Looking back at troubling times with former Cubs GM Larry Himes

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /
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Ryne Sandberg / Chicago Cubs
(Photo by Ronald C. Modra/Getty Images) /

Cubs: Himes hoped to replenish the farm with a daring trade proposal

Himes was, in some ways, quite forward thinking, embracing statistical analysis over a decade before the publication of Moneyball. This may be what led him to arrive at his grand plan for the Cubs: re-build around young players. He would re-seed the farm through a blockbuster trade of Ryne Sandberg.

Now I can hear you questioning this logic already. Himes almost cost the Cubs both Maddux and Sandberg – a duo destined for Cooperstown. But put that aside for the moment; the theory wasn’t totally absurd. The Chicago infielder had one of his career years in 1990; his 1991 performance was still outstanding but at age 31, he was showing some small signs of wear. The homer rate went down slightly while the K rate ticked up.

Himes might reasonably have concluded that this was the time to sell Sandberg: while he was still great but without too many great years left. In the event Himes was correct: Ryno had one fantastic season left (1992) and then faded fairly rapidly, though an ugly divorce probably contributed to his decline (a comparison with 2016 World Series hero Ben Zobrist is hard to avoid).

Whatever one thinks of this plan, it is clear, or should have been clear, that what Himes was proposing was potentially radioactive. Yet Himes seems to have been surprised when Cubs management vetoed the plan. This piece (perhaps channeling sources close to Himes) blames the outcome on a pack of ignorant corporate suits more interested in TV ratings than in building a successful franchise. That is probably an accurate characterization of the Cubs’ ownership operation at this time.

But it is hardly irrational for any owner, good or bad, to want to retain a franchise icon who had not yet entered serious decline. Indeed, there are probably some alternate universes where Ryno continued to rake into his late 30s. The astonishing thing is that Himes had agreed to be GM, and based his rebuilding plan, on a mega-trade that he had not discussed in advance with ownership, an ownership that indeed had little interest in rebuilding at all. The Himes regime had stumbled at the first hurdle.