Theo Epstein explains Boston exit
In a first-person op-ed column in the Boston Globe and later at his introductory press conference in Chicago, newly minted Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein on Tuesday discussed his reasons for leaving the Red Sox and his awkward final days in Boston.
"The reason I am leaving has nothing to do with power, pressure, money, or relationships," Epstein wrote in Tuesday's Globe. "It has nothing to do with September, either."
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Citing football legend Bill Walsh's theory that coaches and executives in team sports benefit from a change of scenery after 10 years or so in the same place, Epstein -- who spent the past nine years as general manager of the Red Sox -- explained he was initially thinking of leaving his hometown team after the 2012 season, when his contract was set to expire. Epstein also revealed he and assistant Ben Cherington had discussed a transition plan, wherein Cherington would take over as GM when Epstein left.
That timetable was expedited, according to Epstein, when the team parted ways with manager Terry Francona in the wake of the September collapse and, at the same time, the Cubs came calling.
"All of a sudden, we found ourselves needing to pick a new manager, a decision with long-term implications and one best made by someone who could lead the Red Sox baseball operation for the foreseeable future," Epstein wrote. "Then the Cubs asked permission to interview me. The Cubs -- with their passionate fans, dedicated ownership, tradition, and World Series drought -- represented the ultimate new challenge and the one team I could imagine working for after such a fulfilling Red Sox experience.
"I wrestled with leaving during a time when criticism, deserved and otherwise, surrounded the organization. But Walsh's words kept popping into my head, and I recalled how important it was for me as a relatively new general manager to bond with Terry Francona during the interview process back in 2003."
After his press conference in Chicago, Epstein admitted he'd "probably still be in Boston if Terry hadn't left."
"I thought it would be awkward at best and disastrous at worst to be involved in the process of finding a new manager when I was likely to be making a transition myself," he said.
Epstein, who grew up a Red Sox fan in Brookline, wrote that he still loves the Red Sox and has close relationships with owner John Henry and chairman Tom Werner, "as well as a complicated but ultimately productive and rewarding relationship with Larry Lucchino."
He indicated later Tuesday that Sox brass tried to persuade him to stay in Boston, and in a role of his choosing.
"It wasn't a matter of offers or contracts or roles. John and Tom were kind enough at some point late in the summer to tell me that they wanted me to stay with the Red Sox, to stay with (Fenway Sports Group) in any capacity that I imagined," Epstein said. "I could tailor my role or do what I wanted. It meant a lot to me. I was really appreciative.
"The more that I looked at it, the more that I realized that if you're not leading the baseball operation, if you've been a GM and you go into a situation where you have some sort of hybrid role, or you're a special assistant or you get more involved in the business side, or you get more involved in soccer, you're essentially doing the same job but you're just getting in the way a little bit more. I just couldn't envision a role at the Red Sox that would have satisfied the principles that (Bill) Walsh espoused that were resonating with me so much.
"I never asked them for a contract extension. I told them not to offer me one. I never asked them for a different role. I listened to what they had to say, I contemplated it, I did a lot of deep thinking about it and realized, in the end, the principles that Walsh was espousing did resonate with me and did apply."
Regarding the compensation the Cubs owe the Red Sox for hiring Epstein, he said that will be addressed "in the coming weeks" but insisted that the teams have a "great working relationship.'' If it is not resolved by the clubs, he said, a third party would do so. MLB commissioner Bud Selig already has stated he will intervene if the teams cannot settle the matter on their own by Nov. 1.
For his final two weeks with the Red Sox, Epstein joked Tuesday, he felt like Milton, the character in the 1999 comedy "Office Space," who due to a computer glitch was never told he no longer worked in a software company and kept getting paid, even though basically all he did was defend his red Swingline stapler from coworkers who wanted to borrow it.
