Curses aside, Epstein embraces Cubs challenge
It's not so much the two World Series champion teams he built as general manager with the Boston Red Sox that makes Theo Epstein such an exceptional fit with the Cubs.
It's not the nine winning records in nine seasons as the Red Sox' GM, including six postseason appearances.
It's not Epstein's proven knack for blending old-school scouting with new-era computer analysis.
It's not his ability to surround himself with equally capable talent in the front office while assembling rosters loaded with productive veterans and emerging young talent.
They are all admirable qualities, without a doubt.
But one specific trait makes Epstein's name jump off the page for the Cubs -- he can conquer the curse.
Don't believe in the Cubs' Curse of the Billy Goat? Don't believe a fan named Steve Bartman had something to do with the Cubs' stunning loss to the Florida Marlins in the 2003 National League championship series?
Don't believe in black cats, Brant Brown or the lore of Leon Durham?
Epstein doesn't either, most likely because he overcame similar demons while the Red Sox won two Fall Classics under his watch.
"I don't believe in curses," Epstein said Tuesday at Wrigley Field after being introduced as Cubs president of baseball operations. "I guess I kind of played a small part in helping prove they don't exist from a baseball standpoint.
"But I do believe that you can be honest and upfront about the fact that certain organizations haven't gotten the job done, haven't won the World Series in a long time."
The Cubs haven't won the World Series for 103 years, the longest title drought in professional sports.
Curses are foolish, right? I always thought so, until I walked into a freaked-out Cubs clubhouse after the Bartman game and began thinking otherwise.
When the Yale-educated Epstein took over as Boston's GM after the 2002 season, the Red Sox were dealing with the Curse of the Bambino, Boston's infamous selling of Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees in 1920.
Then there was Bucky Dent's stunning home run that beat the Red Sox in the 1978 tiebreaker and Bill Buckner's colossal error in the 1986 World Series.
Epstein said he never dwelled on the tainted history when he became Boston's GM.
"It wasn't a curse; it was just the fact we hadn't gotten the job done," Epstein said. "We identified several things that the franchise had done historically that probably got in the way of winning a World Series.
"We went about how to eradicate those. That will be part of the process here."
The process started Tuesday, with the 37-year-old Epstein clearly becoming the new face of the Cubs.
Agreeing to a five-year contract worth a reported $18.5 million, Epstein is expected to hire San Diego Padres general manager Jed Hoyer as Cubs GM. The two worked together in Boston for eight years.
Hoyer reportedly is bringing Padres assistant GM Jason McLeod with him from San Diego. McLeod also got his start in baseball with Epstein in Boston.
"When I got to Boston, they hadn't won in 86 years," Epstein said. "We didn't run from that challenge. We embraced it.
"We decided the way to attack it was to build the best baseball operation that we could, try to establish a winning culture, to work as hard as possible and to bring in players who care more about each other and more about winning than the people around them thought or the external expectations, the external mindset.
"That's something that is going to be important to us here as well."
While finally bringing a World Series title to long-suffering Cubs fans is his ultimate goal, Epstein admitted that there is much work to do and pleaded for time and patience.
"That does not happen overnight," he said. "And it certainly does not happen because of any one person. Over time and together, we will build a solid foundation that delivers sustained success for the Cubs."
And how will Epstein rebuild a Cubs team that has finished fifth in the NL Central in consecutive seasons while losing 178 games?
He did draft and develop talented Red Sox players such as Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and Jacoby Ellsbury. But Epstein also was permitted to spend lavishly on players such as Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, John Lackey and David Ortiz.
For now, it sounds like the Cubs' new baseball boss will concentrate on working younger players into the major-league mix.
"As far as player development goes, we will define and implement a 'Cubs Way' of playing the game," Epstein said. "We won't rest until there is a steady stream of talent coming through the minor-league system, trained in that 'Cubs Way' and making an impact out here at Wrigley Field."