Theo Epstein revisits Red Sox free agency, Cubs’ drought and this ...
BY GORDON WITTENMYER Twitter: @GDubCub June 14, 2012 4:14PM
Chicago Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein, pictured on Nov. 1, 2011 in Chicago. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times
Updated: June 14, 2012 11:51PM
New Cubs president Theo Epstein has been in high demand back home in Boston in recent days as his old Red Sox team descends upon Wrigley Field for a three-game series this weekend against his new team – both clubs re-living the more inglorious parts of their storied traditions as both open the series in last place.
The still-youngish executive who brought Boston two championships after a near-nine-decade drought – but left a more recent legacy of bad free-agency spending on the Sox books – talked to Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy for a story that ran Thursday.
Among the topics were the Sun-Times’ back page in April featuring Epstein walking atop Lake Michigan, the draw of the century-long drought in Chicago and the bad contracts he left behind for successor Ben Cherington to deal with.
Excerpted from the Globe:
Q. The Chicago Sun-Times ran a cover photo of you walking across Lake Michigan Opening Day. Your thoughts on that?
A. “Beyond ridiculous. It reinforced the lesson that needed no reinforcement, which is that you can’t attach any meaning to it. It’s so obviously setting one up to fail in every possible way. When people you don’t know say nice things about you, if you allow yourself, even subconsciously, to attach a shred of meaning to it, when the opposite happens, when people you don’t know say bad things about you, you can’t attach that same meaning. To be human and live the life you want to live, you have to protect yourself and be completely removed from that type of stuff, so it didn’t really bother me.’’
Q. Was the Cubs’ drought part of what drew you to Chicago?
A. “Yes. The challenge is a primary part of the draw, and the fact that it was a challenge with great meaning. After you work somewhere like the Red Sox, it’s really hard to go to - insert generic franchise here. That was one of the coolest parts of working for the Red Sox. What we were doing mattered in a very personal way to so many people. Had I gone someplace where that didn’t exist, there would have been a feeling of great loss. Clearly, this is one place where I can replicate that feeling, and it’s a great part of the daily motivation.’’
Q. Were you actually working out of the Red Sox offices for a while after you took the job with the Cubs?
A. “Yes, from time to time. I was working for the Cubs. I didn’t ask the suits upstairs. It was for a month or so. We had a nice insulated environment down in the basement. There were times I needed a computer, or to print something out, or to make a few calls. I’d be in the area and I’d pop in and say hi to everyone and there was an empty office and I’d say, ‘Do you mind if I make a few calls in there?’ ’’
Q. Do you feel the bad signings at the end damaged your legacy here?
A. “That’s fine. I’ve always admired people who can live more in the moment, who experience life genuinely and organically and aren’t concerned about these things that only exist on paper or in theory. So I try to live up to that, to not be concerned about my own legacy and just to relish the experience that I had.
“I had an incredible decade there, personally. I enjoyed almost all of it. I am really proud of a lot of the things that we accomplished. I know that the people I worked really closely with changed that franchise in a very meaningful way for the better. We left it way better than we found it and played a small part in creating baseball history. So I’m proud of what happened there. I really enjoyed it.
“I think legacies and history books are usually written by those who are still there, not by people who move on, so I’m not going to concern myself with it.’’
Q. But you are the one blamed for Lackey and Crawford.
A. “I think so. In 10 years, you’re going to have misses. I do think this. I think taking a step back, if you take a look at what our baseball group was best at, we were best at drafting and developing young talent and finding some undervalued players. I think we were the best drafting team of the decade and all that. That’s a very patient, organic approach. Pure . . .
“We joked about it all the time in the front office. We’d say, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we could just say, screw free agency altogether. We’re going with a purely home-grown lineup. We’re going with old-school, Branch Rickey-style, pre-free agency, pre-draft whatever?’
“Middlebrooks at third, Lowrie or Iglesias at short, Pedroia at second, Rizzo at first, Lavarnway catching, Ellsbury in center, Reddick in right, Kalish in left. Wouldn’t that have been fun?
“We kind of clung to that in the back of our minds, knowing it was impossible, recognizing that there was an inherent tension between that approach and bigger business. I kind of kick myself for letting my guard down and giving into it, because that might be a better team in some ways and resonate more with the fans than what we ended up with.
“When you make a mistake in the draft, you just keep drafting. You keep finding another player to develop. When you make a mistake in free agency, you’re stuck with it for the duration of the deal and it can be a real impediment.
“Do I feel bad about that? I really do. But in my mind, it doesn’t take away from everything we accomplished and what we established there. Look at last year’s draft, for example. What’s the lasting impact? What [Matt] Barnes and [Jackie] Bradley are doing down below, and that’s going to impact the franchise in a great way. So that’s my answer for the arc of the career.’’