Telander: While the Cubs have pinned their hopes on Theo Epstein, the Red Sox are erasing his legacy
BY RICK TELANDER firstname.lastname@example.org August 26, 2012 10:34PM
CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 18: Theo Epstein, President of Baseball Operations for the Chicago Cubs, watches batting practice before a game against the Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field on June 18, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Updated: September 28, 2012 6:19AM
The Cubs and the Boston Red Sox are linked in a circular universe.
They don’t care much about each other; they don’t think much about each other; they’re in different leagues, different cities with different pasts, futures, accents.
But they pass each other in orbit, smirking or fuming over their vague connection, and they will for at least a generation.
When the Red Sox made a trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers on Saturday that ESPN baseball analyst Jayson Stark said “defies comprehension,’’ that is “amazing, astonishing, un-be-frigging-lievable,’’ well, the Cubs were in the background, quiet voyeurs.
The primary guys the Red Sox dumped in the nine-player deal, including Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Beckett — plus the quarter-billion dollars in contracts they unloaded — were humans or objects former general manager Theo Epstein once put in place.
Epstein came to the Cubs as team president and savior only 10 months ago, and the Red Sox seem like a team in a hurry to offload everything he did and meant to their club for the preceding 10 years. They’ll hang on to those two World Series titles, of course.
But short of chiseling Epstein’s name from the bricks at Fenway, the Red Sox have tried to move away from everything the onetime boy genius did or meant.
And the Cubs?
They are well into the “New Cubs Way,’’ which is basically the old Red Sox Way, except with lots of losing.
Before Epstein arrived in Boston, the Red Sox, White Sox and Cubs were the three teams that had gone the longest without winning the World Series. Now it’s only the Cubs. The Ricketts family has deduced that only a miracle worker from out of town can lead the way to the Promised Land. So they flew in Moses from Egypt.
So far? A rain of toads.
In truth, the rain delays Sunday at Wrigley, caused by a storm that eventually yielded a miracle itself — Cubs right-hander Chris Volstad’s first win in 25 starts, a 5-0 victory over the Colorado Rockies — gave an observer lots of time to think about the immensity of the Red Sox’ deal and its symbolism for the Cubs.
Quite simply, Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington and president and CEO Larry Lucchino are backing up the truck and rebuilding. The execs can call it what they want. They never use the term ‘‘rebuilding,’’ but that’s what it is.
A whopping dud such as Crawford, with the burden of his immense salary, is enough for almost any team to take a new direction. But when it’s done in Boston, you can almost see the truck leaving town with the driver extending his middle finger to the ghost of Theo.
The Dodgers, on the other hand, are open for business and seemingly searching out the largest contracts on the planet. Crawford and Gonzalez have contracts that individually are worth $100 million, and in the last five weeks, the Dodgers have taken on contracts worth more than $300 million. Bought for $2.15 billion last spring, the Dodgers are printing money like the New York Yankees.
So shocking was this recent deal that 84-year-old announcer Vin Scully said he’ll come back for his 64th year at the microphone.
‘‘They want to win, and they want to win now, so I want to hold on with two hands and see how far they’re going to take this ballclub,” the old boy said of the new owners.
Imagine Harry Caray saying that about the Cubs 30 years ago.
At any rate, the Cubs are 49-77, with 100 losses still a possibility. They’ve only lost that many games twice in a season in modern history. And if they did it now, well, how low does Epstein want to set the bar before rejoining the major leagues?
This is, remember, the Red Sox Way. Epstein still must have the belief that what worked for him in Boston will work here. He has unloaded so many people — from decent pitchers to the batting coach — that if he doesn’t have a wondrous plan up his sleeve, he just looks like an out-of-date clown.
Sympathy? How much sympathy did Epstein have for the town of Peoria when he unceremoniously announced the Cubs’ minor-league affiliation with the Chiefs, the pride of the Vonachen family and lots of central Illinois farm folks, was moving to Kane County?
He knows what he’s up against. And he knows what the Red Sox are doing in his vacuum. And he must know that the Red Sox Way might soon exist only in his brain and nowhere else.
‘‘A little sense of relief’’ is how Volstad casually summed up his first win in more than a year.
A little bit of relief is what Cubs fans deserve. Who cares about Boston?