Theo backed up his first words
Tomorrow, Theo Epstein starts Chapter 2 as a Major League general manager, leaving quite a legacy behind in Boston as he takes over as President of Baseball Operations for the Chicago Cubs.
When Epstein took over, we knew he was young and smart. Did we know he’d be able to lead the Red Sox to their first two championships since 1918? How could anybody know that?
I thought this would be as good a time as any to go back to what Epstein said at his initial press conference on Nov. 25, 2002, when he was promoted in the very same room — back then it was the .406 club, now it’s the State Street Pavilion — where Ben Cherington will get his coronation tomorrow. It’s equally fun to go back and listen to what the Red Sox said about Epstein the day they formally gave him the job.
Why did the Sox select Epstein as their GM when Billy Beane turned the job down?
“We’ve selected him for his intellect; we’ve selected him for his character. We’ve selected him for his passion for baseball, his knowledge and history and passion for the Red Sox,” said Larry Lucchino almost nine years ago. “For the breadth of his work experience. And for the ability to bring people together and work together in new and innovative ways. We think Theo Epstein has a chance to be an outstanding long-term general manager of the Red Sox.”
Yes, six postseason berths, four LCS’s and two championships over nine years could be classified as an “outstanding long-term general manager of the Red Sox.”
So why did John Henry think Theo was the guy?
“He has been a constant source of ideas, energy and intelligence for us since he came home to Boston,” Henry said on Nov. 25, 2002. “He joins a select group of young and highly talented general managers in today’s game who are revolutionizing baseball. We believe he will excel from day one.”
Well, pretty much. Epstein put together a formidable team in that winter of ’02-03 and the Red Sox nearly made it to the World Series in his first season.
Epstein, thinking of people like Ben Cherington and Jed Hoyer no doubt, promised he would not reach his goals alone.
“But no one person is going to turn the Red Sox into a world championship organization,” said Epstein. “It’s going to happen, but it’s going to be a group effort. It’s going to be through collective hard work and through our collective wisdom. Our short-term goal is to win and win a World Series, and that starts with getting to the postseason. So if you need to write down what our goal is for 2003, it’s to make the postseason.”
Short term goals were all reached.
What would his style be?
“My management style is to solicit opinions of those around me, those older and wiser,” said Epstein. “Hear not only what they have to say, but why. I want to hear why you have your opinions. As Chuck Tanner said, baseball is an opinion. We’re going to turn every issue over and over again. At the appropriate time, I’ll step in and act.”
At first, Epstein relied heavily on the late Bill Lajoie. In later years, he trusted Allard Baird and others greatly. Epstein never tried to act as if he was acting all on his own will.
“Our first organizational goal is winning and winning soon,” said Epstein. “Our second organizational goal is creating an atmosphere where we can sustain that type of competitiveness and that type of success long term.
If not for a barrage of injuries in 2010 and a historic collapse this time, Epstein’s regime could have been eight postseason appearances in nine years. Either way, his team was competitive and had success long term.
How was Epstein going to back up these big words?
“How do we create this environment where we’re going to sustain competitiveness and success? We’re going to turn the Red Sox into a scouting and player development machine. Every time I say this around the office, we all get excited because the sky is the limit. I’ll say it again, we’re going to become a scouting and player development machine,” Epstein said. “That means we’re going to draft exceptionally well. We’re going to sign our players. We’re going to have an idea on what kind of players we’re going to develop. We’re going to get to a point where every year great young players are coming up through the system into the Major Leagues, giving us flexibility and talent.”
Jonathan Papelbon. Dustin Pedroia. Jacoby Ellsbury. Clay Buchholz. Daniel Bard. Justin Masterson. Casey Kelly, Reymond Fuentes and Anthony Rizzo turned into Adrian Gonzalez. Ah yes, a scouting and player development machine.
“Once we reach that point, we’ll have created that player development and scouting machine. We have a chance to win in 2003, and win it all. If we build the scouting and player development machine, we’ll have an opportunity to say that every year.”
There wasn’t one year in Epstein’s tenure where you could look at the Red Sox in Spring Training and not have a legitimate chance to win a World Series.
And finally some closing thoughts from Larry Lucchino nine years ago.
“This is no longer your father’s Oldsmobile, to borrow from that commercial,” Lucchino said. “The Red Sox are determined to do new and innovative things to work with new approaches, to use new people, to push the envelope, so to speak, for baseball. We will do so while blending into that mix the reverence, respect and traditions and history of the Red Sox and baseball. He is a very strong-willed and independently willed person. Anybody who knows him will tell you that.”
Tomorrow, Epstein will give his mission statement in Chicago. Three hours later, Cherington will give his at Fenway.