‘Curse’ is not in Theo Epstein’s vocabulary
BY JOE COWLEY firstname.lastname@example.org October 25, 2011 3:08PM
Updated: November 27, 2011 12:50PM
Theo Epstein doesn’t believe in curses.
Never has, never will.
Not Bambinos, not goats.
He grew up a relay throw away from Fenway Park, so laughing at myths was unique for a Boston kid. But after being officially named the president of baseball operations for the Cubs on Tuesday, it’s a trait that was a must.
“I don’t believe in curses, and I guess I kind of played a small part in proving that they don’t exist from a baseball standpoint,’’ Epstein said, referring to the 86-year curse he helped break as the Red Sox’ GM in 2004. “But I do believe that you can be honest and upfront about the fact that certain organizations haven’t gotten the job done, haven’t won the World Series in a long time.
“That’s the approach we took in Boston. It wasn’t a curse; we just hadn’t gotten the job done. We identified several things that the franchise did historically that probably got in the way of winning a World Series. We went about on how to eradicate those. That will be part of the process here.’’
Just like that, I’m sold.
Not that the “Dragonslayer’’ can end the 103-year drought with the Cubs, but that the organization is finally moving in a forward direction and has the right man pulling the sleigh.
Two years of watching owner Tom Ricketts bump into walls — and into Crane Kenney — shouted “same ol’ Cubs, different leadership.’’
But not now. Whether it was luck or perfect timing, Ricketts landed a rock star. And a rock star who doesn’t have to let you know he’s a rock star. Epstein is a GM unlike anyone in the city. Maybe a GM unlike Chicago has ever had.
He’s not the hardworking old-school guy who fought his way up through the system. He’s not an inexperienced gamble. He’s not the recycled GM from other organizations.
Smart, well-spoken, cocky, businesslike — pick a good adjective. Epstein exudes “I know what I’m doing,’’ not “I’m smarter than you.’’
A perfect blend of a Yale education and Boston street smarts.
That’s a fine line to walk.
And while there are a few more little Theos running around the big leagues these days, the Cubs’ version is the original.
That’s what Cubs fans should throw their arms around. For the first time in a long time, your organization has hired the best guy available to put together the product the best way possible. That guarantees nothing in October, but it gives hope. Not throw-it-up-in-the-wind-and-hope-it-sticks hope, but real hope that Ricketts has now tossed his hat in the ring to finally be a big-boy owner.
The refreshing thing about Epstein’s meeting with the media was he didn’t act like he had all the answers but was confident with the answers he did have.
Asked about no longer having that Boston checkbook to work with, he explained his payroll philosophy, while admitting he got lucky early on with the Red Sox.
“I think [the Cubs job is] equally as big a challenge,’’ Epstein said. “In Boston my first year, we took the payroll down $10 [million] or $12 million or so and improved the team on the field. That doesn’t happen every time.
“We’re not looking for the lucky hit where you get deep into the playoffs and then you’re not a very good club the next season. We want sustained success. Our fans deserve both. They deserve the long-term building project of the foundation, and they also deserve taking every opportunity to win as a sacred opportunity.’’
They deserve more than that, but this is not an overnight fixer-upper. This is about patience on many fronts. Farm system, player development and even Ricketts eventually passing the basket around for a few hundred million to spruce up Wrigley Field. Much easier to do now when you’re knocking at the door for a donation, and Bono is next to you, rather than having Garth Brooks and all his friends in low places.
“I should probably have another press conference right now to resign because my popularity is going to be at an all-time high right now,’’ Epstein joked. “It’s only going to go downhill.’’
Definitely not for a while.
And what if the unthinkable happens? What if the “Dragonslayer’’ has one more broken curse to put on his résumé?
For the first time in a long time, Cubs fans can dream again.