Rozner: We'll not see the likes of Theo Epstein again

  • Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein takes in the party after Game 7 of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field in Cleveland.

    Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein takes in the party after Game 7 of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field in Cleveland. John Starks | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 11/17/2020 1:24 PM

Sometimes you just get lucky.

It's funny because you wouldn't have previously thought of this franchise as lucky.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

But great fortune smiled on the Cubs when Tom Ricketts waited too long to clean out his front office upon purchasing the club, and at the moment he did, Boston was butchering a fine setup and firing Terry Francona.

Hello, Theo Epstein.

It wasn't that he wanted to leave Boston -- he wouldn't have if Francona hadn't been fired -- and it wasn't that he wanted to move his family to Chicago, but he wanted to keep working in baseball and what better challenge than taking on the clumsiest franchise in sports history?

It says much about who he is that he would want to oversee the transition of the physical plant and the baseball operation from embarrassing circus to model franchise.

It was not a surprise that he did all he promised to do. It was not a surprise that he delivered scores of millions of Cubs fans that World Series championship. It was not a surprise that he took the Cubs from irrelevance and gave the North Side the best stretch of baseball in its history.

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And it is not a surprise that having done so, he is now leaving.

If you were listening each time he spoke of staying here no more than 10 years -- and perhaps less -- then you knew Epstein was down to his final months in Chicago.

Having been around him so much over the years, it was also clear that he appeared more tired of the job than ever, physically and mentally. It doesn't help that a pandemic has cost so many of his friends their jobs, and that the Cubs are about to embark on the alteration of this roster.

With so much uncertainty and much change coming to the North Side, it is an appropriate time to hand the job to Jed Hoyer.

"I would never put myself ahead of the team," Epstein told me in January as we discussed the possibility of so many departures after 2021, including Epstein. "No one wants to run off a cliff. If I thought I was leaving on a certain date, I would be more likely to try to set them up for the future.

"The second I think about myself when it comes to a transaction, I should quit."

Now that he has, what is certain is that we will never see in Chicago sports again the likes of Theo Epstein, simply the best executive in the city's history, a sure Hall of Famer who has delivered to a pair of iconic franchises the World Series that no one else could.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Where he goes from here remains to be seen. Only 46 years old, he will take at least a year away from baseball and then have his pick of jobs if he wants one, but it's entirely possible that he moves into a different line of work.

The Bears could certainly use some help at the top, if he really wants another challenge.

It is also certain that we will never see someone as qualified and complicated as Epstein pass through town, someone with extreme self-awareness who could be so caring on a personal level -- and so cutthroat on a professional level.

Cutthroat, incidentally, in a good way.

It was all about winning for Epstein. It was never about what was good for him or any of his front-office or on-field friends, and the fact that he is giving back his $10 million salary for 2021 is further evidence.

If you think moving on from Joe Maddon was a tough choice in 2019 then you still have a fundamental misunderstanding of Epstein. He's the same guy who went out and got Maddon when he was the best manager available, not hesitating for an instant to fire Rick Renteria at the same time.

Cruel? Perhaps. Necessary? Absolutely.

Maddon took the Cubs from Point B to Point C -- and then almost blew it.

And if the Cubs had not overcome Maddon's absurd managing in the 2016 World Series, Epstein would not have hesitated to fire Maddon within days of giving away a championship.

That team would have never forgiven Maddon and Epstein would have never forced that group to play for him again.

That's what makes Epstein so complicated. Wise beyond his years and with a compassion for others rarely seen in sports, but entirely uncompromising when it came to winning. It was with singular purpose that he awoke each day in Chicago.

It was always about winning. For generations of Cubs fans who waited for someone to save them from a century of incompetence, it was a remarkable nine years.

He never took the easy route because each decision was based on what was best for the franchise, so regardless of what you might think today, never forget the many times you promised to sell your soul for just one title.

What no one else could do for 108 years, Theo Epstein did. He gave you what you prayed for, and the party you had that night and in the days after -- when you looked up at the stars and cried -- was a result of his brilliance.

All you need do now is say, "Thank you." You may also wish Epstein good luck in whatever he tackles next. It is the polite thing to do.

But as smart a human who has ever sat in that baseball chair at Wrigley Field, the truth is he has never needed gratitude or luck.

Theo Epstein already has all that he needs to get it done.

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