MESA, Ariz. -- Ernie Banks, Ron Santo and Billy Williams are terrific, but when Cubs general manager Jim Hendry lists his holy trinity of sports icons, it begins and ends with Johnny Unitas, Willie Mays and Muhammad Ali.
The Golden Arm. Say Hey. The Greatest. They were the sun, the moon and the stars when Hendry was a sport-crazed kid growing up in Dunedin, Fla., in the 1960s.
On the wall of his Wrigley Field office, Hendry has a photograph of Ali that he snapped in 1978, shortly after the Champ beat Leon Spinks in New Orleans. Ali even signed a copy of that day's Times-Picayune newspaper for him to keep as a souvenir.
"I was an Ali nut my whole life,'' Hendry says. "I got into a lot of fights [defending] him at a young age.''
Like his hero, Hendry isn't afraid to lead with his chin.
It happened recently in Mesa after former Cubs outfielder Milton Bradley made waves on ESPN, blaming the atmosphere in Chicago and unreasonably high expectations for his lack of production in 2009. While manager Lou Piniella remained statesmanlike and above the fray, Hendry emerged from the home dugout at Hohokam Stadium and conducted a clinic in hand-to-hand combat.