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updated: 10/24/2011 7:32 PM

Patience key as Cubs' Epstein era begins

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  • FILE- This Dec. 12, 2005, file photo, shows Boston Red Sox co-general manager Ben Cherington, left, and co-general manager Jed Hoyer, right, during their three month tenure as shared general manager during a news conference at Fenway Park in Boston. Cherington is expected to be promoted on Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2011, when the Red Sox have scheduled a news conference to introduce Theo Epstein's replacement. Epstein resigned from Boston to take over as president of baseball operations for the Chicago Cubs on Friday, and the teams said they would hold off on more announcements out of respect for the teams in the World Series; Tuesday is the next off-day.

      FILE- This Dec. 12, 2005, file photo, shows Boston Red Sox co-general manager Ben Cherington, left, and co-general manager Jed Hoyer, right, during their three month tenure as shared general manager during a news conference at Fenway Park in Boston. Cherington is expected to be promoted on Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2011, when the Red Sox have scheduled a news conference to introduce Theo Epstein's replacement. Epstein resigned from Boston to take over as president of baseball operations for the Chicago Cubs on Friday, and the teams said they would hold off on more announcements out of respect for the teams in the World Series; Tuesday is the next off-day.
    Associated Press

  • FILE- This July 21, 2010, file photo, shows former Boston Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein before a baseball game against the Oakland Athletics in Oakland, Calif. The Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs jointly announced Friday evening, Oct. 21, 2011, that effective immediately, Epstein has resigned from the Red Sox in order to become the new president of baseball operations for the Cubs.

      FILE- This July 21, 2010, file photo, shows former Boston Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein before a baseball game against the Oakland Athletics in Oakland, Calif. The Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs jointly announced Friday evening, Oct. 21, 2011, that effective immediately, Epstein has resigned from the Red Sox in order to become the new president of baseball operations for the Cubs.
    Associated Press

 
 

The job of general manager is relatively miserable in any sport.

It's a 24/7 position that is essentially thankless unless your team wins the very last game of the season.

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And baseball is the worst. The season can run as long as eight months, not that it matters because there is no off-season.

It turns young men old and their hair gray -- if they don't lose it entirely.

So after nine years on the job, Theo Epstein has figured out that by having someone under him to run the day-to-day operation and handle the fans and media, he's going to live longer.

It doesn't mean he wants to win any less. It simply means he'd like to be with his family every now and then and sleep a little more at night.

So here comes Boy Wonder II, five years after Andy MacPhail departed Chicago having been the original Boy Wonder and just the latest in a very long line of those who failed to bring a World Series title to the North Side.

MacPhail's intentions were genuine, but in his lust to win he lost his way.

Cubs fans are lighting candles in hopes that Epstein doesn't also fall victim to temptation.

Regardless, in the process Epstein will build a baseball infrastructure severely lacking at Wrigley Field and -- in theory -- put in place a process by which the Cubs should be able to compete yearly.

The numbers he so religiously studies will tell him that Wrigley Field is really two ballparks, with the wind blowing in some days, blowing out others, and occasionally both.

He will know that his team must be flexible, that he needs left-handed power, more OPS, better defense and speed in the outfield and on the bases.

But the one thing that thrives regardless of the conditions is pitching.

"We never had a great offense in Atlanta,'' Greg Maddux reminds us. "But we pitched every year and we played defense every year. It's not really that complicated.

"You need starting pitching. You get that and you have a chance every year.''

One would assume this is something Epstein already knows, though having a 355-game winner remind you is not a bad thing.

So Epstein and Jed Hoyer begin their task Tuesday, knowing history is not on their side but the odds very much with them.

If they take their time and do it right, they'll put in place the right kind of organization, and a few years from now they'll be in a position to compete every season, make the playoffs with some consistency, and then the odds say they will win a World Series at some point in the next decade.

But to think Epstein is a savior or some unparalleled genius who's going to reinvent the game is absurd.

He's been a good GM, but susceptible to all the same mistakes that GMs make.

He has made some great trades and free-agent signings, and he has made some terrible trades and free-agent signings.

When he became the youngest GM in history at 28 in November 2002, the Red Sox already had in place Pedro Martinez, Manny Ramirez, Jason Varitek, Johnny Damon, Derek Lowe and a team that won 93 games in 2002.

They had averaged 89 victories the previous five seasons and been to the playoffs twice, but Epstein turned it into a team that won two World Series in his first five years on the job.

He believes in keeping his draft picks and collecting more, and then holding on to his selections and letting them develop, but when he needs the missing pieces he is as aggressive as necessary to get what he wants.

The greatest example is one for the baseball books, and its legend is as fair as the move was bold.

With Hoyer as his assistant, Epstein and Hoyer nearly moved into Curt Schilling's home on Thanksgiving weekend 2003 and didn't leave until Schilling and his bloody sock had accepted a trade to Boston.

The rest, as they say, is baseball history.

The Cubs, of course, are nowhere near that position, having averaged 76 wins the last three years with 71 victories in 2011.

They have a mountain to climb and are starting from near scratch, with neither the gear nor the support system to begin their trek.

They will need time, and Tom Ricketts intends to give them plenty of money to make it happen.

The future appears quite bright, but patience is the theme of the day, and Cubs fans have time before they need to run out and buy shades.

brozner@dailyherald.com

•Hear Barry Rozner on WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.

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