BOSTON — How much has Theo Epstein’s life changed since his five-year rebuild of the Cubs culminated in a World Series title?
Depending on the national news outlet, he’s either (a) one of the 100 most influential people in the world, (b) the answer for the Democratic party in the next presidential election or (c) the greatest leader on the planet – a full two spots ahead of the pope.
Depending on the day you ask the Cubs’ team president about any of those heady designations, it’s either (a) “ridiculous,” (b) “embarrassing,” or (c) “No, the pope hasn’t chimed in; he doesn’t want to get the `you must sin to win’ advice from me.”
But how far Epstein has come as a baseball executive and influential figure might be measured as well in much simpler terms.
Just look at the rings, and the goat.
Twelve years after he helped the Red Sox break the Curse of the Bambino as a 30-year-old, second-year general manager, Epstein’s influence on Chicago’s curse-busting rise was so thorough and pervasive that it included interior designs in the Cubs’ new office building and clubhouse, and the idea to put the goat on the inside of the Cubs’ World Series rings.
If he’d had the same kind of influence in 2004, would those Red Sox rings have included a silhouette of Babe Ruth?
“I just think we were new at it back then and didn’t know all the possibilities,” Epstein said. “Having the Bambino on there definitely would have been cool. He’s a little bigger than a goat, though. …Hard to fit on a ring.”
Epstein brought his new ring in his first professional return to Boston since leaving his hometown team for the Cubs in the fall of 2011.
While Epstein’s mother and brother scooped up “Theo for President” bumper stickers being distributed around Fenway Park this weekend, his dad was able to hold and compare the two most historic rings in baseball and take pictures wearing both. Theo gave him his first ring in 2004.
Epstein said this week that he has grown up a lot since the formative years of his career with the Red Sox — “at least I hope I have.”
That includes how he evaluates players. And, he said, how he picks his battles has evolved.
Even in the few days after the Cubs’ Game 7 victory in Cleveland last fall, Epstein said: “Winning at 42 vs. 30, I have a greater appreciation for how hard it is. And how many people have to contribute and how lucky you have to get along the way, too. I feel like I appreciate this more now than I did back in ’04.”
As the deeply rooted Boston part of his career converged with the fresher, passionate Chicago part this weekend, he reflected on the only part that seemed clear regarding whatever might come next in his career:
“I don’t know that I could go anywhere else, just a run-of-the-mill baseball market and work,” he said. “Because it would probably feel like work. In Boston and Chicago, it doesn’t feel like work. It feels like privilege.”
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