Cubs job could be tempting to Epstein
Move would bring lifestyle change, chance to end another 'curse'
Billy Beane was on the other coast when he read the reports of the sad departure of Terry Francona and the speculation about Theo Epstein. He called some of the coverage "adolescent," summarizing his review as "a classic case of irrational reaction and irrational behavior."
And it gave him cause to reflect back on nine years ago, when after essentially agreeing to accept John Henry's offer to become Red Sox general manager, he changed his mind. Late that Sunday night, he was relaxing, trying to process all the emotions he'd experienced, talking about not wanting to be five or six hours from his mother and his teenage daughter, not sure that the glamour of running the Boston Red Sox and working for a man he greatly admired -- Henry -- was worth it.
"That was a life-changing experience," says Beane, who had spent the 2002 season being followed by Michael Lewis, a life-changing experience of another kind. "People say to me, 'You've never won,' or, 'Wouldn't you like a chance at a different kind of legacy and a shot to end up in Cooperstown?'
"My answer," Beane says, "is very simple. My self-esteem isn't tied to my job, to whether or not we can win in this market, which, by the way, we probably cannot. I am very happy with my life. I have three wonderful children. Casey is in college, and we are close as ever. I love raising the twins [now three years old]. Tara and I love where we are. Relationships are simply not less important than Cooperstown, for instance.
"If I had gone to Boston, I'd have gone as a savior, and I wouldn't trade the values of my life for that, as much as I love the city. I love the passion, I respect their ownership and think about what it would be like to have ended that World Series drought."
Beane and others understand the struggles Epstein often faces in Boston. "I think Theo sometimes feels as if he's trapped in an elevator," says one of Epstein's friends. "It's hard for him to go anywhere. Nuts have threatened his family. The job is so intense and time-consuming that he is always worrying about whether or not he's the proper father for [his son]."
Cubs owner Tom Ricketts has asked Boston ownership for permission to talk to Epstein about being his president of baseball operations. It's a very tempting job that dozens of qualified executives would love to have. Ricketts has the reputation of being a fair, good man, as evidenced by the fact that former general manager Jim Hendry worked hard for three weeks after Ricketts told him he wouldn't be back.
Chicago is a great city. The Cubs are Eddie Vedder's team. "The idea of winning the World Series with the Red Sox and Cubs is very attractive," says one Red Sox official. "It reserves his place in Cooperstown."
Of course, taking over the Cubs, having to build on the roster, having to put together an organizational structure and deal with the savior status is not going to allow him any more family breathing room. As Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino try to figure out what Theo wants and if there is a way he can stay as Ben Cherington -- arguably the best-prepared general manager in waiting in the industry -- assumes the grinding role is something they are trying to decide.
In Chicago, local police won't have to position an unmarked cruiser near his house. In Chicago, he won't be referred to as a "sun-deprived nerd" in a local newspaper. In Chicago, he and his wife can go to dinner.
The pressures on general managers today are greater than ever before, and the manner in which so many of the young GMs -- Dayton Moore, Chris Antonetti, Jon Daniels, Andrew Friedman, Neal Huntington, Jed Hoyer and on and on -- maintain a foundation for their families is beyond remarkable.
If Epstein were to decide that he would like to move to Chicago, that raises the issue of compensation, which Henry would almost certainly demand from Ricketts. Matt Garza? Brett Jackson and Andrew Cashner?
When Beane was headed to Boston in November 2002, he and his Oakland assistant Paul DePodesta discussed the compensation issue. They agreed that Boston had only three interesting prospects: Hanley Ramirez, Kelly Shoppach and Kevin Youkilis. DePodesta wanted Youkilis, but Beane told him, "There is so little here, you can't leave me barren." DePo also didn't want to hold up the move, because then he would assume the general manager's job.
It is strange that Beane was negotiating for a team for which he didn't work with an executive who was not yet GM. But before they resolved the compensation issue, Beane changed his mind, and resolved his life issues.
Which is what Theo Epstein is now trying to do.
Peter Gammons is a columnist for MLB.com and an analyst for MLB Network. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.