Ghost of Zimmer lurks, Essian arrives

May 23, 1991|By Bill Verigan | Bill Verigan,New York Daily News

NEW YORK -- The trio seemed uncomfortable sitting at the same table yesterday afternoon in the New York Jets' old locker room.

The threesome, from left to right, was Chicago Cubs general manager Jim Frey, newly named manager Jim Essian and president Don Grenesko. And the invisible presence of recently fired Don Zimmer lurked behind them.

Frey was anxious to get the microphones working, so he could say his few obligatory words and get on with more pleasant tasks.

Essian hurried through answers to the reporters' questions as quickly as possible without seeming rude.

And Grenesko, the neat suit that the Tribune Co. took out of its accounting department and put in charge of the baseball franchise, said nothing at all.

Grenesko was the one who had set up this little get-together. He was waiting when the Cubs arrived in New York Monday.

Last place did not fit the Tribune's corporate image for the Cubs, especially after all the money spent during the offseason in the free-agent market. It was Grenesko's decision to get rid of Zimmer.

When Frey realized he couldn't keep his old playground buddy around as manager, choosing an alternative was not difficult.

Frey quickly rejected the usual suspects, the men who had managed before in the majors. After the firing, Frey said there were several candidates for the job, and he politely listened to suggestions.

But Frey confessed that Davey Johnson, Whitey Herzog, et al. were never in the picture.

"Sometimes you can take the easy way out and get a name guy," he said. "But a name guy at what stage of his career? I wanted to take a guy from inside the organization. Jim Essian has the necessary qualities."

Essian, 40, who said he was "thrilled" to be chosen, was the only real possibility. He is no threat to Frey, and he can also work well with the players. He coached 15 of the Cubs' 28 players in the minor leagues, and they finished first a couple of times.

A big-league player for more than 10 seasons, Essian began his managerial career with the Cubs' Single A team in Miami, and worked his way up to Triple A Iowa in 1990. Iowa was second that season, first last season and first again this year with a 22-14 record.

Frey liked it that Essian once played the game. And he also liked knowing that Essian earned his advancements the hard way -- by winning.

There will be changes in the Cubs. Zimmer enjoyed taking risks; Essian is "ultra conservative," according to his players. One suggested that as a former catcher, Essian would handle the pitching staff better.

But there was also the feeling that their failure to produce had resulted in the change.

Mark Grace, who played for both, said, "I think Don Zimmer did a great job with young players, especially me. I wouldn't have been in the big leagues if it weren't for him.

"But Jim Essian also knows our club and we know him. Winning is everything to him. But he also wants players to have fun and cares about them."

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