By Steven Keehner
As I sit here getting ready to watch the Chicago Cubs take on the Cleveland Indians in the World Series, I think about how much is at stake: the opportunity to bring a championship to the southside of Chicago for the first time since 1908! When looking at why this Cubs team has managed to get this far, one could easily point out a few notable players in SP Jon Lester or 3B Kris Bryant, or maybe one believes that Manager Joe Maddon is the glue that kept this team together and determined to get to this point. But in my opinion, one man is responsible for creating this juggernaut of a team, a man who never even steps on the field: Theo Epstein.
When looking at professional sports in the United States, we often look at the players or coaches as the key to a team's success. While this is very important, what many fail to realize is that these players and coaches don’t just magically appear from thin air. There is somebody behind the scenes putting the team together, and that's where Theo Epstein comes in. He is in control of all signings, re-signings, and firings. Without somebody to acquire the pieces, it’s impossible to put together the puzzle of a championship-quality team; this is what Epstein has been doing for 15 years, and he’s one of baseball’s all-time greats at it.
Epstein attended Yale University, which should already tell you that this man is certainly intelligent, and while doing so, he interned for the Baltimore Orioles three times. After graduating, he was hired by the Orioles as a public relations assistant. He would later be hired as Director of Player Development for the San Diego Padres, while attending the University of San Diego Law School. This allowed Epstein to work his way up to becoming San Diego’s Director of Baseball Operations. He would eventually be hired to work for the Boston Red Sox in 2001, and at the end of the 2002 Season, he became General Manager for Boston at only 28 years old, replacing Interim GM Mike Port. To put this into better context, according to BeyondTheBox, the average MLB player’s age in 2002 was 30 years old!
During his initial press conference Epstein said, “The Red Sox are very much in my blood, which makes this — standing here today as the new general manager of this club — a humbling experience.”
His impact was quickly noticed throughout the baseball world, as he would acquire Nomar Garciaparra in a blockbuster trade deal. Along with signing Kevin Millar and Curt Schilling, he would go on to create a championship-quality team.
In 2004, the team would achieve what many thought was impossible; they broke the “Curse of the Bambino” with Boston defeating St. Louis in the World Series, their first World Series victory since 1918! At 30 years old, Epstein had already destroyed one record that had been haunting Red Sox fans for years.
One season later, Epstein would shock the baseball world once again by resigning from the role of GM after rejecting a three year, 4.5 million dollar contract, stating, "This is a job you have to give your whole heart and soul to... In the end, after a long period of reflection about myself and the program, I decided I could no longer put my whole heart and soul into it." Despite this quote, he would return to the role of GM a year later in January of 2006, and he would also have the title of Executive Vice President along with his role of GM.
In 2007, magic would once again strike the city of Boston, as the Red Sox would win their 2nd World Series under Epstein. The Red Sox would sweep the Colorado Rockies to secure another title. Epstein solidified his status as a legend in the hearts of Bostonians.
He would continue his roles for Boston until 2011, when he decided that breaking one long streak wasn’t enough for him. So, he went after the next, most ridiculous streak for the Cubs, “The Curse of Billy Goat."
Theo Epstein signed a 5 year, 18.5 Million dollar contract with the Cubbies. However, he wasn’t the GM this time; he would be the President of the Chicago Cubs. Despite the first few rough seasons with Epstein at the helm, he stuck to what he did best, building the farm system. With players like Kyle Schwarber, Javier Baez, and Kris Bryant, the Cubs farm system would quickly become the best in all of baseball, and these moves began to pay off for Chicago. In 2015, they would advance to the NLCS with their first postseason appearance since 2008. With many key additions such as Jon Lester and Dexter Fowler, Chicago has gone from a city struck by a curse to a city that finally has something many of their fans have never felt in their lifetimes: hope.
This would all come into fruition this season, for the first time since 1945, the Cubs have advanced to a World Series, where they’ll be trying to break one of the most infamous curses in sports.
Whether the Cubs win or not this year, it would be shocking not to see a Cubs title in the next 10 years. Epstein has once again found a way to work his magic for another desperate city looking for glory. His name is already engraved into baseball folklore, and at only 42 years old, he has accomplished what many baseball executives only dream of achieving in their entire careers. Whether you like him or not, it’s hard to deny that Theo Epstein is Baseball’s Greatest Mind.
Edit: Since this article was written, the Cubs won the 2016 World Series after an epic seven-game series against the Cleveland Indians.
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