SBD/October 26, 2011/Franchises

Epstein Warmly Received In Chicago, But With High Expectations Attached

Epstein talked of Cubs regularly making playoffs and ultimately winning World Series
Theo Epstein, who was introduced as Cubs President of Baseball Operations at a Wrigley Field news conference yesterday, is the team's "latest answer to their 103-year-old championship drought," according to Paul Sullivan of the CHICAGO TRIBUNE. Epstein signed a five-year, $18.5M deal to "make all baseball-related decisions in the organization, reporting directly" to Cubs Chair Tom Ricketts. Crane Kenney, "Ricketts' top adviser, has the title now of president of business operations." Sullivan notes the "early scouting reports on Epstein are promising, after one day in office." He has "no illusion about the 'ultimate challenge' of winning a World Series with the Cubs." Sullivan notes if yesterday's "opening remarks are to be believed," Kenney "will remain in the loop." Epstein said Kenney was "working tirelessly" to get the deal done to bring Epstein to Chicago and referred to him as "my partner on the business side of the organization" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 10/26). Epstein "talked of the Cubs' regularly reaching the playoffs and ultimately winning the World Series." But he added, "That does not happen overnight, and it certainly does not happen because of any one person. Over time and together, we will build a solid foundation that delivers sustained success for the Cubs." Epstein said, "Our goal will be to build the best scouting department in the game, one that makes an annual impact in the draft and internationally" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 10/26). When Ricketts began his search for a new GM, he said that he "studied other teams and how they went about their business, as well as talked to about 20 people to find the right person to head the Cubs' baseball operations department." Ultimately, he "settled on Epstein, and Ricketts said he knew after 10-15 minutes into their first conversation that he had targeted the right person" (MLB.com, 10/25).

WIND OF CHANGE: Epstein said that Red Sox Owners John Henry and Tom Werner "offered him any role he wanted in the team and the Fenway Sports Group, and that he appreciated the sentiment, but he had pretty much made up his mind" (BOSTON GLOBE, 10/26). In Boston, Michael Silverman reports before Epstein decided to leave for the Cubs, he considered "carving out a position with more power with the Red Sox." Epstein said, "I contemplated it, but the more thought I put into it, the more I looked at the way things were there, the way they were likely to be, (I) just felt like I would be either fighting upstream or trying to come up with a job description that claimed, kicking and screaming, that I wasn’t still running the baseball operation but I really would be" (BOSTON HERALD, 10/26). Also in Boston, Peter Abraham writes it will be "interesting to see which Red Sox employees -- if indeed any -- follow" Epstein to Chicago. Epstein yesterday said, "There’s not going to be any raid." New Red Sox GM Ben Cherington said that Epstein "hasn't asked for permission to speak to any Sox staff members and any such requests would be dealt with on a case-by-case basis." If, for instance, somebody "blocked from advancing in Boston could better themselves in Chicago, the Sox might be willing to stand aside" (BOSTON GLOBE, 10/26). MLB.com's Peter Gammons wrote Epstein "never stopped trying to build the model he dreamed of when he took over the Red Sox, and more important than the two titles and Fenway Park sellouts, he left the organization to his close friend far, far better than he found it, with a value system that reflects the family structure in which he was raised, a half-mile from Fenway Park" (MLB.com, 10/25).

