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Hey, Cubs fans, baseball execs aren’t rock stars

Sox general manager Ken Williams (left) Theo EpsteCubs president baseball operations. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times AP

Sox general manager Ken Williams (left) and Theo Epstein, Cubs president of baseball operations. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times, AP

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Updated: January 23, 2012 2:54AM



ST. LOUIS — Here’s a rainy-day activity while the Texas Rangers and St. Louis Cardinals take an extra breather before Game 6 of the World Series. Quick, name the general managers of the teams in the World Series.

Could you identify these two men in a lineup?

Can you pronounce the name of the Cardinals’ general manager?

Time’s up.

Serious baseball fans likely scored 100 percent, though Cardinals GM John Mozeliak has a tricky name to pronounce (moe-ZAY-lock). The guess here is a large percentage of people in Chicago caught up in Theo Mania this week couldn’t out Jon Daniels (the Rangers’ GM) at a Starbucks. Yet those same people seem certain that Theo Epstein is the answer to whatever ails the Cubs.

Shockingly, the 107th World Series has been dominated by talk of pitchers, hitters, managers and — OK, this is weird — bullpen phones. General managers? Not so much. Nolan Ryan has been getting plenty of face time on Fox because he gets to sit next to former President George W. Bush, but there hasn’t been a lot of discussion about the Hall of Famer’s role in player transactions as president and CEO of the Rangers.

While Major League Baseball pulled the plug on Game 6 of the World Series on Wednesday — pushing it to Thursday night at Busch Stadium, with the Rangers up 3-2 — much of Chicago was still trying to recover from executive hangover brought on by the over-the-top celebration from Theo Epstein’s coming-out party.

Something about Wrigley Field brings out the embarrassingly gushy side of many in the Chicago media, and Tuesday’s TheoFest was no different. At one point, a starstruck suburban columnist fumbled for the right words to ask Epstein why he chose baseball when — being as brilliant as he is — he could have chosen medicine, law or politics.

Epstein broke into a smile.

“You don’t even know what my politics are,” he shot back.

Doesn’t matter. Theo could fix Medicare, cure the economy and dispatch a special envoy of Kevin Millar and Johnny Damon to secure Mideast peace.

It’s hard to recall a time in Chicago when an executive was so richly celebrated. This had to be an interesting spectacle on the other side of town. White Sox general manager Ken Williams — always with that real or imagined chip on his shoulder — must have raised his eyebrows over the Theo worship this week.

In a surprising twist, Williams declined to reply to a text Wednesday that asked his reaction to the Cubs’ new hire.

Figures. Williams, who has built a World Series winner in Chicago, must know Epstein has been set up for a massive fall. Bitterness usually follows.

This unconditional love for Epstein has set the bar ridiculously high to produce a World Series title in the next two or three years. Otherwise, long-suffering Cubs fans will turn bitter.

At least, that has been the timetable for the most recent North Side saviors, Dusty Baker and Lou Piniella. By Year 3 without even a World Series appearance, those two respected managers were feeling unloved in Chicago. When they left, they looked chewed up by the process.

So before we start plotting Cubs championship parade routes, let’s step back and take a deep breath.

Epstein just arrived. He’s wrapping up his first week on the job in a cramped, decaying office at Clark and Addison, and we’ve seen no real change. For all of his talk at the news conference and press stops, he really hasn’t said anything of substance. His new partners — executive vice president and general manager Jed Hoyer and senior vice president for scouting and player development Jason McLeod — were announced late Wednesday and will be formally introduced in the next few days.

Meanwhile, manager Mike Quade and his coaches twist in the wind. Let’s hope that practice is not part of the new “Cubs Way” that Epstein is promising to install. Quade and Co. — no matter how ineptly they performed in 2011 — deserve answers soon, especially the coaches who have no guaranteed money for 2012 and are looking at attractive jobs being filled around the big leagues.

And no one’s quite sure what the Cubs Way means, but there are probably a few scouts thinking they already drive the extra six miles to see a prospect (this was one of the examples Epstein gave Tuesday).

Don’t mistake this for Theo bashing. He’s a brilliant general manager who has the best current résumé in baseball. But most fans seem fixated on those World Series titles in 2004 and 2007 and firmly believe Epstein will duplicate that with the Cubs.

That’s a reach. Epstein knows that. All savvy baseball executives know that.

He keeps stressing that the key is to consistently play in October. You do that enough, good things will happen, Epstein kept saying Tuesday.

Sounds an awful lot like Jim Hendry’s mantra of, “If you knock on that door enough times . . .”



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