Now that Theo Epstein has stepped down as Cubs president, what should he do with the rest of his life?
He hasn’t exactly asked for public help in answering that question and by “exactly,’’ I mean “at all.’’ But his reluctance to reach out for guidance over the years has never stopped me from offering unsolicited advice or feedback. He couldn’t make a trade, a suggestion or a bed without my raising an eyebrow. You sure you want to put that pillow there?
Pondering what he should do next is another way of wondering what to give the man who has everything.
How about a future title: U.S. President Theo Epstein.
Crazy? I can think of at least one crazier occurrence.
Of all the outlandish predictions that could have been made about a human being before the Year of Our Lord 2016, “Theo Epstein will bring a World Series to the Cubs’’ would have been right up there. It wasn’t “will cure cancer” or “will wipe out war as we know it,” but in our little corner of the world, where scores are kept and lives are measured in victories, such an assertion would have been knee-deep in absurdity as soon as it was uttered.
That’s what made the accomplishment so seismic — that and the fact that he really believed he could do it when the team hired him as its president in 2011. He brought a World Series title to a franchise that hadn’t won one in 108 years. If you’re him, you say that sentence, you drop the mic and you walk away from the game at the ripe young age of 46.
How do you follow that act if you’re him? By getting into something bigger, something meatier. Everything about Epstein’s life and career has been substantial. Grandson and grandnephew of the men who helped write the screenplay for “Casablanca.’’ Yale grad. Law-degree holder. Architect of two Red Sox World Series-winning teams. Mover of the mountain that was the Cubs’ futility.
I wouldn’t wish a political career on my worst enemy in these times. Perhaps you’ve seen the signs in front of houses that read, “Hate has no home here.’’ There is no such sign in front of the White House or the U.S. Capitol. Hate seems to have squatter’s rights in both places. It’s a brutal, nasty business.
Epstein might not want to put his family through that particular hell. And if he thinks he had payroll issues with the Cubs, he should check out governmental budget issues.
But we could really use him in national politics. He’s a Democrat, though it’s worth noting that he has dealt well with members of the Ricketts family, most of whom lean so far right they’re pretty much a comb-over. No injuries have been reported, a testament to Epstein’s tactfulness. We could use more intelligent, clear-thinking people leading us.
I’ve observed him for nine years in his role as Cubs president. There were few situations he didn’t anticipate, few questions from the media he didn’t ask himself first. He didn’t just think about the bigger picture, he conceived it, then painted it. He’s the most prepared, most imaginative executive I have ever seen.
He’s not afraid to let the people who work for him do their jobs. He’s open to change, if he thinks it will produce results — see his transformation from a stats-driven baseball executive to a man who embraces the mental and emotional side of sports success. Lest you think he might be too soft for politics, know that he can be as coldhearted as a concrete traffic barrier. He’s the guy who acquired Aroldis Chapman, suspended under MLB’s domestic-violence policy in 2016, because he thought the Cubs were a dominant closer away from a World Series title. He was right, but he and the team were heavily criticized for the move.
Even before Epstein announced Tuesday that he would step down as team president, the idea of him and politics getting together had been bandied about, mostly by people like me.
He might ask what we have against him. It would be a good question. But the ideal of politics is about serving, about helping. As naïve as it might sound, it doesn’t have to be all about power. It can be about trying to make the world a better place, about making a difference. There’s something in there that might speak to Epstein. How loudly, I don’t know.
What I do know is that there is nothing left for him to accomplish in baseball. It’s possible that a franchise would give him an ownership stake, but he would still be doing the same thing he has been doing for years, only with more money going into his bank account. I have a sneaking suspicion that he’s already set for life 20 times over.
He wouldn’t have taken the Cubs job if he didn’t like a massive challenge. He went on to accomplish the unthinkable. Does he want to play all his old hits or does he want to make new music?
Senator Epstein? Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Epstein? President Epstein? If an actor or a reality star can end up leading the country, why not a baseball man?
I remember when it was ridiculous to think the Cubs would win a World Series.