Red Sox Nation: Theo Deserves Your Praise, Not Your Scorn!
Thursday, June 14, 2012
Friday night in Chicago, two of baseball’s most storied franchises who play in two of baseball’s most historic and beloved ballparks open up a 3-game weekend series. But the focus this weekend won’t necessarily be on the field. Instead, it will be on the front office - particularly that of the Chicago Cubs and their new president Theo Epstein.
Yes, it wasn’t too long ago that the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs shared similar histories. Both franchises play in historic, quaint ballparks. Both have passionate fan bases. And, despite having many great players wear their respective uniforms over the years, both franchises seemed cursed suffering championship droughts that lasted for decades.
But 2004 and 2007 changed things for one of the two franchises. The Red Sox, under new GM Theo Epstein, won a pair of world championships exorcising 86 years of demons and unpleasant memories like Bucky Dent and Bill Buckner.
For the Cubs, the championship drought continues. In fact, more than a century has passed since the Cubbies won their last World Series back in 1908.
Enter Theo Epstein.
In 2003, Epstein joined the Red Sox front office with hopes of building a franchise that could not only compete for, but also win world championships. Mission accomplished.
Now he has been handed the same assignment in Chicago where the Cubs are a lot further away from winning baseball’s holy grail than Boston was 9 years ago.
Why Epstein left Boston isn’t necessarily a mystery. There had been a fair amount of discord between the former Sox’ GM and team president Larry Lucchino who seemed to bristle at the accolades the young Ivy Leaguer received for Boston’s success.
That, ultimately, led to Epstein’s departure, but there were some other factors as well.
First off, there was the challenge of doing for the Cubs and their fans what he did for Red Sox Nation – help deliver a highly sought after and extremely elusive championship. But that wasn’t the only reason he left the Red Sox.
Epstein made it clear when he took over in Boston that he wanted to make the franchise a “drafting and developmental machine.” He was all about identifying young talent, cultivating it and making it the backbone or nucleus of the franchise.
This week, Theo talked to both sports radio stations in Boston and the Boston Globe and he admitted to both of them that he and the franchise seemed to get away from that mentality in his final few seasons in Boston. He talked about the fact that “bigger business” got in the way of their idea of staying the course and led them down the road of free agency where they ultimately had some big swings and misses.
Which leads us to this weekend’s series where the spotlight is squarely on Theo. While the honeymoon is just beginning in Chicago, Epstein’s legacy is debated quite frequently here in New England and I would argue, wrongfully so.
As this 2012 edition of the Red Sox continues to struggle with mediocrity, many in Red Sox Nation are pointing the finger of blame at Theo for the mess the team is in.
After all, it was Epstein who was in charge when the team signed Carl Crawford to a $142 million contract. He also inked John Lackey to an $82.5 million dollar deal. He was behind the team’s acquisition of Diasuke Matsuzaka and the $52 million posting fee it took to get him from Japan and the additional $52 million that was spent to sign him. Let’s also not forget that he traded for the now struggling Adrian Gonzalez whom he inked to a $154 million dollar deal. And we won’t even mention the horrendous contracts given to the likes of Bobby Jenks, JD Drew, Julio Lugo and Edgar Renteria.
That certainly appears to be enough ammo to take any general manager down. When you add up all of the money invested in those players and compare it to the returns received from each individual, it’s astonishingly bad.
But to focus simply on that would be ignoring the bigger picture.
In Epstein’s 9 seasons with the Red Sox, the team averaged 94 wins. Boston made the playoffs 6 times. And he delivered on his promise to draft and develop talent with players like Dustin Pedroia, Will Middlebrooks, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jonathan Papelbon, Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester just a few of his success stories.
Most importantly, Epstein accepted the Red Sox GM’s post in 2003 knowing that he had one responsibility: to deliver a world championship to a long-suffering fan base. Epstein not only did that, he did it twice!
His detractors will have you believe that it was his predecessor Dan Duquette who laid the foundation for Boston’s first championship of the decade in 2004. There was Manny Ramirez, Pedro Martinez, Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe. They were all Duquette’s guys.
But that team would not have been able to compete for or win a world championship without the many key additions of Theo Epstein. Theo acquired Curt Schilling, Keith Foulke, Kevin Millar, Bill Mueller and Dave Roberts. Let’s also not forget that he made a very bold (and unpopular) move prior to the trading deadline shipping Nomar Garciaparra out of town for fellow shortstop Orlando Cabrera, a move which turned out to be a great one! And do I even have to remind you that it was Theo who picked up David Ortiz off of the scrapheap and brought him to Boston? Without Big Papi, there is no 2004 ALCS comeback against the Yankees.
Yes, Epstein did not fare well in free agency while in Boston. He wasted a lot of John Henry’s money on some bad players. But such is the nature of the business that he is in. When you’re a general manager in any professional sport, you will have many “hits,” just as you will invariably have many “misses.”
And the bottom line is that the Red Sox were as interesting and competitive a franchise as there was in all of Major League Baseball from 2003-2011. AND, they won two world championships.
The defense rests, your honor!