December 26, 2004


The Architect: Theo Epstein had to bury the fan inside him before he could boldly assemble the team that defied history. But what comes next may be even tougher. (Neil Swidey, December 26, 2004, Boston Globe Magazine)

[T]here is evidence that the fraternity of baseball executives still doesn't quite know what to make of Young Theo. Sure, he is no longer discounted as the untested, stats-obsessed kid with a laptop that he was two years ago, when, at 28, he became the youngest GM in the history of the game. But he has yet to be fully embraced by an establishment still dominated by men who have logged decades sitting on wooden benches in crappy ballparks. He is not like them, not only because of his youth but also because he enjoys a public following and first-name recognition that rival his star players'. Maybe this helps explain why, when the award for Executive of the Year is announced - an honor the GMs bestow on one of their own - Epstein doesn't even garner enough votes to crack the top three.

The ballots break differently when it comes to the Globe Magazine's "Bostonian of the Year" honor. True, baseball is only a game. But it's impossible to name an achievement in the past year that brought as much universal and unifying joy to New England as the long, long overdue Red Sox triumph. Many deserve credit, but one man coolly remade the team, then guided it with boldness and backbone. That Epstein, in just his second year on the job, succeeded where his more seasoned predecessors over eight decades had failed only makes the accomplishment more remarkable.

Outside of the GM fraternity, Epstein gets more attention than he'd like these days, and that's despite his insistence on turning down million-dollar book deals and repeated requests to bring his good looks and local-boy-made-good story to Leno, Conan, and Kimmel. Jed Hoyer, one of Epstein's deputies, marvels at his boss's resolve. "As high as his stature is, if he wanted to, it could be so much higher," Hoyer says. "It would be very easy for him to really cash in." Epstein says he's uncomfortable being singled out for a team effort and unwilling to surrender his privacy. Hoyer offers an additional reason: "Theo knows that baseball is a business that can humble you in a hurry."

Seeing the Red Sox win the series brought Epstein incalculable joy. And relief. "Best feeling I've ever had" is how he puts it. He smiles broadly as he recalls the bus ride the team took from Logan to Fenway the morning after beating St. Louis, how people hopped out of their cars on the highway and stood waving and hugging one another. "It was the first time it really struck us how directly this was going to be shared, by the whole city, the whole region," he says. "It was incredible."

While New England continues to bask in the afterglow, with commuters still accessorizing their Brooks Brothers suits with BoSox caps, Epstein has moved on. In fact, he can't get there fast enough. He's determined to avoid the complacency that can be as much a part of the worldchampionship package as the giant trophy.

Bask too long, and he risks being forced to confront the question hanging unmistakably in the air: What do you do when your wildest professional dream has come true - and you're only 30?

Bask too long, and the man who helped bring historic happiness to Red Sox Nation by assembling this year's lovable, series-grabbing squad might somehow lose the resolve to do what he knows may be necessary if the team is to be more than a one-hit wonder: dismantle this year's lovable, series-grabbing squad.

"There's no room for sentiment," he says.

Then explain signing Varitek.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 26, 2004 11:24 AM

There are several reasons to sign Varitek.

1. He is the best handler of pitchers in the game today, worth about a half run in ERA per game.

2. He is a power hitting catcher with a reasonably high BA and OBP. He hits almost as well as Posada and is a far better defensive player. On most teams, Varitek would be in the 5 hole, not 7th or 8th in the lineup as he is with the Sox.

3. He is viewed by the players, as well as by fans, as the team leader. He is also seen as a future manager.

4. You have to replace him if you let him go. Once you get past the 4 or 5 best catchers in baseball, one of which Varitek surely is, you are stuck with pretty slim pickings.

Epstein saw him as the most important of the Sox free agents, far more important than Pedro. It was clear from day one that he was their focus.

Posted by: Bart at December 26, 2004 12:37 PM

He is not just one of the worst defensive catchers of the day, but one of the worst of all time. AJ Pierzynski is the same player offensively and four years younger.

Posted by: oj at December 26, 2004 12:59 PM


Varitek 18 HR 73RBI .296BA
Pierczynski 11HR 77RBI .272BA

Same player offensively? Not even close. Plus, the scuttlebutt at Minnesota was that Piercynski was a real schmuck in the clubhouse, and they let him go to SF for nothing. Nobody would argue that Varitek is a clubhouse problem, quite the contrary.

You know as well as I do that there are no reliable defensive statistics for catchers. What we do know however is that the Red Sox pitchers are generally terrible at holding runners on. Also, Varitek is one of the best at blocking the plate. Watch Jorge Posada play matador at home plate for 100 games a year and you'll see the difference.

Posted by: Bart at December 27, 2004 6:42 AM

Nothing? They got their closer and their best starting pitching prospect.

Varitek has a .798 OPS, Pierzynski .773, as he heads into his peak offensive years, which Varitek just finished.

Good teams don't overpay replaceable players.

Posted by: oj at December 27, 2004 7:42 AM

Good teams don't overpay replaceable players which is why Pedro and Nomar are gone. The Sox initial offer to Varitek was 4yrs at $36 million. It think their offer to Derek Lowe was a coupon for a free dinner at Legal Sea Foods.

Joe Nathan was considered very replaceable in SF and had had a series of ordinary seasons there and elsewhere, both as a starter and reliever. There are a million guys who have one hot season as a closer, even Derek Lowe did it. Once the League figures out his trick pony, it's back to Palookaville for Nathan. Prospects, especially pitchers, are more often suspects.

You would think there are at least 86 reasons to give Theo the benefit of the doubt.

Posted by: Bart at December 27, 2004 9:17 AM

$10 million per year for any catcher is silly.

Posted by: Bob at December 27, 2004 9:52 AM

$10 million for any athlete is silly, but we live in silly times.

Posted by: Bart at December 27, 2004 11:18 AM

The Sox get paid to keep the ballbark packed,
the NESN viewership up and the caps and jerseys flowing.

To do that you want a competive team with players
people want to see. After clearing out the decreasingly popular Pedro, and the increasingly delicate Nomar. it was an easy decision to sign the popular and sturdy Veritek.

Posted by: J.H. at December 28, 2004 10:33 AM