SBJ/February 28 - March 6, 2005/Forty Under 40

Theo Epstein

THEO EPSTEIN, BOSTON RED SOX

BY RUSSELL ADAMS
STAFF WRITER

Fans gathered above the third-base dugout moments after the final out of the 2004 World Series to chant his name. He received several hundred thousand marriage proposals at the subsequent victory parade. He can’t even leave his house without someone telling him how much the Red Sox triumph meant.

Theo Epstein
• Age: 31
• Titles: Senior vice president and general manager
• Team: Boston Red Sox
• Education: B.A., American studies, Yale University, 1995; J.D., University of San Diego Law School, 1999
• Family: Single
• Career: Intern, Baltimore Orioles, summers of 1992, 1993 and 1994; media relations work, San Diego Padres, 1995-1997; baseball operations assistant, San Diego Padres, 1997-1999; director of baseball operations, San Diego Padres, 2000-2001; senior vice president and general manager, Boston Red Sox, 2002-present
• Last vacation: Puerto Rico
• Last book read: "The Plot Against America" by Philip Roth
• Last movie seen: "Fahrenheit 9/11"
• Greatest disappointment: Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series
• Fantasy job: Lead guitar player in the right kind of rock 'n' roll band
• Business advice: When things aren't going well, adhere even more diligently to your organizational vision or philosophy.
General managers aren’t supposed to be this famous, even in Boston, where anybody associated with the Red Sox achieves instant celebrity status. But Theo Epstein is a guitar-playing, backwards-baseball-cap-wearing, 31-year-old who led his favorite team where it had not been in nearly a century. So try as he might to deflect attention and credit, Epstein cannot escape the recognition that comes with fulfilling several generations of fans’ dreams at the dawn of his career.

“There are 14 million people in New England, and if you say ‘Theo,’ at least 13.5 million know who you’re talking about,” said Sam Kennedy, Red Sox vice president of sales and corporate partnerships and a friend of Epstein’s since high school. “He has no privacy. He is equal to a rock star in this region.”

There is no shortage of early signs of greatness in Epstein, from the upper 1400s he scored on his SAT to the acclaim earned in college as sports editor of the Yale Daily News. He made his first mark on Major League Baseball as an intern with the Baltimore Orioles in 1992, when Orioles executives had to come up with a celebration to honor the Negro Leagues, something few in the organization knew much about. So they passed the task to Epstein, whose project would become the focal point of the 1993 All-Star Game at Camden Yards.

“About 48 hours later, Theo walks in with a 14-page white paper that would have done Ken Burns proud,” said Bob Aylward, the Orioles’ former vice president of business affairs and now executive vice president of business affairs for the Seattle Mariners. “It was at that point I realized this kid was something special.”

Epstein, after graduating from Yale in 1995, followed former Orioles President Larry Lucchino to San Diego, where he ultimately rose from Padres media relations intern to general manager Kevin Towers’ chief lieutenant in baseball operations.

Epstein said Towers taught him “how to scout, how to lead, how to treat people and how to trust one’s instincts,” while Lucchino, the Padres’ former president who hired Epstein as Red Sox general manager after Lucchino joined John Henry’s ownership group in 2001, showed Epstein “what the major league work ethic was all about.”

Epstein’s hiring, which made him the youngest general manager in MLB history, further polarized a baseball world in which the old guard has not exactly embraced a new crop of Ivy League-educated general managers with no playing experience. Epstein has ignored the stereotypes and created perhaps the most philosophically integrated front office in baseball.

“As long as the baseball world remains polarized, it’s a good thing for us,” Epstein said. “Whatever success we’ve had is probably attributable to the fact that we’re open-minded and use both schools of baseball evaluation to make our decisions.”

He need only step outside to know that it’s working.

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