With one of the highest payrolls but the second-worst record in the National League, the Chicago Cubs fired general manager and vice president Jim Hendry, the team announced Friday.
The actual firing was done July 22, but Hendry wanted to help the team by staying on through the July 31 trading deadline.
"[Team chairman] Tom Ricketts told me July 22," Hendry said during a news conference Friday. "He's a very honest guy and a very classy guy. At that time, we decided it was best for me to stay on. We had a deadline coming up and a lot of draft choices that needed to be signed. I think we both felt that possibly me staying through that gave us the best chance to sign the rest of the players.
"I apologize for not telling anybody sooner, but it may be one of the best-kept secrets in Cubs history. It was a little tough at the end. I was glad we got through and signed all the picks we wanted to. That was good. Those scouts deserved that."
Assistant general manager Randy Bush was named interim general manager, the team announced, but Ricketts said the search will be focused on candidates outside of the organization.
"We didn't win enough games," Ricketts said Friday, before praising Hendry as a baseball man and person. "In a culture of accountability, we need to look at these kinds of results. Secondly, our goal is to win the World Series, and to do that, we have to get better. I just believe that by bringing in new leadership for the baseball organization, we'll get some different perspectives and maybe some different ideas on where to go in the future.
"Nothing that happens today should diminish Jim's great legacy as general manager of the Chicago Cubs. Three division titles during his tenure, and a winning record. We would like to thank him for his great service to the organization during his many, many years."
The Cubs went into the All-Star break 18 games under .500 and that's where they were Friday morning, 18½ games out of the National League Central lead. Much of the attention has focused on Mike Quade, who got the manager's job last October after leading the Cubs to a 24-13 record late last season on an interim basis after Lou Piniella abruptly retired.
"Real tough day," Quade said. "As good a guy as I've worked for in the game and I've worked for a lot of them. I'll miss him a lot, that's for sure."
Asked if he'd thought about his own future, Quade responded: "Nothing. This day is not about me. It's the furthest thing from my mind. Everybody lost a good friend today."
Cubs reliever Kerry Wood, who signed his first major league contract with Hendry and came back to the Cubs before this season, was one of many players who enjoyed a personal relationship with Hendry.
"He's not your prototypical GM," Wood said. "Players respect him and enjoy talking to him, and we feel like we could have gone and talked to him about anything at any time.
"He was that kind of a person. He's a great person, he did a lot of great things for this organization and helped turn this organization around. I owe a lot to him."
Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramirez said that Hendry's dismissal was mostly a result of underperforming players.
"We didn't play the way we should have played," Ramirez said. "A lot of veteran guys making a lot of money did not perform like they should have. Somebody has to pay the price. Jim doesn't play, but the bottom line is players have to get it done between the lines and we didn't do it."
Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen tweeted that he'll miss Hendry.
"I will miss you," Guillen tweeted. "Go spend time with ur family enjoy them and I hope you come back sir.
"A great baseball man leave today. Always classy Jim. One of the good guys."
Guillen also credited Hendry for sticking around through the trade deadline and signing draft picks.
"He showed how much class he has to stay with the organization, to help them get better and [help] the organization move on without him," Guillen said. "He's a better man than me. If that happens to me, I get fired, I leave the same day."
Hendry was hired in 1994 as director of player development. He was promoted to scouting director the next season. The 56-year-old Florida native was promoted to general manager in 2002 after serving as assistant to then-president Andy MacPhail.
Under Hendry, the Cubs hired two high-profile managers in Dusty Baker in fall 2002 and Lou Piniella in fall 2006.
The Cubs won division titles in 2003, '07 and '08. The 2003 team came within five outs of going to the team's first World Series since 1945.
The back-to-back playoff berths were the first for the franchise since 1907-08.
Hendry paused several times to compose himself while talking with reporters.
"Not many get to be the GM for nine years without a world championship," said Hendry, who had one year left on his contract. "So I got more than my fair chance to do that. I'm disappointed in myself that we didn't get it done in the first five to seven years when I thought we could. I'm very thankful for the way I've been treated."
Asked about Ricketts, Hendry said: "I think he understood that we probably weren't going to be great the way things were set up. Moving forward there are a lot of huge decisions that have to be made this offseason and I think that if I was the one making them and they all didn't work out, then the person after me would have to wear some of those for longer."
Rumors surfaced earlier in the season that Ricketts had conversations with former Diamondbacks general manager Josh Byrnes.
"The search for a new general manager effectively begins today," Ricketts said. "I will be reaching out over the next few days to industry veterans and people who have been through this situation before to get their thoughts and opinions on what I should be doing and what I should be looking for.
"Those conversations in combination with our own evaluations and analysis will help us narrow down our list of prospective candidates shortly and we'll work diligently to get the right person into the baseball organization as soon as it's practical. I don't have a timeline for that. There's no date set. We'll just play the cards we're dealt in terms of timing and get someone in as fast as we can."
Ricketts said he'll be looking for a candidate with strong player development skills and a winning track record.
"When I look at the candidates, I kind of see a couple of criteria," Ricketts said. "I see No. 1 they'll have to share a commitment to player development, which obviously is the key to consistent success. I think we can look for guys that have a little stronger analytical background than maybe some of the guys we have here. Someone who has worked with some of the new tools, that would be a plus.
"And then someone who's been in a winning culture and who can bring the lessons of that over and has a track record of success. The sabermetric stuff is important, but it's just a piece. We're not running the baseball organization by a computer model. "
Ricketts said the new GM will report directly to him, meaning the team will likely not bring in someone else at the level of team president.
Rumors of discussions with Gillick were shot down by people close to Ricketts a month ago.
Bush, 52, has been the assistant general manager with the Cubs for the past five seasons. He played 12 seasons with the Twins and won two championships (1987 and 1991).
"I would love to stay on in some capacity," Bush said. "I'm very realistic. I understand that the new GM will come in and evaluate who fits where and how it all fits going forward. But this has been a great opportunity for me. I've learned a lot."
Ricketts indicated he would like to retain player development executives Oneri Fleita and Tim Wilken, but said that ultimately will be up to the new general manager.
He also said team president Crane Kenney was doing "a good job" with the business side, and that there is "a really great win-win solution out there" that will spur economic growth as the team tries to secure public funding to renovate Wrigley Field.
Bruce Levine covers baseball for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000. Information from The Associated Press and ESPNChicago.com's Chris Silva contributed to this report.