FRONT-OFFICE MOVES: The CHICAGO TRIBUNE's Sullivan notes Epstein "did not mention who the group was that would get together to decide" whether to retain Mike Quade as manager or hire someone new. Padres GM Jed Hoyer presumably "would be hired as general manager by then." While Hoyer "remains with the Padres, Epstein must refrain from addressing his imminent move." Epstein said, "Eventually we will (hire a GM), but we're looking for the right people. Obviously there's some scuttlebutt going on right now about things that are happening" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 10/26). In Chicago, Gordon Wittenmyer notes the Cubs' "new president of baseball operations -- or 'savior,' for short -- takes a vision of organization- and culture-building into his new job that involves producing a 'Cubs Way' handbook." How much Epstein and Hoyer "will lean on the existing Cubs front-office and scouting personnel is uncertain at least," but it is clear Epstein "has become the Cubs' most powerful baseball employee since Frank Chance." While Epstein insisted that it "definitely isn't a one-man show," the "only others assured of co-starring roles at this point" are Hoyer and his assistant GM, Jason McLeod (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 10/26). ESPN CHICAGO.com's Jon Greenberg wrote of Epstein, "It's safe to say he's got the authority to do whatever he wants" (ESPNCHICAGO.com, 10/25). ESPN.com's Jim Bowden wrote in Epstein, Hoyer and McLeod, the Cubs "have gathered three general manager-caliber individuals." While Hoyer will "surely have latitude, make no mistake, Epstein will have close oversight." The dynamic will "more closely resemble what GM Chris Antonetti and team president Mark Shapiro have in Cleveland." The Cubs' hiring of Epstein, Moyer and McLeod "represents a significant change in thinking amid baseball front offices" (ESPN.com, 10/25).

MAN OF THE MOMENT: In N.Y., Dan McGrath writes, "Personable and well spoken, Epstein was alternately self-assured and self-deprecating" during the news conference in Chicago yesterday. After two years of "ineffectual leadership," Ricketts "has gained the favor of Cubs fans for landing a strong executive with a proven track record." Epstein jerseys "were already on sale in the Cubs' souvenir shop." Ricketts said, "As the chairman, I’m pleased with the results of our search. As a Cub fan, I’m excited by it. I can’t think of a better person for this job" (N.Y. TIMES, 10/26).  In Chicago, Joe Cowley writes the team is "finally moving in a forward direction and has the right man pulling the sleigh." Cowley: "Ricketts landed a rock star" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 10/26). Comcast SportsNet Chicago's Todd Hollandsworth noted that during the press conference, Epstein said “a lot of the right things.” Hollandsworth: “He’s got a vision and he’s got a plan and he’s going to execute it. That is going to happen. It’s just a matter of time.” Comcast SportsNet Chicago’s Chuck Garfien: “On paper, it certainly seems like he is the perfect person needed for the Cubs franchise at this point” (Comcast SportsNet Chicago, 10/25). The CHICAGO TRIBUNE's Sullivan writes the hiring "has been so well received in Chicago that Epstein seemed a little embarrassed by all the attention" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 10/26). ESPN CHICAGO's Greenberg wrote Epstein's arrival "has been met with expected, over-the-moon optimism." Greenberg notes Epstein "sees the hilarity of stores selling his Cubs jersey." Epstein: "I should probably have another press conference right now to resign. Because my popularity is definitely going to be at an all-time high right now" (ESPNCHICAGO.com, 10/25).

NEXT CHICAGO LEGEND? In Boston, Nick Cafardo writes, "Halas, Ditka, Jordan. And now, Epstein?" Cafardo: "There was euphoria among Cubs fans outside Wrigley Field cheering and hollering Theo Epstein's name" (BOSTON GLOBE, 10/26). In Chicago, Dave van Dyck writes Epstein "proved to be part baseball philosopher, part professional pamphleteer, part professional pitchman." When asked about being sighted at a Starbucks in Chicago, Epstein said, "Actually I'm a little bit more of a Dunkin' (Donuts) guy, and now that I've learned that Dunkin' supports the Cubs, that's a good thing" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 10/26). Van Dyck added, "I thought he was near-flawless today. … If you’re a speech major, you give him an A+ in ‘Speechology'" (Chicago SportsNet Chicago, 10/25). In Chicago, David Haugh writes, "Young, bright and debonair, Epstein inspired idealism from the masses with a polished rhetorical performance that lived up to the billing" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 10/26). The CHICAGO TRIBUNE's Steve Rosenbloom writes Epstein "said all the right things colorfully, comfortably and confidently." Rosenbloom: "It will take time. It will be worth it" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 10/26). In Chicago, Rick Morrissey notes Epstein "clearly is aware of the oversized expectations of him, and it’s probably why he stressed the team dynamic so often Tuesday." Morrissey asks, "When was the last time there was this much anticipation in town for the arrival of a sports figure?" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 10/26). YAHOO SPORTS' David Brown: "Ricketts scored in the biggest way possible" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 10/25).
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