Theo Epstein isnt looking for the cameras red light. He doesnt really want to see his name or picture in the newspaper. He prefers to remain in the shadows.
Epstein has already said dont bother looking for him in the lobby of the Hilton Anatole in Dallas, where the industry will begin checking in on Sunday for the winter meetings. Expect him to order room service and make deals in his hotel suite.
Epstein is polite and polished with an Ivy League pedigree. He can sound like a politician at the news conference, saying all the right things. But people who know him well also describe him as almost insanely competitive.
This is the man who took down the Evil Empire.
He is as down-to-earth a guy as youre going to find, general manager Jed Hoyer said. But I will say when he turns it on, its pretty clear hes got a gear that the rest of us dont have.
Co-workers have joked about the hype surrounding the new Cubs president of baseball operations. There are the T-shirts in the shop windows on Clark Street: THEOLOGY and IN THEO WE TRUST.
Theo-mania, chairman Tom Ricketts said with a bemused look.
Epstein may seem weary of the spotlight, but he absolutely wants the power and responsibility that comes with it. This title gives him total control over the baseball side, without interference from ownership or business operations, and that almost certainly isnt part of the job description in Boston.
Along with the rise of the Red Sox, those kinds of turf battles forced Brian Cashman to confront George Steinbrenner a few years ago. The Yankees have headquarters in New York and Tampa, Fla., and their general manager realized that he had to unite the factions and build their own scouting and player-development machine.
I saw what Theo was doing in Boston, Cashman said. I had a heart-to-heart with George and I had told The Boss I wasnt going to stay because I didnt like how we were going about our business.
I said: Listen, theyre over-slotting in the draft. Theyre going to have a great farm system. Theyre spending money like we are in free agency. (Theyre) going to pass us up.
(Steinbrenner) said, Go ahead, man, and you take it over and you do what you think you have to do. I basically tried to match everything they were doing to get us back on line.
Now its on Epstein to change the way the Cubs do business.
After Ricketts fired general manager Jim Hendry last summer, he consulted around 20 people throughout the industry. In private conversations with owners, agents and executives, Theos name was the one name that just kept coming up.
Ricketts also had two analysts study the efficiency of every other major-league organization, breaking down payrolls and farm systems, but this was a pretty obvious choice. They just werent sure if Epstein would be available by October.
That was the biggest risk in the process, Ricketts said, because you got to make the phone call before you know. We asked the Red Sox for permission and frankly we could have just got faced. They could have said no.
It was just my gut (feeling) that after everything hes accomplished in Boston, this would just be a great next challenge for him.
Cashman who joined the Yankees as a 19-year-old intern in 1986 and has won five World Series rings since then is one of the few people who could understand the relentless pressure of that job.
But where Epstein became restless after two titles and nearly a decade in Boston, Cashman recently agreed to a new three-year contract that will keep him in New York.
The devil you know is better than the devil you dont know, Cashman reasoned. (Its) taken a long time. A lot of the people I work with are the people I personally hired. Do I want to go through a process of letting certain people go and trying to get permission to hire other people? Thats extra work that Im not afraid of doing, but Ive already done it.
I know our media. I know our fan base. I know our owners. I know my team president. And I know what makes them all tick. Theres power and knowledge in that. Im not afraid of the learning curve going somewhere else, but there is a learning curve, so why volunteer yourself for that? Thats my route.
The Yankees print so much money that Cashman doesnt get as much credit for what hes built. But hes not just a checkbook general manager, spending wisely in the draft, international market and free agency.
Within industry circles, Cashman was mentioned as a potential target for the Cubs, though he cautioned that just because your name gets thrown out publicly doesnt mean its accurate.
They got the guy they wanted, Cashman said. I dont think I was in their plans at all.
At their initial meeting, Ricketts found Epstein to be low-key and thoughtful, someone who could transform not just the baseball operation, but the entire organizations culture.
Epstein wont talk trash, but now hes going after St. Louis and Milwaukee. After taking down one empire, he wants to build another.
We looked at the Yankees, Epstein said, (with) their resources and their baseball smarts (and assumed) that theyre going to win 95-to-100 games every year. That helped us elevate our game. That set the bar really high and I thought that served us well over the years.
Now you look at what the Cardinals are doing, what the Brewers did this year, the bright futures of some of the teams in this division (and) we can take the same approach.