The MLB All-Star selection show is a terrifically boring exercise in barely-feigned shock and some of the more vacuous interviews ever conducted. And yet, for you, dear Tablet readers, I watched most of it last night. But don’t weep for me—it’s my cross to bear.
Perhaps the most striking takeaway from this year’s selections (besides, of course, Giants catcher Buster Posey over the Nats’ Wilson Ramos), was the unspoken presence of Theo Epstein, baseball’s version of the boy who could, did, and continues to do. (The All-Star game takes place next Tuesday.)
Perhaps he’s a bit too old to be characterized as a wunderkind, but the efforts of the current President of Baseball Operations for the Chicago Cubs—a team mired in a 108 year title drought—is responsible, in some way, for acquiring nine out of the 17 All-Star positional starters in his role for the Cubs, and previously for the Red Sox.
They are: DH David Ortiz (who’s in his final year as a pro), SS Xander Boegarts, RF Mookie Betts, and CF Jackie Bradley Jr., all from the Red Sox; and there’s 3B Kris Bryant, 1B Anthony Rizzo, CF Dexter Fowler, 2B Ben Zobrist, and SS Addison Russell—basically the entire NL infield—for the Cubbies. Oh, and not to mention likely NL starter Jake Arrietta and pitcher Jon Lester (also of Red Sox fame), who have both been absolutely dealing for the first place team in Wrigleyville.
That’s quite a haul for a single All-Star game. And though some of the Chicago selections are more the product of strong voter turnout than actual worthiness, it’s hard not to marvel at yet another glowing entry on Epstein’s resume.
After graduating from Yale, Epstein was hired by the San Diego Padres public relations department, where he began his relationship with Larry Lucchino, the future president and CEO of the Boston Red Sox. After Lucchino was hired by the Red Sox in 2002, he brought along Epstein, who had since been promoted to Director of Baseball Operations in San Diego. In Boston, Epstein was named the GM; at 28, he became was the youngest person ever hired to that position in baseball history.
And he got to work right away, shipping off local favorite Nomar Garciaparra, while acquiring Ortiz, Kevin Millar, and Curt Schilling, among others “Idiots.” Two years into his Boston tenure, the Sox won their first World Series championship in 86 years.
Epstein, like his Oakland counterpart Billy Beane, had a penchant for relying on sabermetrics, a highly statistical approach to player acquisition that emphasizes exploitation of inefficiencies in the player market to sign undervalued players. Unlike Beane, however, Epstein had the luxury of a) having Bill James, father of sabermetrics, as an in-house Sox employee, b) an enormous budget to work with, and c) an already spectacular roster to build upon. Regardless, his success put the league on notice that Boston was building something special, and Epstein remains at the forefront of the sabermetric movement today.
Following a disappointing season in 2005, Epstein resigned in a bizarre incident that involved a Volvo, Fenway Park, and a gorilla suit (later auctioned for charity). After that monkey business (I am so, so sorry about that), Epstein signed a new contract with the team before the 2006 season, and in 2007, the Red Sox took home another World Series trophy.
Boston had the looks of a dynasty, but after a few early playoff exits, Epstein headed for another accursed franchise: the Chicago Cubs. Since arriving, he’s slowly built the team around the same sort of players he acquired in Boston: high-contact, high-walk-rate guys who’ve powered the Cubs to one of the best records in baseball through the first half of this season.
For Chicago, breaking the curse would mean everything; for Epstein, it’d be another one to put on the mantle. But a big one, and perhaps the biggest.