On a station that’s the home of the White Sox, WSCR’s Mike Murphy is a beacon calling out to Cubs fans to air their woes. While he sometimes gets hot under the collar on the air, it’s that same passion that drives him to strong opinions on Dusty Baker and his beloved Cubs.
The Heckler: How did you get your start in radio and how did you end up on the Score?
Mike Murphy: In 1990, I was lucky enough socially to have met some people in radio, one of whom was Drew Hayes, who was involved in the early days of talk radio at WLS when they just changed formats. He badgered me into doing a show on Sunday nights talking sports. He knew I had a radio background [in high school and college] and loved sports and I said, no, no, and then I finally said I’ll do it this one time. This was in April of ’90. I said I’ll do one show, three hours, and if you like it, handshake, I’ll come back and continue to do it, and if you don’t like it, there would be no hard feelings. Drew named the show Fan Talk, and I did the show for 18 months, I got a phone call from the folks at WXRT who were starting up a new sports talk station on the 820 frequency. They invited me to do a weekend show there, and four years ago, I finally gave up the day job [at Reed Industries since 1975] because I always worked either weekends, night time, or mornings, and then I would go to work.
TH: I know you’re not a fan of Dusty Baker. Were you happy when they originally hired him?
MM: I was happy when they hired Dusty Baker because he was a veteran who had great success. I liked Dusty Baker because I thought he was the type of guy that a Cubs fan would respect, and that for once, the Cubs actually tried to go out and get somebody like when they got Leo Durocher. The last good Cubs manager before Dusty Baker was Don Zimmer, before him was Herman Franks, and then you go back to Leo Durocher. So I guess every 15 years they find one. I thought this was on the timeframe, and I have to say me and I think all Cub fans were excited when Dusty was hired.
TH: Why in your opinion do you now think that he’s such a bad manager?
MM: Dusty Baker is a bad manager in my opinion on many levels. One, I think he’s a lousy in-game strategist. Number two, he lacks the ability to motivate his players, such as not arguing with umpires. When you see Jacque Jones three times in one week doubled off second on hump-back liners to left field and he’s still in the game and he’s not replaced, there’s no motivation. I always say if you’re a player, your manager has to have two things to be a winner; you have to be able to respect his knowledge and his ability to manage the game and not be outsmarted by the other manager. And number two is the player has to fear the manager. Players feared Don Zimmer because they thought he would take a punch at them or kick them or beat them up because even though he was in his 60s, the players felt he was nuts and could pop a cork anytime. Players feared Leo Durocher because he’d send them to the minor leagues. You can’t send guys to the minor leagues now so you can only fear the manager on a couple levels and one is to bench him. So if you don’t bench him and you don’t physically hit him, which I don’t condone I don’t think the players respect him or fear him.
TH: Did you think going into the season that the team the Cubs had was a contending team?
MM: No, the team was not a contending team. They have never addressed on-base percentage and walks. You can look it up but they’ve been near the bottom of the National League in the entire four years Baker has been here and the entire regime of Jim Hendry and Andy MacPhail. They have never understood on-base percentage and conversely, they have never understood trying to get the other teams’ pitcher into high pitch counts and working walks. Sarge [Gary Matthews] and Geno [Gene Clines] and Baker, all acknowledged to be great hitting coaches, must still have the mantra hit the first pitch, it might be the only one you hit. I knew the team was in trouble in the winter when they didn’t address on-base percentage by bringing in Jacque Jones. Number two, anyone who knows anything about baseball including Jim Hendry should have known that you’re rolling the dice with Kerry Wood and Mark Prior as the backbone of your pitching staff along with Carlos Zambrano.
TH: Speaking of the situation with Wood and Prior combining for only two wins for the whole season, and with Derrek Lee out for most of the year, and I know you’re down on Baker, but isn’t the team where you would expect them to be right now, and could any manager have kept them in the race under the circumstances?
MM: Where Dusty Baker fumbled the ball was when Derrek Lee had his injury. Dusty Baker along with Jim Hendry, they both did nothing. Hendry didn’t make any major trades and Dusty Baker allowed the players to go through the motions expecting that if we could tread water until D. Lee comes back, and Woody comes back and Prior comes back, then we’ll turn the light switch on in July, August and September. In the paper recently, Dusty Baker said, “We were all waiting for Derrek Lee to come back.” The players can not be allowed to think that, they have to be pushed and prodded every day. Baker never argued with the umpires or showed any life. He waited and waited until he thought Lee, Prior and Wood were coming back and they’d still be able to make a run. If they had been able to play .500 ball after Lee got hurt with better management by Baker and Hendry, then they would still have had the opportunity like the Dodgers did on July 31, Hendry, to make moves and get the team back up into the easy to reach wild card and Central Division races.
TH: As a fan, we all watch the games and think we can manage the team. If you had been the manager of the Cubs instead of Dusty Baker, what would you have done given the situation he had to deal with?
