After building a pair of championship teams with the Boston Red Sox, Theo Epstein cemented his legacy by leading the Chicago Cubs to a World Series title.
If Daenerys Targaryen is the Breaker of Chains, Theo Epstein is the Breaker of Curses. The former general manager of the Boston Red Sox may not have three dragons, but what he does have is three World Series titles at the helm of a pair of long-suffering franchises.
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The wing of the Hall of Fame reserved for front office executives remains an extremely exclusive group. Only seven members have been enshrined while they were still alive, all of whom were over the age of 70. Yet the 42-year old should be able to coast into Cooperstown if he retired tomorrow after leading the Chicago Cubs to their first World Series title since 1908.
While his track record isn’t as long as his peers that have already been inducted into the Hall of Fame, Epstein’s role in ending the two most infamous title droughts in major league history has cemented his legacy as one of the most brilliant front office executives the game has ever seen.
The Red Sox made Epstein the youngest GM in the history of Major League Baseball when they hired the wunderkind at the age of 28 back in November 2002. Two years later he would assemble the missing pieces that brought the franchise their first World Series title in 86 years.
Epstein inherited a roster loaded with talent, backed by owners with deep pockets. Yet despite the presence of superstars such as Pedro Martinez and Manny Ramirez acquired under the previous regime, the team continuously feel short of their ultimate goal. It was Epstein that filled in the gaps, picking up David Ortiz from the scrap heap and convincing Curt Schilling to accept a trade to come to Boston over Thanksgiving dinner.
The 2004 Red Sox are fondly remembered as the team that vanquished the dreaded Curse of the Bambino that haunted this franchise for decades. Epstein deserves a fair amount of credit for that title, but he wasn’t done there.
Three years later he would again bring a World Series championship to Boston with a vastly different core. Big Papi and Manny still anchored the lineup, while Schilling remained in the rotation as he wrapped up his career, but most of the roster had been turned over since 2004. An infusion of homegrown talent that was either drafted by Epstein or groomed in the organization’s farm system under his watch played a vital role in the 2007 World Series title. Jon Lester, Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis are among the stars that made their big league debuts under Epstein’s tenure as GM for the Red Sox.
After leaving his mark on the Red Sox organization, Epstein resigned after the 2011 season to conquer an even greater challenge. That October he signed on to be the new President of Baseball Operations for the Cubs, the only franchise that could scoff at Boston’s suffering during their title drought given that they had waited over a century to celebrate a championship. The Cubs had a curse of their own hanging over their franchise, so after Epstein helped vanquish the ghost of The Babe he turned his eyes to The Billy Goat.
The process Epstein underwent in Chicago was entirely different from what he experienced in Boston. He wasn’t inheriting a roster built to win now, he had to craft a contender from the ground up. The Cubs lost 101 games during Epstein’s first year in Chicago, but he managed to implement a plan that would turn the franchise into a champion within five years. It took a bit of patience that fans in Boston never would have afforded him, but it worked.
With arguably the most formidable rotation in the majors and a deep lineup anchored by emerging stars Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, the Cubs are hardly a flash in the pan. Epstein has built a sustainable contender that will remain competitive for the foreseeable future and has the potential to become a dynasty.
While he is now far removed from his tenure in Boston, his imprint can still be found all over this organization. Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley, Travis Shaw and Christian Vazquez are among the players drafted by Epstein that figure to play prominent roles in the future of the Red Sox. He also gets credit for signing Xander Bogaerts as an International free agent.
The more successful the Cubs become, the more Epstein’s Hall of Fame candidacy will grow. With the current Red Sox roster stocked with talent leftover from his reign in Boston, his legacy will be enhanced by their success as well.
By reversing the fortunes of two storied franchises that suffered through a lifetime of losing, Epstein has earned his place in Cooperstown. Except he’s not done yet and won’t be satisfied with the merits of what he’s already accomplished. There may be more titles in his future, in which case we may eventually come to recognize him as the greatest front office executive of all time.