We all knew this day was coming, but that doesn’t make it any easier. Theo Epstein has stepped down from his role as president of baseball operations of the Chicago Cubs.
Epstein is a firm believer in the old Bill Walsh theory that a decade in one place drains energy and impact from leadership. He told us this back in 2011 when he was first hired. It is his belief that after a decade in the same role, change can be good for the organization, and the leader. The organization gets a new voice and perspective, and the leader finds a renewed energy to conquer his/her next task. It’s thought to be beneficial for both parties. This would have been year 10 for Epstein with the Cubs, and he thought it made more sense to step down a year early rather than drag out a lame duck year when so many important and consequential decisions need to be made for the club.
“For the rest of my life, I will cherish having been part of the great Chicago Cubs organization during this historic period,” said Epstein. “All of the things that have made this experience so special – the fans, the players, the managers and coaches, ownership, my front office colleagues, the uniqueness of the Wrigley experience, the history – make it so tough to leave the Cubs. But I believe this is the right decision for me even if it’s a difficult one. And now is the right time rather than a year from now. The organization faces a number of decisions this winter that carry long-term consequences; those types of decisions are best made by someone who will be here for a long period rather than just one more year. Jed has earned this opportunity and is absolutely the right person to take over this baseball operation at such an important time.”
Jed Hoyer, the Cubs GM under Epstein for the past nine years, will be taking over the role and received an extension to go along with his promotion. The details of the deal are not yet known, but it is expected to be for the same five years that Epstein had on both of his contracts with the team.
Hoyer, 46, will be entering his 20th season in baseball operations and his 10th with the Cubs. He has worked alongside Epstein for 17 of the last 19 years and has been involved in all the major work done to turn the Cubs franchise around and has had an influence on the culture change and well as on field success rate that can only be surpassed by Epstein himself.
Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts said, “The timing is right for a number of reasons, and most importantly we are both thrilled that Jed is the person succeeding Theo. We have had our most successful period in over a century under Theo’s leadership, and we are grateful for everything he has given to this organization and this city. Jed has been a big part of that success, too, and offers a combination of continuity and a fresh perspective that will serve us well as we look forward to another period of sustained success.”
Over the last few days since the announcement, the legacy of Theo Epstein in Chicago is a widely debated topic. Some fans or analysts try to dig too deep and think that his tenure should be considered a failure. They are of the belief that the Cubs are no closer to being an organization primed for sustained success than they were when Epstein arrived in 2011, and that they have under achieved since busting onto the stage in 2015-2016. I find that to be absolutely ludicrous. From 2015-2020 the Cubs are on a 6-straight winning seasons streak. That is the franchise’s longest such streak since 1967-1972. Also, from 2015-2017, under Epstein’s leadership, the Cubs collected six postseason round wins. In the 105 years from 1909-2014 they had just one. I have no idea how someone can look at that and claim that the Epstein era has been a failure. That is without even mentioning the well-known fact that in 2016 the Cubs ended professional sports longest ever championship drought and won the World Series for the first time since 1908.
In what world would that be considered failing? I have been a die-hard Cubs fan for my whole life, and I am extremely thankful for Theo Epstein. He gave us all a moment once thought to be exclusive to dreams.
“The Chicago Cubs are World Series Champions.”
How many people lived a long, long life, but never got to hear those words uttered? I’ll never forget that feeling, and I’m willing to bet most of those claiming this era was a failure won’t either.
After rebuilding seasons in 2012-2014, Epstein’s Cubs have amassed 505 regular season victories. That is the second-most in the N.L. and third-most in the majors behind only the Dodgers (528) and Astros (510). The Cubs are one of only four clubs to make at least five postseason appearances in the last six seasons, along with the Dodgers, Astros, and Yankees. Being a part of that exclusive club for the past 6 seasons, sure seems like grounds for being considered a perennial winner. Epstein helped turn around the organization once known as “the lovable losers” and made them into winners. That is a feat attempted by many over the past century, but only conquered by one. Theo Epstein.
Just judging his run as Cubs president of baseball operations off statistics alone, his tenure should be overwhelmingly be considered a major success. With the Cubs though, it goes much deeper than that. This is one of the most loyal, and emotionally invested fan bases in all of sports. For many fans, the Cubs aren’t just their favorite team, they are apart of who they are. Winning that World Series in 2016 brought an immeasurable amount of joy to the fans and gave validation to all those long years of suffering. There were many that didn’t quite live to see the day, but it meant something to the surviving family, that they finally did it. For a fan base use to being the laughingstock of the league, Epstein gave us our time on top. For many, these past 6 years have not only provided wins, but some of the best and most exciting moments of our lives. The feeling we all had when Kris Bryant fielded that slow grounder in Cleveland and delivered the ball into Anthony Rizzo’s glove to record the final out to become World Series champions is a feeling many of us will be chasing for the rest of our lives. Theo was the man in charge and engineered that moment for us. Far too often people get caught up in the finer details and are unable to take a big picture point of view and appreciate an experience for all it has given and all it has meant. It is important at the end of an era like this, especially with the Cubs, to do so.
At times, this world can be a cruel, cold, and unrelenting place that will beat you down time, and time again. In a life with so little moments of pure, and blissful joy, it is crucial that we hold onto those few, fleeting moments for as long as we can. Why would we harp on the bad when doing so takes away from the good? There’s always going to be more bad. That’s life. But it makes the good all the more joyous, and holding it near and dear, all the more important. Theo was the architect of one of the most joyous and out of body experiences of our lives. It was one of those moments that you will always remember where you were, who you were with, and how you felt for the rest of your life. We get so few moments in life that make us feel that way, but because of Theo Epstein, the Chicago Cubs gave us one. A once in a lifetime feeling, that can never be replicated.
That is Theo Epstein’s legacy in Chicago. That is what he will be remembered for, above all else.
Photo Credit: Pool Photo – USA Today
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