Hey Theo Epstein, Cubs fans are still waiting

Written By BY RICK TELANDER Posted: 06/30/2014, 06:49pm
Array ST LOUIS - OCTOBER 27: General manager Theo Epstein of the Boston Red Sox celebrates in the locker room with the Championship trophy after defeating the St. Louis Cardinals 3-0 in game four of the World Series on October 27, 2004 at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Theo Epstein

The Cubs are set to play the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

You know what that means: The Cubs will be camping out in the funny-speaking city that forged their president of baseball operations, Theo Epstein.

Now in his third season with the Cubs, Epstein was raised in Brookline, Massachusetts, played baseball for the Brookline High School Warriors and always wanted to work for the Red Sox. He got that chance, becoming, as everyone has heard countless times, the youngest general manager in baseball history (28 years, 11 months), then the youngest GM (30) to win a World Series title, in 2004.

Of course, he also was the youngest GM to win two World Series crowns when the previously drought-stricken Red Sox won again in 2007.

He was the wonder boy, the Mark Zuckerberg of horsehide, named baseball ‘‘Executive of the Decade’’ by The Sporting News in 2009. Only a nuclear fueling rod could have been hotter.

Then he came to Chicago.

The skid marks stretch to the horizon.

I won’t bore you with Theo’s stats of deceleration, but the Cubs have lost 82 more games than they’ve won since he took charge after the 2011 season. During his tenure, they have finished last, last and (likely) last again in the National League Central, a quaint division made up of small-market teams in much smaller cities.

Consider, if you will, that neither St. Louis, Cincinnati nor Pittsburgh has an NBA team. And Milwaukee has no NFL team, unless you count Green Bay. Just consider those facts, is all.

At any rate, Epstein is here on a rich five-year deal, and he has not lost heart, and he thinks — as he says endlessly — the Cubs ‘‘are headed in the right direction.’’

But are they? Only a mole could call their trajectory upward.

They have played reasonably well in their last 24 games — going 14-10 — but that doesn’t do much when you started off 20-36.

Jake Arrieta and Jason Hammel are a combined 11-6 with a 2.05 and 2.98 ERA, respectively. That’s nice. That’s big-time. But we don’t know who will stay with the team and who’s trade bait.

If there’s a symbol of the Cubs’ uncertainty and tough luck, it’s pitcher Jeff Samardzija, who leads the team in innings, has a 2.83 ERA and is only 2-7. The guy could be a rock in the Cubs’ foundation, but it seems he’s almost certainly headed off to another team for more money.

Epstein has minor-leaguers who look really good — Kris Bryant and Javy Baez — but all we can say to that is, remember Felix Pie? Anybody in Class AAA throw a 90  mph changeup, a 94 mph slider? Uh, no.

So there’s risk, and there are money issues for Theo. Call it the Wrigley Field un-tappable piggy bank.

Whatever. A boy genius, now 40, can’t like being called a fool. So we wonder about Epstein, about what he’s thinking career-wise, about whether he plans to stick around through his contract with its two more years, and beyond. Or whether he has come to the conclusion that previously struck Dallas Green, Andy MacPhail, Dusty Baker, Lou Piniella, et al.: The Cubs are somehow incorrigible. Call it cursed, if you want. Or dumb as a grub farm.

The other day, Epstein talked about the possibility of losing his handpicked senior vice president for scouting and player development, Jason McLeod, also a former Boston guy. It seems a major-league team or two have shown interest in him as a GM.

“It’d be a big loss, obviously, because he’s really talented,” Epstein said. “His heart is in this the way mine is and the way all of our hearts are in it.’’

Well, yes. But mostly your paychecks and reputations are in it.

But then Epstein added something almost fatalistic, semi-Jerry Krause-ian:

‘‘But this organization is bigger than any one person. I’m not going anywhere, but if I stepped away tomorrow, we’d be fine.’’

There was just the hint of former Bulls GM Krause’s notorious, “Players and coaches alone don’t win championships; organizations win championships,’’ in Theo’s statement. No matter that Krause was right. And maybe Theo is, too. In a sense.

But do you really need to say it?

Michael Jordan didn’t think so.

What does it mean, after all? Theo himself can be replaced and the Cubs will just keep galloping — excuse me, staggering — along?

No, Epstein has to be the guy. He has to see this through. He dealt himself in. He now knows Chicago sure as hell ain’t Boston. He can’t be replaced. And he better not leave.

Not after blowing up the bridge and telling us the new — unseen — one will be absolutely fabulous.

Browse More 'Uncategorized'