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At noon on Tuesday, the Chicago Cubs held a press conference to introduce Theo Epstein as the President of Baseball Operations for the often-tortured, long-suffering franchise.
Three hours later, the Boston Red Sox introduced Ben Cherington as general manager and successor to Epstein.
If only for a brief moment, there was a sense of resolution and a feeling of calm in the post-September/post-apocalyptic world of the Boston Red Sox organization.
The entire baseball world may have already long known the news, and the introductions themselves may not have been incredibly enlightening. But was there anything for Cubs and Red Sox fans to glean from Epstein’s and Cherington’s respective first official appearances in their new roles?
“We are ready, and we are hungry.”
I might have advised Theo to choose his words more wisely after the fried chicken fiasco in the Red Sox clubhouse, but regardless, Epstein set the same tone during Tuesday’s press conference as he did when he was named the Red Sox GM in 2002.
The Boy Wonder outlined what had made him so successful as the Red Sox GM: building a team from the ground up, through scouting and player development, through mixing scouting with sabermetrics, through hard work and passion to match its fans.
If there is any franchise with which Boston fans can sympathize, it would be the Cubs. Much like the Red Sox, the Cubs have a storied tradition, a historic ballpark, and a rabid fan base. Much like the Red Sox, the Cubs suffer from a curse, swapping out a Bambino for a billy goat. Much like the Red Sox, the Cubs are in the midst of a decades-long World Series drought. Make that a century-long drought: 103 years and counting.
Theo knows what is at stake, and how to take on a challenge of such magnitude. If anyone can dispel the demons of a depressed city of baseball fans, Theo Epstein is the man.
As much as reports and sources and inevitability had prepared Red Sox Nation for his departure, it was strange to see Epstein sitting in front of the whitewashed background decorated with the bright blue Chicago “C” during his press conference, in his new home at Wrigley Field.
Having grown up in Boston as a diehard Sox fan, Epstein must have found it hard to believe, too. He admitted as much as in his Boston Globe op-ed piece, where he tried to explain why he was walking away – to himself as much as to Red Sox fans.
Theo referenced Bill Walsh and the idea that a decade is as much as any one executive and single organization can collaborate before needing to make a change. He brought up September. He discussed the delicacy of transitioning to a new manager, a new beginning. And he emphasized how Cherington was ready to take the baton and lead the Red Sox into that chaotic era of “What now?” and/or “Now what?”
In his Globe op-ed piece, Epstein wrote of Cherington, “Ben is infinitely more prepared than I was when I took over nine years ago.” Considering Theo brought a World Series to Boston within two years, I would say that bodes well for the future of the Cherington-controlled Red Sox.
Cherington’s appointment as general manager has been 14 years in the making. In his 14 years with the organization, Cherington has been “an area scout, an international scout, an advance scout, a farm director, and he’s supervised drafts.”
He follows in Epstein’s footsteps as a GM that subscribes to a mix of traditional scouting and highly objective, mathematical analysis. Asked how he differs from Theo, Cherington showed off his sense of humor, responding, “Well I can’t play the guitar…And I don’t have a gorilla suit.”
More importantly, Cherington has experience in the role of Red Sox GM, serving as co-general manager with Jed Hoyer in 2005 when Theo took a three-month hiatus to work out his contractual issues with the ownership group as well as his personal issues with CEO Larry Lucchino. He also has been serving as acting GM since Epstein’s possible/probable/certain move to Chicago surfaced, so he has lost little time this offseason.
Recommended by Epstein to take over, Cherington saw the fateful collapse firsthand and already has a vision for how to move forward from this past September.
Cherington has a ready list of candidates he would like to interview to be the next manager, based on the qualities he sees as necessary to help this team live up to its potential.
“I want someone who has a strong voice, someone who cares about players but is also ready and willing to have tough conversations with them,” Cherington said of his managerial search. “I want someone who will collaborate with ownership but someone who is also willing to make an argument when they disagree.”
He would not disclose who those candidates are since the Red Sox have yet to ask permission to speak with them (John Farrell’s return was quickly nixed by the Toronto Blue Jays), but he plans to begin interviewing soon.
Cherington believes the core of the 2011 team can succeed in spite of the September collapse. He expressed a desire to bring back both Jonathan Papelbon and David Ortiz, and stated the obvious by saying the Red Sox needed to acquire some pitching depth.
I hate to say it, but I’m almost starting to feel optimistic about the upcoming season. Almost.
Red Sox fans may not know what the Ben Cherington Era holds in store, or whether he can right the sunken ship that was the 2011 season.
Cubs fans may be unsure if Epstein can rework his magic and break another curse, or whether they are holding their breath for nothing.
But no matter who you root for, no matter who your GM is, both fan bases can look back at the ’04 and ’07 World Series trophies to transform fading memories of what can be done into glimmers of hope waiting to unfold.