MM: The first thing I would have done was make sure fundamental baseball was played. What I mean by that is I would not have tolerated throwing to the wrong base, being doubled off bases, missing the cut-off man, and not laying down bunts when appropriate. How do you correct that? You get them out there in the morning. I would have had them out there a couple of hours before the game and work them and work them, because it was a laissez faire attitude on this team. So not necessarily should Baker have done different things as far as line up or changes, what he should have done is let them know he was not going to accept the type of play he was seeing. But Dusty Baker is a dinosaur that is soon to be extinct. He is still managing from an era 10 years ago when he had Barry Bonds and he allowed him to have total freedom to do whatever he wants. He did that with Sammy Sosa. He wanted to treat these 25 guys as men, so he won’t yell at them or criticize them or lean on them. He wants to treat them like men but they don’t reciprocate back to him so they play lazy baseball and the manager allowed them to play lazy baseball. So what changes would I have made if I was manager? I still would have had to play Jacque Jones in right because the GM just gave him $15 million over three years. I still had second basemen with low on-base percentage though Todd Walker had a good on-base percentage but couldn’t field. I had three guys at second. What could I have done? I couldn’t do anything else. Those are the three knuckleheads this GM gave me. What I would have done was try to play hard-nosed baseball and they never have under Baker.
TH: Since you mentioned the players that Baker had to work with, what’s your opinion of the job Jim Hendry has done the last couple of years?
MM: To evaluate Jim Hendry’s job is very difficult, because unlike the movie the “The Wizard of Oz,” we must pay attention to the man behind the curtain, Andy MacPhail and his boss at the Tribune, and that guy’s boss. Jim Hendry probably has a lot less freedom than the fans realize, and in the corporate Tribune, he is never going to come out and say ‘I’m hamstrung by my bosses.’ That being said, he still has a payroll around number seven. It ought to be around number two or three. With the seventh highest payroll, Jim Hendry still should be able to win the weak National League Central and or the wild card. Here’s what you have to do. You have to occasionally trade a star like Aramis Ramirez to lower payroll and get someone else’s two or three young kids. The only trades Jim Hendry has ever made have been our kids for the established star in his prime, i.e. Lee, Ramirez, and an up and coming Michael Barrett. One time, you’re going to have to do this Mr. Hendry, and this winter might be a good time. July 31 would have been a better time. You’re going to have to trade a Ramirez to a team that needs a third baseman and they’re in a pennant race, and they’re going to give you two or three young guys. But that is a gamble, and GM doesn’t stand for ‘gambling man’ and a lot of them don’t like to gamble and a lot of them do. Look at the Dodgers. Their general manager gambled all year and as of this interview, they’re sitting in first place. So Jim Hendry doesn’t have the resources he should have, but he has plenty of resources to have a team to win. He has to not continually hitch his wagon to the highly paid guys like Prior and Wood.
TH: What do you think of the job Jim Hendry has done with the farm system?
MM: Jim Hendry has been involved with the farm system for many years with the Cubs after he left the Marlins and I believe for a while he was the Cubs scouting director. The best prospects the Cubs have had over the last 10 years under MacPhail and Hendry were Dontrelle Willis and Ricky Nolasco, and right now they are both with the Florida Marlins. Again trading young prospects for veterans. And the Juan Pierre trade for Nolasco which could be salvaged if you sign Pierre to a long-term contract. The farm system has been a disaster. Bobby Hill washed out. Felix Pie right now is a question mark at best. So you’d have to grade the Cubs farm system over the last five years as a D+.
TH: They haven’t developed an everyday player that has had success for any extended period of time since Mark Grace and Rafael Palmeiro back in the ’80s. Is there any reason you can think of for that?
MM: That’s a great question that frankly I don’t think is in my area of expertise to answer. I think only Jim Hendry can sit down and tell you why they failed. They have money in the Pacific Rim. They don’t have as much money from what I understand in the Latin American countries for scouting compared to other teams. Maybe they are looking for the wrong type of players, but they are not doing the job. I think you have to be in the scouting room and hear what they’re looking for and that’s not something they’re going to tell me.
TH: What’s your opinion of the job that Larry Rothschild has done as the Cub pitching coach?
MM: That’s tricky also. Scott Eyre was on the Score on July 31 and said, ‘I’m really going to miss Greg Maddux, because two weeks ago Greg Maddux taught me the two-seam sinker. I worked with it for a couple of days in the bullpen and used it in a game against the Nationals and got out of the inning with a groundout.’ Greg Maddux is a genius. There is no pitching coach out there that is as good as Greg Maddux. All I know about Larry Rothschild is this: Guys have been getting hurt under his command. I also know this: The Detroit Tigers offered him a three-year contract as the pitching coach with the Detroit Tigers this past winter so someone must think he’s a good pitching coach. Some people say he’s not. It’s very difficult for a fan like me to evaluate a pitching coach. That might be one area where you would have had to have pitched in professional ball to understand the nuances. I can just go by the fact that a lot of guys get hurt and the Cubs walk as many people as anybody in the league, but that could be with power pitchers in the past like Wood and Prior, they throw a lot of pitches, a lot are fouled off, and they walk and strike out guys.
TH: Let’s say you get your wish and Dusty Baker isn’t back next year. Who would you like to manage the team and why?
