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Columnist
Cubs need 'baseball man' as president
By Bruce Miles | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 8/25/2009 12:01 AM

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How's this for irony, Cubs fans? If Andy MacPhail had stayed on as team president, you wouldn't be stuck with Alfonso Soriano today, at least not for eight years and $136 million.

No, I'm not advocating that the MacPhail era shouldn't have ended when it did in 2006. It was time.

But let's use the recent past to try to guide the near-term future for the troubled Chicago National League Ball Club.

There already have been scores of suggestions for the Ricketts people, when and if their purchase of the Cubs becomes final.

We'll make just one here: Hire a baseball man to be team president.

Sandy Alderson's name has been out there. Two I like better are John Schuerholz and Pat Gillick.

Both Schuerholz and Gillick are no-nonsense men who built champions - Schuerholz in Atlanta and Gillick in Toronto and Philadelphia.

MacPhail was "that guy" when the Cubs hired him at the end of the 1994 season. He gained fame for guiding the small-market Minnesota Twins to two World Series titles. On his arrival with the Cubs, he brought professionalism and a sense of order, two things that weren't present during some very chaotic days at Wrigley Field.

Unfortunately for the Cubs, the classy MacPhail couldn't deliver a world championship, and he was forced out after a disastrous 2006 season. John McDonough took over and put "winning the World Series" into the Cubs' vocabulary before leaving for the Blackhawks in the fall of 2007.

Since then, Crane Kenney, a Trib lawyer, has run the team, but he's viewed by many from within and without as a corporate suit who spends too much time on the field and in the clubhouse. Kenney OK'd the drunken-sailor spending until the economy hit rock bottom and the sale of the team went past the two-season mark.

Although MacPhail likely would have signed off on the deals for Ted Lilly, Mark DeRosa and maybe even Kosuke Fukudome, there's no way on earth he'd have allowed general manager Jim Hendry to throw all that dough at Soriano.

MacPhail's "due diligence" was a good counterbalance to Hendry's impulsive nature, and he had a decent run of GM himself, rescuing the Cubs from a horrid 2000 season.

That's where a guy like Schuerholz or Gillick could play a huge role, with Hendry being signed through 2012, if the new owners want to keep him that long.

As a practical matter, Hendry probably is safe for next year. The team won't change hands until November, at the earliest, and the Cubs' organizational meetings and the GM meetings will have taken place by then.

A president with baseball experience would be able to whisper into Hendry's ear, "Are you sure this two-year deal for Aaron Miles is a good thing? I don't." Or, "There are good left-handed hitters out there other than Milton Bradley."

No GM can do it by himself these days. He needs help from below, including people not afraid to tell him when they think he's wrong.

He also needs help from above. There are baseball guys who can provide that help. The new Cubs owners need to get one of them.

bmiles@dailyherald.com