10th anniversary: Red Sox hire Epstein as GMby Chris Jaffe
November 25, 2012
Exactly one decade ago today, one of the baseball world’s biggest signings of the 21st century occurred. It wasn’t a star pitcher or a high profile slugger. It wasn’t a player at all—though the person was about the age of an athlete in his prime.
It was a front office executive. On Nov. 25, 2002, the Red Sox named their new general manager: Theo Epstein. At 28, he became the youngest GM in the game. In face, he was the youngest in history.
Before coming to Boston, he’d served in San Diego with the Padres. He worked PR for them, and had gotten to know team president Larry Lucchino. When Lucchino became president of the Red Sox, he quickly tabbed Epstein as the new GM.
Really though, discussing Epstein’s career in baseball seems a tad silly. Normally that’s what these entries do—they recount what happened. But in this case what happened is so recent and so high profile that just going over it again is, well, silly.
Here’s the short version just to get it out of the way: Epstein’s Red Sox won the world title in 2004, his second full season on the job, ending the “Curse of the Bambino” that stretched back tin 1918. In 2007, the Red Sox won it again. Last year, Epstein resigned from Boston and currently runs the Cubs.
Though he has one of the best-regarded minds in baseball, a counterclaim can be made that Epstein is overrated. After all, Boston won 93 games immediately before to Epstein’s arrival. That was its third 90-win season in the last five, and seventh winning season out of eight. (And the Red Sox went only 78-84 in their ill-fated 1997 campaign). Epstein took a 93-win team and made it a 95-win team—but one whose stuff worked in the playoffs.
Yeah, the Red Sox really were a mighty nice team before Epstein got there. But they improved under him. In his nine years running Boston, they had a winning record every time, with at least 90 wins seven times (and 89 wins an eighth time). Before Epstein, the Red Sox hadn’t had a 95-win season since 1986. They did that six times with Epstein. Their Epstein winning percentage was .575 (839-619), which is just a hair under their best single season from 1987-2001 (a .580 mark in 1999).
It’s tough enough to maintain a successful run, but Epstein actually built upon it. As a bonus, he did it despite the best player on his squad leaving his prime. Pedro Martinez was as dominant as any pitcher ever at the turn-of-the-millennium, but injuries began to cut into his pitching time around when Epstein arrived. Martinez went 20-4 in his last pre-Theo season, but never topped 16 wins after that.
Another counterclaim can be made: steroids. After all, the two biggest hitters on his roster have both been implicated: Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz. But aside from the fact that the Red Sox are far from the only team implicated, there were other factors going on with those two. It’s pretty much a given that Ramirez was a naturally great hitter. He’d been great since his Cleveland days– no one really disputes his talents.
There is a lot more disputing of Ortiz. After all, he’d been nothing special in Minnesota – heck, the Twins cut him – and then becomes a super-special-someone in Boston. Sure sounds like he’s purely a creation of modern medicine, doesn’t it?
I’m not denying that played a role, but it isn’t that simple. There was also an improvement in coaching, too. Tom Kelly did a great job in Minnesota, and he typically got the most out of his teams by creating a vision of what a ball club should be. Ortiz didn’t fit that vision at all. Kelly had parts of the game he was interested in, and parts he was willing to punt. He loved contact hitting, defense and fundamentals, and eschewed the long ball. His coaching staff told Ortiz to shorten his swing and do more to make contact.
This advice had worked to create a solid Twins club, but Ortiz’s value comes from swinging for the fences. It was putting a square peg into a round hole. Ortiz’ weaknesses were the Twins’ organization strengths, and his strengths their weaknesses. Ron Gardenhire continued this policy in his rookie season managing in 2002. Ortiz was good in his last season, but the Twins cut him. The Red Sox picked him up and told him to do what he did best. That worked. Steroids? Well, it’s more than just one factor that turned David Ortiz into David Ortiz.
In all, Epstein had a mighty nice time with Boston. His first season with the Cubs wasn’t nearly so pleasant, as they suffered their first 100 loss season in nearly a half-century, but overall Epstein earned his high profile for his successful job in Boston—and he began that job exactly 10 years ago today.
Aside from that, many events today celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is something occurring X-thousand days ago). Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d prefer to just skim:
3,000 days since Edgar Martinez has his 22nd and final multi-home run game.
4,000 days since the Mets sign free agent David Weathers.
4,000 days since the White Sox trade Kip Wells, Josh Fogg, and Sean Lowe to the Pirates for Todd Ritchie. This is a bad trade for Chicago.
4,000 days since Toronto trades Paul Quantriill and Cesar Izturis to the Dodgers for Luke Prokopec and a minor leaguer.
7,000 days since George Brett has his 17th and final multi-home run game. His second homer is a walk-off blast, his sixth and final game-ending homer.
7,000 days since Randy Johnson pitches 10 innings for the Mariners. It’s the longest outing of his career, and the last time any Mariners pitcher has gone over nine innings in an outing.
8,000 days since the Yankees purchase Scott Sanderson from the A’s.
9,000 days since Mickey Tettleton signs with the Orioles as a free agent.
10,000 days since Houston trades franchise mainstay Enos Cabell to the Dodgers.
1889 Brotherhood member Jack Glasscock signs with Indianapolis of the National League. He becomes the first double jumper—going to and now from the Players League. Many consider him a Judas for this.
1902 Ernie Shore, 1920s pitcher, is born.
1914 Joe DiMaggio is born.
1941 The Indians name 24-year-old shortstop Lou Boudreau their new manager.
1944 Longtime commissioner Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis dies.
1947 Sam Beardon sells the Cardinals to Robert Hannegan and Fred Saigh for $4,000.000. The Cardinals won over a half-dozen pennants under Beardon’s tenure.
1951 Bucky Dent is born. The middle initial F. will come later.
1953 The Yankees release veteran slugger Johnny Mize.
1959 Cincinnati releases Whitey Lockman.
1974 The Angels release ex-phenom Tony Conigliaro.
1980 Nick Swisher is born.
1984 Ival Goodman, defensive stud outfielder from the 1930s and 1940s, dies at age 76.
1991 Montreal trades Andres Galarraga to the Cardinals for Ken Hill.
1992 Cincinnati employee Sharon Jones accuses team owner Marge Schott of making anti-Semitic and racist remarks.
1993 Burgess Whitehead, 1930s infielder and two-time All Star, dies at age 83.
1996 The Mets trade Paul Byrd to the Braves for Greg McMichael.
2002 The Giants select Neifi Perez off waivers from the Royals.
2003 The Cubs trade young Korean first baseman Hee Seop Choi to the Marlins for Derrek Lee.
2004 Nintendo takes a majority share in the Mariners, spending $67 million to up its holdings in the team to over 50 percent.
2005 The White Sox trade center fielder Aaron Rowand to the Phillies for Jim Thome and cash. Chicago sends two other players in the deal as well.
2006 Arizona trades Johnny Estrada, Claudio Vargas and Greg Aquino to Milwaukee for Doug Davis, Dana Eveland and Dave Krynzel.
2008 Randy Gumpert, pitcher and 1951 All-Star, dies at age 90.
2009 The White Sox sign free agent Andruw Jones.
History instructor by day, statnerd by night, Chris Jaffe leads one of the most exciting double lives imaginable; with the exception of every other double life possible to imagine. Despite his lack of comic-book-hero-worthiness, Chris enjoys farting around with this stuff. His new book, Evaluating Baseball's Managers is available for order. Chris welcomes responses to his articles via e-mail. Oh, and now he's on twitter.