MM: Well the guy obviously 12 months ago would have been Joe Girardi, but that ship has sailed unless the owner of the Marlins and Girardi can’t agree to disagree, in which case with his iron-clad contract there would have to be a trade, and then the Cubs would have to send the Marlins another young pitcher who the Cubs think is the least apt to blossom and he’ll be in the rotation with Willis and Nolasco. Number two, I would say Bob Brenly, for the main reason that he has seen this team for the past two seasons. So you don’t bring in a manager who says ‘I didn’t know Aramis Ramirez can’t bunt,’ or that Jacque Jones cannot be relied upon to hit a cut-off man. I think Bob Brenly seeing two years of baseball would be a terrific benefit and a step ahead of any other manager they would bring in. He has a World Series ring and when you watch the games on TV, he’s like a Steve Stone where he seems to be a step ahead of the game, where I don’t think Dusty Baker is a step ahead of the other manager. The other names of course that you hear, round up the usual suspects. Lou Pinella might be great, but there’s something about Brenly. He looks like he might be passionate and I don’t see anybody better sitting there that knows all of the negatives as well as the positives.
TH: We kind of got into it a little before when you mentioned trading Ramirez, but what kind of moves would you make in the off-season if you were the GM?
MM: The first move I would make is sign Juan Pierre as quick as you can because I don’t think you’re going to be able to re-sign him. You should have done it when you signed him for the one year for three years. Now he’s going to be a free gent and everyone is going to take a shot at Juan Pierre. If you lose him, you’re really in trouble. That’s number one. Number two, you must at all costs, acquire players that can walk and get on base. Cesar Izturis at shortstop has a .300 on-base percentage which is terrible. Ronny Cedeno is a young guy and he can change and I don’t think Izturis can, but he has an even lower on-base percentage, so you have to have your doubts. If Hendry thinks he can come north with Cedeno at second and Izturis at short, that means one of them has got to bat number eight, fine, and the other one has to bat seven or two, and you’re going to kill yourself with either of those guys playing every day, so that means you cannot come north with both of those guys. Third, I would trade Ramirez to lower payroll, something that should have been done on July 31, and try to get someone’s two young kids. This team right now, they need speed. They need Ramirez’s power, but they need a gamer, and any guy who dogs it and runs half-assed to first base like Ramirez, I don’t want on my team. The only time Ramirez runs out a ball to first, you’ll notice, is if it’s an RBI for him. You watch him haul ass on a 6-4-3 potential double play if there are men on first and third. He can run. He’ll beat that throw. He has no bad hamstring. He sniffs the RBI and runs when he feels like it. He’s a dog. I don’t want dogs on my team, I’d have him gone. My next move would be to unload Jacque Jones as quickly as I could. I don’t care if Jacque Jones is going to hit like he does every year, .280, 26 homers, 80 RBI. He kills you with his lack of baseball acumen throwing to the wrong base, bad base-running decisions, and striking out. I want Jacque Jones and Ramirez gone. I don’t care if you trade Izturis or Cedeno, one of them has to be gone. And if you have enough power, you could live with Matt Murton in left field. If you could live with him in left because you have power in other spots, then he’s your number-two hitter. Classic, goes to right field, runs the bases better than you think, goes first and third if he has to, he can bunt, he’s got a high on-base percentage. And you have to bring in two starting pitchers. So right now, Mr. Hendry has a lot of work in front of him, but don’t forget, he’s got about $20 million dollars to the good. He’s going to lose about $10 million with Wood, even if they negotiate to bring him back, he’s going to lose $7.5 million at second base with the three guys he had this year at $2.5 million. He needs starting pitching and maybe a closer too. I think Dempster’s role is the eighth inning, and Howry and Eyre the seventh.
TH: Why do you think the team has been historically bad for so many years?
MM: The team had been historically bad under the Wrigley regime because Mr. Wrigley did not pay for scouting. They did not have a scouting department. Wrigley did not spend money on scouting. Since the Tribune Company has taken over, I’m not saying the general manager’s do not strive to win. I would never say a general manager’s not trying his best. But I do not think the corporate guys above the general manager care as much about winning as making sure that they have their profit statement. There’s a sign at the men’s executive bathroom at the Chicago Tribune, right above the mirror, ‘Risk aversion at all costs.’ Avoid risk. They never take a risk. They never take a gamble. Jim Hendry’s the same way. He’s never traded a star player for a young player. He’s always traded young players in a de-facto salary dump, Lee, Ramirez, Barrett, from other teams. So, it’s time for the GM to be a gambling man and it’s time for the bean counters at the Tribune to put the payroll for the great Cub fans, even if it’s once every five years, throw us a bone in the bleachers that you’re going to put a payroll in the top two or three behind the Yankees at $110 or $120 million; that’s all we ask.
TH: Do you think Hendry’s done a good job with the money he’s had to spend?
MM: No. He’s put a team on the field that has low on base percentage, doesn’t have any foot speed, and pitchers that throw too many pitches and get their pitch count up. It’s as if he has never read Bill James and doesn’t understand current baseball.