CHICAGO — Theo Epstein has been gone from Boston for eight months now. But it seems so much longer. The Sox have a new GM, a new manager and have already used nearly a dozen players that he had nothing to do with acquiring.
Watching Epstein walk around Wrigley Field Friday afternoon left me wondering what people will remember about him in Boston 10, 20 or 50 years from now.
It will be nothing like it is now. Epstein left the Sox with a year remaining on his deal following the historic September collapse of a team he assembled and the firing of a well-liked manager. That he bailed out two weeks after Terry Francona was let go amid reports of player insurrection looked terrible.
Had the Red Sox, say, made the ALCS and Epstein announced he wanted a new challenge and was going to the Cubs, people would have applauded. We all have a right to choose our path in life, after all. Who among us hasn’t changed jobs?
But because he ducked out in a time of crisis, Epstein set himself up for criticism in his hometown. He was an easy target and everybody took swipes, myself included. You mean you’re leaving the party and we have to clean up? Thanks a bunch.
Even now, mentioning Epstein in a blog post or on Twitter generates negative comments. Everybody wants to bring up his showering money on John Lackey, not finding David Ortiz for $1.2 million or luring Curt Schilling to Boston.
(Sorry, Rhode Island taxpayers. But you get the point.)
In their heads, smart fans know and probably appreciate what Epstein did. But in their hearts, his departure still stings.
None of that will matter in 2022, 2032 or 2062. Baseball historians will see Epstein as Boston’s Branch Rickey, an executive ahead of his time who did what had to be done to turn a long-suffering franchise into a winner. He manipulated the draft to a point where MLB changed the rules. He turned the non-tender market from a salvage yard into a resource and helped further the advancement of statistical analysis.
He didn’t dump the Red Sox for a cushy gig with a ready-to-win team. He took on the woebegone Cubs, a team with a lousy roster and a farm system largely bereft of talent. If they win a Series, Epstein will be in the Hall of Fame.
Epstein also is changing how baseball values executives. He has a deal for five years and $18.5 million. That’s considered extravagant in the game right now but that will change over time if Epstein turns the Cubs into winner.
Look at this way: $3.7 million a year can get a team a backup outfielder or an executive who will make dozens of decisions a week that influence the future of the organization. What’s more valuable?
Apple didn’t pay the guy running the store at South Shore Plaza more than Steve Jobs. But most baseball teams hire decision-makers on the cheap.
Anyway, Boston doesn’t owe Epstein a statue. But the statute of limitations on complaints has expired. Wish him well in Chicago.
As to other thoughts:
• The fans at Wrigley Field sing a goofy song (“Go Cubs Go”) only when the team wins. Hmmm, now there’s an idea with merit.
• You would laugh at the visitor’s clubhouse at Wrigley Field. Picture a house trailer, only a little smaller, crammed with 25 players, assorted coaches, trainers and even a few reporters. Andrew Miller ate his breakfast Friday while sitting on a bucket with his plate on a box.
• It would make for great television if Francona really said what he was thinking on ESPN Sunday night.
• The Red Sox would have to go 59-39 to win 90 games. That’s .602 baseball for roughly 3 1/2 months. Right now, that’s hard to imagine.
• Kevin Youkilis is struggling. But there were a bunch of kids lined up near the Sox dugout on Friday and he was one of the few players to sign for then. So good for him.
• Pitching coach Bob McClure hasn’t been with the team since June 7. He has missed seven games attending to an illness in his family.
• The Red Sox should promote Ryan Kalish the day he is eligible.
• The Red Sox made a big deal about the state-of-the-art medical facilities at their new complex in Fort Myers. So why are so many players on the disabled list traveling with the team?
• Fenway Park is wedged between businesses on all four sides. But Wrigley is part of a residential neighborhood in Chicago. There are apartment buildings just across the street from center field and walking up to the park means passing folks going to do laundry or unchaining their bikes from a street sign. It’s like nowhere else in baseball.
I took this photo from the “L” tracks last night:
If you ever get a chance, go catch a game there. It’s baseball without all the nonsense.