CLEVELAND — Surely there has to be a higher calling now for Theo Epstein, doesn’t there?
If he can construct championship teams for the Red Sox and now the Cubs, amid all the hysteria surrounding those, ahem, formerly cursed franchises, then achieving world peace ought to be a snap.
Preventing global warming, perhaps.
Fixing the economy?
There has to be something. As a baseball executive, Epstein has solved the unsolvable, not once but twice, earning the eternal gratitude of fans in Boston and now Chicago, where sports are only as valued as breathing, it seems.
What else is there left to accomplish? Sure, he can win more championships with the Cubs, but as was the case in Boston after the Red Sox finally won in 2004, winning will just be winning. It won’t be healing decades of heartbreak.
Yet you get the feeling Theo doesn’t see it that way. He doesn’t seem to be in it for the glory, after all. He has never been one to seek attention or bask in the glory of such grand achievement, and people close to him say he’s really just a baseball geek who loves the work that goes into building a ballclub.
“He’s got an ego, I’m not saying he doesn’t,” says someone who worked for him in Boston. “And he wanted the challenge of doing for the Cubs what he did for the Red Sox. He knew it would put him on the mountaintop forever, and what that means.
Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein reacts after the win.
“But when you’re around him you see how much he enjoys the process of working together with people he trusts, and you see that he treats those people as equals. He’s really pretty normal for a guy of his intelligence, and I think he’ll do this for a long time.”
So maybe Epstein could have done this in other cities and enjoyed it just as much. But when the Cubs finally won that wild Game 7 on Wednesday night — actually Thursday morning — you got the sense that doing it in Chicago, carrying the burden of so much history, had taken quite a toll on him.
Certainly he was letting all the pent-up anxiety go afterward, enjoying the champagne to the point where he offered a little Theo unplugged, if you will.
At one point he interrupted an interview his GM, Jed Hoyer, was doing with the MLB Network, to joke that he was going into hibernation for awhile.
“This is Al Haig,” he said, speaking of Hoyer. “He’s taking over for a month. I’m going on a bender. Wake me up at the winter meetings.”
Yes, Epstein, was unwinding a bit, and why not? Sitting through the ups and downs of Game 7, with so much riding on it for the Cubs and the expectations after a 103-win season, was highly stressful for anybody watching, never mind the president of baseball operations.
But it was also fitting in a way, as he acknowledged. After 108 years without a championship for the Cubs, winning wasn’t going to come easy.
Actor Bill Murray (l.) celebrates with Theo Epstein.
“I died like six times,” Epstein told reporters. “It’s got to be a top-3 game of all time. And that was the way it had to happen.”
He said he was already getting congratulatory texts from people with Aroldis Chapman on the mound and a 6-3 lead in the eighth inning, and it made him a little nuts. Especially when the Indians quickly came back to tie the game, bringing back memories of the 2003 ALCS when the Yankees rallied to tie against Pedro Martinez and then won in extra innings on Aaron Boone’s home run.
“I’ve been through it before. The 2003 ALCS, five outs away and Pedro stays in and we give it up and we lose to Aaron Boone. That’s baseball. You can never get too excited.
“So people are texting me congrats and I’m like, ‘(bleep) you, this is baseball, anything can happen.”
Theo was speaking to reporters on the field at the time, an hour or so after the game ended, having come back on the field after the clubhouse celebration. A local Chicago TV station was filming the interview, but Theo may not have realized it as he dropped his F-bomb on the air.
Or he was just too giddy to care. Chicagoans surely loved it. Theo is a god there now as he is in Boston, making good on his plan to rebuild the Cubs into a championship team.
It took five years and dark days in the early going, as the Cubs lost 101 games his first year in charge, but that too was part of the plan, as he wound up with high draft picks he turned into Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber.
Theo Epstein when Red Sox won 2004 World Series
(Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
And now here he was, laughing it up with Bill Murray, as well as all the Cubs’ people during a wild celebration. Happy as he was, though, Epstein made a point, after awhile, of walking down the hall to shake hands with Terry Francona, the manager who broke the Curse of the Bambino for him in 2004, and congratulate him on his season with the Indians.
“He did a great job,” Epstein said. “This series could have gone either way. It was so close.”
Yes, it could have gone the other way, Francona beating his old boss. Instead it was Epstein’s night, a night that assured him of going into the Hall of Fame someday, probably to be regarded as the best GM in baseball history, considering what he’s done already.
“It’s something I never thought I’d get to do,” he said, speaking of working as GM for the Red Sox and the Cubs. “To be part of winning a World Series in both places, it’s something I’ll always treasure and never take for granted. It means the world to me.”
And though he joked about taking a month off, everyone knew Epstein would be back on the job as soon as the parade is over in Chicago. Joe Maddon talked about how it will be easier for the Cubs to go forward now that “the burden has been lifted,” and Epstein didn’t disagree.
“I hope this is the beginning,” he said. “Right now it’s a celebration, but if we do our jobs right, we stay humble and hungry, it’s going to be a beginning.”
In other words, he wants to keep doing what he does best, building winners. So world peace apparently will have to wait. Still, there are other mountains he could climb if he ever gets the itch to do it one more time.
Different sport or not, the Knicks could sure use his help.
Source: NY Daily News Headlines Sports News