CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs, who had been searching for a president and a manager, hired a general manager yesterday.
But not just any general manager. In a stunning move, they hired Larry Himes, who was fired 14 months ago from the same post with the White Sox. The Cubs made room by pushing Jim Frey into a powerless senior vice presidency.
The club had spent a month hunting in vain for a successor to outgoing president Don Grenesko. But with critical baseball decisions for 1992 waiting to be made, the executives on the search team decided they needed to find a baseball man quickly -- and they decided Frey wasn't the one.
The 51-year-old Himes, who officially will be called the executive vice president for baseball operations, will command the search for a successor to fired manager Jim Essian. And he will try to improve a team that has finished a total of 38 games out of first the last two summers and failed miserably under the weight of big expectations this year. Himes said he's particularly interested in the possibility of signing White Sox catcher Carlton Fisk.
Terms of Himes' contract weren't disclosed, but he's believed to have signed a three-year deal.
Himes' first job will be to fill the empty managerial job, and he's hoping to do it before the winter meetings begin on Dec. 6.
His track record there begins and ends with the hiring of Jeff Torborg before the 1989 season. Torborg, who recently left for the New York Mets, had scant big league managerial experience, but Himes said the next Cub manager will be more seasoned.
"I would say that an experienced manager would be best for the Cubs," Himes said. "It wasn't that way with the White Sox. We need someone who can step in and take over a difficult situation. We have expectations here. The White Sox had no expectations."
That immediately launched speculation the Cubs would go after an unemployed veteran, such as the very available Davey Johnson, Tom Trebelhorn or Jim Lefebvre. It also means that Pittsburgh coach Gene Lamont, once rumored to be a favorite, is probably out of the running.
While he's looking for a manager, Himes also will begin to act on deals that will shape next season's club. The Cubs' brass, burned by expensive washouts Danny Jackson and Dave Smith, has indicated it won't spend $25 million on free agents. But money is available for select purchases, and Fisk might be one.
Fisk, angry with the Sox, might just consider moving across town to finish his career. It would be a public-relations masterpiece for the Cubs, who could exploit the outpouring of pro-Fisk sentiment sparked by the Sox's decision.
Once Himes makes out his wish list, he'll have to turn his attention to the Cubs' shaken front office. He refused to rule out hiring Al Goldis, his minor league builder with the White Sox. But Goldis was recently promoted to vice president for scouting and planning with the Milwaukee Brewers.
Frey's role remains unclear, but the fact he'll be based at home in Baltimore signals his duties will be limited at best. Asked to describe his responsibilities, Frey looked toward Himes and said, "Ask him."
Frey, 60, didn't learn of Tribune Co.'s decision until Cook visited him at Wrigley Field Wednesday evening. "It was somewhat of a surprise last night because the recent information had been that they were looking for a president," a disappointed Frey said. "I had a great run here in Chicago. It isn't the greatest day of my life. But going home is never bad."