The Red Sox missed out.
I waited for the call, but instead of dialing up this 28-year-old part-time local sports writer, the hometown team went with someone else born in 1974. Theo Epstein, the new General Manager of the Boston Red Sox, may have a fancy degree from an Ivy League institution and a little bit of experience actually working for a professional franchise, but I'm just as qualified for the job. Plus only a woman would have been a more shocking choice.
The historic move – Epstein is now the youngest GM in 100 years of baseball executives – made national news last week when the Sox completed their drawn-out search for a trigger man, passing over candidates with much more experience, and possibly, sweatshirts older than Epstein. Thanksgiving morning, a column touting young Theo’s accomplishment was on the front page of the Washington Post sports section. My dad cut out a favorite headline from the Boston Globe, enjoying the pun: “Local kid picks up Sox.”
The joke around Boston is that there aren’t too many people who remember watching the Sox win their most recent World Series championship in 1918. Epstein’s grandparents were too young to witness the event.
Epstein and I are exactly the same age. Matching up our backgrounds, I’m sure you’ll agree that I have a slight edge for the position. Epstein may claim a lifelong devotion to the Red Sox, but he didn’t move here until he was four years old. By that time, I was already wowing my preschool class with my recitation of Jim Rice’s batting statistics. Worse yet, Theo spent his first years in New York City, which automatically disqualifies him from ever being a true denizen of Red Sox Nation.
Epstein was raised in a suburb known for its antagonistic reaction to the innocent Fenway guests who dare park in their neighborhood, and is the son of a Boston University professor, a profession with a well-known disdain for sports. My own upbringing occurred in Boston itself (on the same street where Mike Smithson and Randy Kutcher rented homes during their very brief tenure with the Sox) and every day after high school, my friends and I would walk to Fenway Park to wheedle tickets from the parking lot attendant and hold Rich Gedman’s contact lenses while he signed autographs. Not once did we run into a brainy kid from Brookline outside the canvas-clad gates.
While young Theo was covering the Yale crew team, I was writing about GW's appearances in the NCAA Tournament. Who needs the Ivy League when you’ve got Yinka Dare and Shawnta Rogers? Epstein moved to San Diego and attended law school; following Tom Glavine's World Series MVP award, I sent him a congratulatory letter on behalf of the President of the United States. Epstein is still single; I took one-quarter of my wedding guests to Fenway Park 12 hours after the reception.
Two weeks ago, as I was RSVPing to my tenth-year reunion and arranging for the grey streak at the front of my scalp to mysteriously turn auburn, 28 felt old. In 14 months I’ll be 30 and there’s no such thing as a 30-year-old child prodigy in the writing profession. I’m older than at least half the people I’m competing against for graduate school seats next fall. In sports, a 28-year-old athlete is considered ancient. Britney Spears will be washed up long before she reaches this milestone.
But Theo Epstein’s surprise hiring suddenly made 30 seem very, very young. I've never heard so many people talk about how little one knows before 30, or how experience is not garnered, truly, until one passes that mark.
I hope this young man does our generation proud, perhaps by leading the Sox to their first World Series championship in more than just our lifetime. He can begin by signing another local boy, Glavine, who is a whole decade older than we are (and a player I advised Epstein's predecessor to trade for back in '89). It would be exciting that if this chance worked out, and led other teams to take risks on non-traditional executives, women and minorities who have long been shut out of baseball’s front offices.
Although, if Theo fails, the Sox know how to reach me.
Originally from Boston, Michelle is a writer, editor, instructor, obsessive sports fan, loud talker, quick laugher, new mom, and chances are, she watches more television than you do. Follow her on Twitter at michellevoneuw
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12.9.02 @ 2:57a
Hm...The BoSox may have missed out on Glavine, but wouldn't they love to bring back The Rocket?
12.9.02 @ 11:55a
Honestly though, how happy do you think this guy is? He's running the Red Sox! How cool is that?
12.9.02 @ 12:44p
It seems like it would be a tenuous position, to me. It's either awesome (if he can make them produce), or it's a really short-lived dream career if he fails horribly.
12.9.02 @ 12:49p
Sweatshirts. Heh heh.
Chelle, I talked about this with Sheinkin last week. Not only was he surprised that I knew anything even remotely sports-related, he also listened to me ennumerate all the reasons you're more qualified than Epstein and I think he agreed with all of them.
Maybe there should be a female GM. Why not?
12.9.02 @ 1:09p
Out of curiosity, what exactly does the GM of a baseball team do?
12.9.02 @ 1:14p
The main responsibility is to hire and fire everyone - so he's in charge of bringing in new players, resigning (or not) current ones, choosing the manager, things like that.
12.9.02 @ 1:18p
So a full-scale knowledge of baseball is probably secondary to an affinity for business dealings.
12.9.02 @ 1:32p
Not really though. Because the GM is the one bringing players in, he/she has to know what players are really that good, and which ones fit with the ballclub.
Look at the Dodgers. They pay tons of money to all these players who are good - but who can't function as a team, so they never win.
12.9.02 @ 2:31p
That description of what a GM does sounds almost exactly like my job. If I actually knew something about sports, I'd be a good candidate. Then again, if I actually knew something about sports, I'd be Michelle.
12.9.02 @ 2:35p
I didn't say you didn't need to know baseball, just that it was secondary to the business side. If all you knew was baseball, wouldn't you be a better coach or manager?
michelle von euw
12.9.02 @ 4:15p
I don't know, Adam -- there have been great businessmen who have failed miserably at the position of GM, because they tried to apply economics ahead of baseball. I'd argue that a GM can hire a few great number crunchers and just rely on his/her baseball acumen and still succeed at the job.
To be a good manager, you don't just need to know baseball, you need to know how to teach baseball.
12.10.02 @ 8:48a
His qualifications do seem flimsy at best - how, exactly, does the organization decide on a GM?
12.10.02 @ 9:04a
It would seem that they draw names out of a hat.
12.12.02 @ 2:51p
I don't know much about Epstein and I don't know what went on behind the scenes when they decided to hire him. I have heard it suggested that Larry Lucchino wanted someone who he could control as GM. That might be true. But as far as I can truly tell from what I have read and heard, Epstein seems like a very bright guy who loves baseball and worked hard to get a job with a team, did the tasks he was assigned with competence and flair, impressed the right people and was in the right place at the right time. There's nothing wrong with any of that.
When I was hired right out of a post-college internship, I proceeded to take three or four years of periodic crap from various folks senior to me for the terrible faux pas of not waiting until I was old to get a good job. So I can very easily empathize with young Theo - and I really resent all the silly diaper and sandbox jokes that crusty sportswriters have been making about him. Not only are they unfair and unnecessary, but they're just plain unoriginal. Leave the guy alone until he actually screws something up - and then judge him on his merits, or lack thereof.
12.15.02 @ 10:59p
So. New York gets a Giambi, so the next year Boston has to get a Giambi.
Just like how, in years past, St. Louis had a Dean, so Chicago had to get the other Dean...and then St. Louis had a Benes, so Chicago had to get the other Benes. In the end, nothing changed.