the big dogs coming up through the Minor Leagues, got to the big leagues and scuffled a little bit. We went back and forth, Minor Leagues, big leagues, knowing we could play but we needed that one team to take that flyer on us. It was Texas with me, Tampa with Carlos. Carlos comes up, does what he does, signs that big deal in Tampa. We can feed off each other because at the same time, what we also have in common is Rudy. He was with Rudy in Texas before I was. Now we have that rapport, so we’re talking about getting his swing back to where it was. There’s a lot that goes through your head when you struggle. He struggled last year and still put up big numbers in the power category. You have to get that average back up, get that confidence back up. I had the same thing, hitting .220 in the Minor Leagues and going to Texas and working with Rudy and had to get that confidence and that feel. I knew I could hit. We started talking from day one — actually at the Cubs Convention, we started talking hitting right away. Then when we came in here the first day, we started going to the cage together, working on little things. I see things he’s doing now that I did when I first came to Texas. Having more than one eye — not just Rudy’s eye but my eye — and having that trust factor will help. He trusts me. When I see something, he says, “Hey, you’re right, I feel it.” All from that, we’re learning and feeding off each other as far as hitting. I get to feed off him as far as that winning mentality and everything he did in Tampa.
There are certain things that happen in the clubhouse. I can go to him and say, “What do you think? Do we need a meeting? Do we need a one on one?” We can go back and forth. That’s a good thing. We have all these veterans in here and we have a lot of help — Kerry Wood, Braden Looper, all those guys. Me and Carlos, being position players, he’s very vocal, just like I am. we can talk and make sure everything stays on the up and up with this team. Last year, you have your ups and downs, but you want to keep those very, very small and stay consistent. Now, we have that rapport and hopefully we can be part of leading this team in the clubhouse and on the field and carry us all the way into the playoffs.
He’s not tentative because he’s the new guy. You saw me last year when I came in here, sort of loud mouth in the beginning. Everyone was like, “Marlon talks too much.” At the end of the year, they were saying, “He talks for a reason.” Carlos, it’s the same thing. He’s talking for a reason. He’s not speaking out of turn, he’s not speaking just to talk. He’s speaking because he needs to. The time he’s put in the big leagues, the winning he’s done, the numbers he’s put up, everything, he’s earned the right for people to listen to him.
First off, I have to comment on the job Jim Hendry did. He didn’t have much money this offseason. He needed pieces to fix this team. We needed a first baseman, we needed left-handed thump in the lineup, we needed a veteran reliever on the back end with experience and we needed another starting pitcher. He didn’t just fill those, he went and got a Gold Glover and the best first baseman in the American League East who knows how to win in Carlos Pena. Then, he went and got Matt Garza, who is a horse. He’s not missing any starts. He’s a monster on the mound with great stuff and he’s going to give you 15-plus wins. Then he went and got Kerry Wood — that’s icing on the cake. Of course, Woody helped us out, he wanted to come back home. Nobody can blame him. This is home for him and this is where he needs to be. Jim did an unbelievable job. He didn’t just bring guys in, he brought guys in who can do the job and help us get to the playoffs and hopefully get to the World Series.
It’s exciting. On the first day, I overheard Woody talk to Cashner about throwing cutters on both sides of the plate and talking to Samardzija about that. That experience, that trust factor. Me and Carlos Pena, going back with Rudy. That trust factor is already there. Garza just fit in there. He brings that intensity, he brings that fire, something that this team needs, something the city of Chicago loves to see, loves to watch. I don’t think it gets any better than that.
One person you can’t leave out who everyone forgets about is Reed Johnson. Bringing back Reed — he’ll help in the clubhouse, help on the field. He’s not just a presence in the clubhouse, he’s a presence on the field. He’s a career .282 hitter, kills a lefty, can hit righties, can play anywhere in the outfield. He’s a veteran presence. We came up in ’99 together and played together in the big leagues. This is our ninth year. He was at St. Catharines with the Blue Jays and I was at Class A Batavia with the Phillies.
The guys we have — there’s not excitement on MLB Network, there’s not excitement on Baseball Tonight. That excitement is Greinke and Marcum with the Brewers and Berkman going to St. Louis and the Reds signing extensions to the young guys who are going to turn into big dogs. We’re going to fly under the radar and keep that excitement bottled up and once April 1 comes, we’re going to explode.