"The last couple weeks have been interesting," Epstein said of his final, awkward days at Fenway while the Red Sox and Cubs were haggling over compensation. "We had a front office meeting (in Chicago) yesterday and I was telling them I felt like the guy in the movie 'Office Space' with the red stapler. When I was at Fenway Park and I just kept showing up to work and it was as if someone forgot to tell me I didn't work there anymore.
"I did end up in the basement with just a cubicle with a stapler. But it was fine."
Epstein doesn't have to worry about that now.
"I've been waiting to say this for a few weeks,'' he said Tuesday upon his introduction as Cubs president of baseball operations at a press conference at Wrigley Field, "but it truly feels great to be a Cub today.''
Epstein said the two best parts of his job in Boston were building the scouting and player development system from the ground floor, and "playing in a small park and winning a World Series in 2004, and seeing the looks on people's faces, the joy it brought them. It impacted a whole region of the country and generations.''
The way this season ended -- with the Sox sliding out of the playoffs with a 7-20 September record -- also struck a chord with Epstein, conjuring emotions he needed to let pass in order to make the right decision about his future.
"The season ended so suddenly, so emotionally, and the next day I was with ownership and dealing with the Terry Francona situation, that it left me in a very emotional state," Epstein said. "At least I recognized that. I had to step back. I took about 72 hours to remove myself from the emotion of the situation, remove myself from the immediacy of what had happened, and force myself to think about my priorities, think about the big picture about the Red Sox, the big picture about my future, reconnect with some principles that have always been important to me as I plotted my life and my career. That allowed me to make a more objective, I think well-reasoned decision."
Epstein wrote in the Globe that he believes the Red Sox "will recover" from the September slide and the perception they were a team in turmoil. As Francona did when he walked away, Epstein shoveled a good deal of the blame on himself while defending the makeup, drive and attitude of the Red Sox.
"As I sat back and imagined what my transition from the Red Sox might be, I thought it would smell more like champagne than beer, I guess you would say," Epstein said. "Some of what's out there is accurate. But there was a lot of exaggeration, too. This was not a team-wide, there were not team-wide indulgences. There was not team-wide apathy. There were some things that happened that should never happen in a big league clubhouse, and ultimately, I'm the person responsible.
"You guys (reporters) are around the team every day. No one said a word about these things during the course of the season. If it had been as widespread as everyone was saying, I hope you guys would have reported it and I hope I would have known about it.
"We win two more games in September and none of these issues come to the fore. The same way that in 2004, when we won the World Series, no one looked deeper at some crazy things that were happening in the clubhouse at the same time. It's something that we're taking responsibility for, that we're all going to learn from. I'm going to apply some of the lessons that I learned in September going forward to the Cubs. Ben (Cherington) is going to take some of the lessons he learned going forward to the Red Sox.
"Our players have been, this has almost been a bit of a witch hunt in recent weeks. Not intentionally, it's what happens when you don't make the playoffs and there's been these type of episodes. I feel bad for many of them, who I know were professional, worked really hard, cared about each other and cared about the organization."
The lesson learned in the aftermath?
"From a front-office perspective, it's that the high standards that we have have to be reinforced by a very active, hands-on management," Epstein said. "Even over time, with a stable coaching staff and one manager who is fantastic and been in place for a long time, you can't ever defer and stay out of the clubhouse because you don't want to get in the way.
"There has to be active, hands-on management in concert with the manager to lead the organization and make sure that the standards that we set for the organization as a whole are being lived up to."
Epstein also said that, while he's looking forward to the Cubs' rivalry with the Cardinals, he'll miss those classic Red Sox-Yankees battles.
"I'll miss the challenge of the Yankees," he said. "That rivalry is part of what made the Red Sox job so special."
Epstein concluded his opinion piece in the Globe with a message for Red Sox fans:
"Thank you for all the incredible support this last decade. I will never forget it. May we meet again in an October not too many years from now."
Information from ESPNBoston.com's Gordon Edes and ESPNChicago.com was used in this report.
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