McDonough resigns from Cubs, joins Blackhawks as president
CHICAGO -- John McDonough's job title stays the same. By moving just a few miles across town, though, he's got a new team to run in an entirely different sport.
McDonough resigned Tuesday as president of the Chicago Cubs -- a team that is up for sale -- to take a similar position with the Chicago Blackhawks, who offered him a multiyear contract he couldn't pass up.
"I do see parallels. We have a lot of work to do," McDonough said.
The most striking similarity is long championship droughts. The Cubs haven't won a World Series since 1908, and the Blackhawks haven't captured the Stanley Cup since 1961.
But while the Cubs pack Wrigley Field, the Blackhawks have been plagued by dwindling attendance and poor play for nearly a decade. Last year, the Blackhawks missed the playoffs for the eighth time in nine seasons.
The team is undergoing a facelift both on and off the ice. General manager Dale Tallon is building a young club, featuring 19-year-old Patrick Kane, the first pick in the 2007 draft. And chairman Rocky Wirtz is making numerous changes to the corporate structure, following the death of his father, William Wirtz, in September.
The younger Wirtz reassigned longtime vice president Bob Pulford, and also worked out a deal to have several home games televised this season -- something his father steadfastly refused to do. Now he's hired McDonough.
"I can think of nothing better than the Chicago Blackhawks winning the Stanley Cup and putting 21,000 people in there every night," McDonough said. "I think that would be a good start."
Blackhawks Hall of Famer Denis Savard, who is now the team's coach, said McDonough's transition to hockey from baseball should be eased by his long list of contacts in Chicago.
He quickly pointed out that even though the Cubs are an institution in Chicago, so are the Blackhawks, one of the NHL's original franchises.
"We've been around hockey a long time, and we've got a product out there that's good," Savard said.
And McDonough knows a little something about selling a team. He joined the Cubs in 1983 and spent most of his career in marketing -- he started the trend of sports teams giving away Beanie Babies.
He took over as Cubs president Oct. 1 last year after Andy MacPhail resigned, and made it his goal to get the team in the World Series. The Cubs spent $300 million in the offseason and did make the playoffs, but were eliminated in a first-round sweep.
"I want the Cubs to win the World Series," McDonough said. "I left there today, and it was a difficult thing to do."
The Cubs' uncertain future was a factor in his decision, McDonough said. The Tribune Co. is being sold to an entity controlled by Sam Zell, who is expected to sell the franchise.
"It played a role," McDonough said. "But this was the right opportunity at the right time."
Crane Kenney, the Tribune Co. executive responsible for the Cubs the last five years, said the Blackhawks offered McDonough a six-year deal -- a five-year contract with an option for a sixth year. With the Cubs up for sale, Kenney said the Cubs were not in position to do a long-term deal.
"With the expected change in ownership, the president's role is the privilege of the new owner," Kenney said. "Certainly an offer of that length wasn't something that we could commit to anyone, given the likely change of ownership.
"We didn't want to lose John, yet we do understand that there are times when offers are made that are too good to refuse."
As for the direction of the Cubs, Kenney and Cubs general manager Jim Hendry stressed it would be business as usual in the offseason as Chicago pursues players. Kenney said the payroll would rise from last season's $110 million.
Hendry isn't worried about his job security.
"I feel very comfortable where I'm at. There's not another job that I would take other than the GM of the Chicago Cubs," said Hendry, who is under contract through next season. "I can't control who will own the ballclub down the road nor will I worry one second about that. Hopefully, the new owner will want me to be GM for a long time."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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