Theo Epstein discusses what would — and would not — have kept him in Boston
|10.25.11 at 2:22 pm ET|
CHICAGO — After the press conference introducing Theo Epstein as the new President of Baseball Operations with the Cubs, the former Red Sox GM took some time to take stock of issues related to his former club. A few early highlights, with more to come.
–Epstein described the difficult end to the 2011 campaign with the Red Sox, and the aftermath that has featured revelations about clubhouse dysfunction and in-game beer-drinking.
“That was really hard, for a number of different reasons. One, as I sat back and envisioned what my transition from the Red Sox might be, I thought it would smell more like champagne than beer, I guess you would say,” said Epstein. “Some of what’s out there is accurate. But there was a lot of exaggeration, too. This was not a team-wide, there were not team-wide indulgences. There was not team-wide apathy. There were some things that happened that should never happen in a big league clubhouse, and ultimately, I’m the person who’s responsible. … No one said a word about these things during the season. If it had been as widespread as everyone was saying, I hope you guys would have reported it and I hope I would have known about it.
“Look, we win two more games in September and none of these issues come to the fore — the same way that in 2004, when we won the World Series, no one looked deeper at some crazy things that were happening in the clubhouse. … It’s something that we’re taking responsibility for, that we’re all going to learn from. I’m going to take some of the lessons that I learned in September going forward to the Cubs. Ben [Cherington] is going to take some of the lessons he learned and apply them going forward to the Red Sox.
“Our players have been, this has almost been a bit of a witch hunt in recent weeks. It’s what happens when you don’t make the playoffs in these types of circumstances. I feel bad for many of them, who I know were professional, worked really hard, cared about each other and cared about the organization.”
Asked about the lessons to draw, Epstein said, “From a front-office perspective, the high standards that we have have to be reinforced by a very active, hands-on management. Even over time, with a stable coaching staff and one manager who has been fantastic and in place for a long time, you can’t ever defer and stay out of the clubhouse because you want to get out of the way. I think there has to be active, hands-on management in concert with the manager to lead the organization and make sure the standards that we set for the organization as a whole are being lived up to.”
–Epstein said that the calamitous end to the 2011 season made it difficult, initially, for him to make any determinations about his future. However, he was able to detach himself with some effort to make the decision about his future.
“The season ended so suddenly, so emotionally, and the next day I was with ownership and dealing with the Terry Francona situation, that it left me in a very emotional state. At least I recognized that,” said Epstein. “I had to step back. I took about 72 hours to remove myself from the emotion of the situation, remove myself from the immediacy of what had happened, and force myself to think about my priorities, the big picture about the Red Sox, the big picture about my future, reconnect with some principles that have always been important to me as I plotted my life and my career. That allowed me to make a more objective, I think well-reasoned decision.”
–Epstein raved about his successor as Red Sox GM, Ben Cherington. The two have worked closely since 2002, when Epstein was hired from San Diego as an Assistant GM and Cherington was brought into the Red Sox front office after serving as a scout.
“Ben is more qualified than anyone in the game to take this job over,” Epstein said. “I know I’m biased, because I’m a close, loyal friend, but he is really the best guy for the job.”
The two met when Cherington came in from a scouting assignment. He’d worked as an area and international scout, then came back from a roadtrip as the major league advance scout when the two had a chance to discuss their organizational philosophies during the 2002 season.
“I realized we need this guy impacting the bigger picture of the organization,” said Epstein. “So we moved him over to player development. He went on to become the farm director. He was as responsible as anybody for the great things that have happened in player development for the Red Sox. Then we realized that he would someday be a GM. We created a next step for him where he was in not only player development but also amateur scouting. He was involved in a couple great drafts. Then, as I realized my time might be coming to an end at some point with the Red Sox, we realized that Ben hadn’t had the exposure to the major league side. The last couple years, he’s immersed himself in the big league side.
“He’s had such a well-rounded development. He’s got so much integrity. He’s so bright. He’s got great management skills of people. This guy is going to do a fantastic job. I’m excited to see it happen. I wouldn’t have left the Red Sox if he weren’t the guy who was going to take over, and if I wouldn’t have had assurance that there would be continuity with the whole baseball operations team.”
While the two have very similar baseball operations philosophies, Epstein said that he and his longtime colleague will have different styles as general managers.
