Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Boston Breakup

Tell you the truth, I went into this off-season thinking the Yanks would be thrown into chaos by the loss of their GM, and that the Red Sox re-signing Theo Epstein was simply a formality. Man, was I wrong.

I heard almost simultaneously that Epstein had re-upped on a three year contract, and that he'd quit, both through BP's internal email system. I rushed to check, and the whole thing was confirmed. The story that's out there loudest is that Epstein quit because his relationship with club President Larry Lucchino had deteriorated to the point where Prince Theo no longer wanted the job of his dreams. Most sources pointed to this pro-Lucchino article written by the Curly Haired Boyfriend (as Carl Everett used to call the Boston Globe's Dan Shaughnessy).

Now, the article is biased, patronizing, and somewhat idiotic (in CHB's mind, being in the Basketball NCAA Final Four thirty or so years ago makes you a "baseball man"). Still, it doesn't seem like justification for quitting your job. I guess it's all in the context--if I go through some work to try and save my relationship with someone, think that I've done so and make a career decision based upon that belief, and THEN read a story planted by that person with the biggest hack journalist in town...

...Well, I'd be mad, that's for certain. Maybe it would be enough to make me give up the job that I've worked for my entire life. Maybe.

I can't help but contrast this with Brian Cashman's situation. I think that Lucchino's an SOB--the kind of guy who comes in handy when you want to twist some arms in order to get a new ballpark, but not the kind of guy you want to keep around when there's no one to extort or threaten. Why? Because if he's not using his dark skills on your behalf, he's liable to get bored, and wind up using them on you.

But for all of Lucchino's skills with leaking information to the press, throwing tantrums, and doing hurtful things to his officemates, does anyone really think he holds a candle to George Steinbrenner? Sure, you figure that Big Stein is old and benign now, but if you want to talk about abuse, I'm sure that he can still dish it with the best of them.

Steinbrenner taunted Cashman with unflattering comparisons to Epstein, who we are told is one of Cashman's closest friends in the business. Steinbrenner did this publicly. He also publicly humiliated his GM on a half-dozen occasions--not letting him go to the Winter Meetings one year, openly hollering at him during a playoff game another. And this is only during Cashman's tenure--the Boss has been torturing his front office folks for as long as he's been an owner.

Yet Cashman stays, and Theo goes. The honeymoon in Boston lasts a year--just barely. And that's really what's at stake in Epstein's decision to leave. He did a great job with the Red Sox the past three years, but as an executive, it is extremely likely that Epstein is replaceable. The good vibe he brought into Boston? Perhaps less so.


Chris said...

Dude, the vibe left the house with O-Cab, Pedro, and perhaps a few others. The Vibe is about to go into full-blown rebuilding mode in Boston. The Sox seem to want to recast the team in the image of Varitek, Renteria, and a few others, and maybe over time that will work out. In fairness, 2004 was never built to last. So the sooner the Sox overhaul the team, the better I guess... as long as Ortiz stays in the middle of that lineup.

Still, it's shocking that Theo wanted out. I doubt more than 10% of Boston believed him today when he said it wasn't about Lucchino. Theo is always overly polite in public. And I guess we can't get our heads around any other explanation.

DJ said...

I understand what you mean, but I guess my point was that the "Theo vibe" didn't start with them winning the World Series. To me, the interesting thing was that Epstein brought a tremendous optimism to the franchise, almost from the day he was hired.

I mean, you also could attribute the optimism to Henry buying the team, except he hadn't been a particularly exceptional owner with his previous franchise. But from the time that Epstein took over as GM, there was the feeling--as much because he was so young as because he was so smart--that the Sox would win a world title during his tenure.

As I suggested above, the Sox still have plenty of brainpower in their front office, and they aren't likely to stop trying to build a better ballclub. But I think most people assumed that the Boston brain trust of Henry, Epstein and Lucchino was smart enough, and rational enough, that they would be above the kind of petty machinations that happened last weekend.

Chris said...

Yeah, agreed, but let's break it down. The Theo Vibe consisted partly of the brave new era he represented; partly of the end of the Nixonian reign of Dan Duquette, and partly of the vibe that his acquisitions brought. Millar is the obvious one, and there's something besides hype to that, but so too was the addition of Ortiz, Mueller, and a few other chumps. So Theo's arrival was the key event in the chain, but for reasons beyond merely what he brought to the table.