“We’re two different individuals, with different personalities. A shared perspective on the game, but different strengths and weaknesses,” said Epstein. “I think we communicate with our coworkers a little bit differently. Ben is, I think, by the book, a better manager of people than I am. He’s very organized with how he handles his personnel and staff. I prefer more of a free-flowing exchange of ideas, more of a boiler room, think-tank type atmosphere. So there are small differences. But we spent 10 years together. We’re great friends and colleagues. I’d like to think that we see the game very similarly.”
–Epstein said that the Red Sox tried to offer him fairly broad latitude in defining his role in hopes of keeping him in Boston. He met with principal owner John Henry and chairman Tom Werner over the summer, who offered him the chance to take virtually any role with baseball operations or the Fenway Sports Group. Ultimately, however, Epstein felt that he needed a change of organizations in order to continue to make an impact, true to the notion that 49ers coaching legend Bill Walsh had espoused about the need to change organizations roughly every 10 years for the benefit of both the individual and team.
“It wasn’t a matter of offers or contracts or roles. John and Tom were kind enough at some point late in the summer to tell me that they wanted me to stay with the Red Sox, to stay with FSG in any capacity I could imagine. I could tailor my role or do what I wanted. It meant a lot to me. I was really appreciative,” said Epstein. “The more that I looked at it, the more that I realized that if you’re not leading the baseball operation, if you’ve been a GM and go into a situation where you have some sort of hybrid role, or you’re a special assistant or you get more involved in the business side, or more involved in soccer, you’re essentially doing the same job but getting in the way a little bit more. I just couldn’t envision a role at the Red Sox that would have satisfied the principles that [Bill] Walsh espoused that were resonating with me so much.
I never asked them for a contract extension. I told them not to offer me one. I never asked them for a different role. I listened to what they had to say, contemplated it, did a lot of deep thinking about it and realized, in the end, the principles that Walsh was espousing did resonate and did apply.”
–Epstein said that the decision to cut ties with manager Terry Francona after the season played a significant role in his decision to accept the job with the Cubs. He suggested that a managerial search led by him, entering his final year as Red Sox GM, would have been “awkward at best, disastrous at worst,” and acknowledged that had Francona returned to the Sox for a ninth season, he “probably” would have remained with the Sox to conclude his contract.
Epstein declined to discuss whether he would hire Francona, since Mike Quade remains the Cubs GM, and will meet with Epstein in the coming days. However, Epstein did say that he has “a close personal relationship” and “a tremendous amount of personal respect” for Francona.
“Is he going to be a great manager for somebody again someday? Absolutely,” said Epstein. “Is he able to contribute to organizations in other ways, as he did with the Indians, where he was a special assistant, made some good evaluations? Absolutely. That’s going to be up to Terry, what’s he going to do down the line. I wouldn’t look at it so much as, what’s he going to do next year as, what’s he going to do over the next two or three decades? I think he’s going to accomplish quite a bit.”
–Epstein said that he couldn’t offer specifics about whether he would try to bring one or more members of the Red Sox baseball operations staff with him to Chicago. That said, he noted how important it was for him that the Red Sox enjoy continuity, and that both Cherington and the Red Sox be positioned to succeed. And so, he suggested, “there’s not going to be any raid.”
–In recent weeks at Fenway, Epstein had been involved in the manager search, staffing issues, the year-end debriefing and end-of-year paperwork.
That was the case “maybe up until the last week or so, when I’ve been going in and hugging my stapler,” he joked.
He did remain on the outside of talks between the Cubs and Sox, but he discussed with Cherington “creative ways” for the two teams to resolve their compensation impasse.
–While Epstein felt that it was time to move on to a new organization and a new challenge, he offered his admiration for Yankees GM Brian Cashman, who appears set to re-sign with the Yankees and remain in the organization that he has now served as GM for 14 seasons.
“I admire him for his ability to continue to do the job year after year,” said Epstein. “Just looking at it from afar, he finds new ways to challenge himself within the landscape. He really didn’t have full responsibility over there until the last several years, so he’s still building the organization the way he wants it, whereas I had a longer time to set it up and run it like I wanted to. He’s got a lot of challenges ahead of him, but he’s a great guy, great GM and I wish him the best.”
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