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BCB Interview: Tom Ricketts, Part 1

Recently, I had a chance to sit down with Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts for another wide ranging interview, covering topics from the hiring of Theo Epstein, to ticket sales, to the Triangle Building and Wrigley Field, and a number of other topics.

This interview will run in three parts, today, tomorrow and Wednesday. Today's installment has to do with the process of getting Theo Epstein to Chicago to become the team's president of baseball operations, what the new position is all about, and what that means to Crane Kenney's position as president of business operations.

BCB: To begin, describe the process of how you wound up with Theo Epstein here.

TR: I’d be happy to talk about the process. It kind of began, obviously, in August. One of the thoughts on the timing of the announcement on Jim [Hendry] was that it would give us a good runway to do some homework before the end of the season because you really can’t talk to people that are employed by other teams during the season. Typically you want to talk to teams that are on their way to the playoffs and it’s really awkward and you just want to wait till the end of the season. So we had about six weeks to do a fair amount of background work, and there were really two types of background work.

We did a lot of quantitative work. I worked with Ari [Kaplan] on our staff and another outside consultant that we’ve used to really study all the teams in two categories. We studied them in wins and we studied them in player development.

On the win side, we looked at how many wins each team had over the last 10 years, how many games they’d won for how many dollars they’d spent over the last 10 years and then how consistently they had won over the last 10 years. Then we tried to rank the teams in who has really won over the last 10 years.

So we looked at which teams had won, and we looked at which teams had better systems. In terms of player development, we had some reports that we generate here about how many players of each team make it to the major leagues. We looked at what they call bona fide prospects in each system over time, like how many of the players in each system rank at what would be producing productive major league players. And we also looked at systems in terms of which system had on balance across the entire system the best rankings in terms of looking at each player, projecting them forward and then again ranking all the teams.

In terms of wins and in terms of player development we also built a tool that kind of cross references them so you could take a team and see where they are in these various different, on these different scales.

So, on the quantitative side, we basically tried to figure out which systems were outperforming the others. And in general, there are probably seven or eight that rise to the top when you look at it. And some are probably several of the teams that you’d expect. But, there are a handful of teams that have out-performed on those metrics.

On the qualitative side, or kind of on the personal side, I talked to about 20 people in baseball who I thought I could trust and who had perspectives I thought would be useful. That’s some current GMs, some former GMs, some future GMs, agents, owners that had been through the process, other people who had been around baseball, really with two focuses.

One is to ask them, of the teams that we see that have outperformed the others, are there certain people on those you think should take a larger share of the credit for what’s going on there? Because you don’t want to take a system and think that you have the right guy when you’ve actually taken the wrong guy. Which front office people do you think deserve a lot of the credit and success their teams have had? And then, in a perfect world, if you were me, and looking at the problems or the issues facing the Cubs, who would you be thinking of as the first call you would make as a GM?

Of all those people, everybody gave me a few ideas on who they like and who they think is good and Theo was at the top of everybody’s list. So through that process, not only what they have accomplished in Boston but what I heard about him from all the phone calls that I made, he just became our first choice.

BCB: Did you think he would be available at the time you started the process?

TR: I had no idea who’d be available, who wouldn’t be available, who was available but not interested. You just don’t know. So that’s why when I looked at it with the analytical guys I told them, "I don’t want to hear any names. I’ll worry about the names. You just give me the numbers." So we didn’t know if he was going to be available. Toward the end of the process, or toward the end of the season, we said, let’s just wait until the Red Sox are done playing and then we’ll see if he wants to talk.

BCB: Was he eager to talk when you approached him?

TR: He was interested. I think Theo saw this as the next challenge for him, something that might fit. So we got together and talked for a few hours one day about philosophies and baseball and it just felt right from a baseball perspective, from a personality perspective. It seemed like we would get along well and be able to work well together. So we had that meeting and he came to Chicago and looked around and got comfortable with us and we got comfortable with him and then we went back to the Red Sox and said we’d like to finish this deal up.

BCB: When you hired him, or when you were going through this process did you anticipate him being in the position he is now or did you anticipate him being in the same position as Jim Hendry? Now you have a President of Baseball Operations and a General Manager, two people when there was just one before. Had you anticipated that or is that something Theo brought up? How did that all come about?

TR: I had read that he was looking for a higher title in his next position. He had said that in a public comment. We talked about it internally and thought it kind of makes sense. There’s a lot of decisions on the business side that roll up to the president of business and there’s all sorts of decisions that roll up to the top of baseball. If we can get a president of baseball operations and he can build his team around him I think we’ll be better off for it. So, it just made a lot of sense for us.

BCB: Maybe this would be a better question for Theo, but how do you view the difference in duties, what exactly are the duties now of the president of baseball operations beyond what Jed Hoyer is doing as general manager?

TR: I’ll leave it to Theo to divide up what he does versus what Jed does. They work very well together. As you know they’ve worked together for years and they’re pretty close. But in terms of what the president of baseball does versus the GM that will be kind of in his silo.

BCB: So what is your position now? They report to you ultimately, so what is your position now because you had been overseeing a lot of this…. Does it take some of your work?

TR: I hope it takes some of my work. No, the way it works is Crane and Theo report to me and they’re really the only people in the organization who report to me. My job is to give those guys all the support they need to be successful. And where I can help out on something, I’ll help out on something.

BCB: To move on to what Crane Kenney does, because you now have two presidents, what specifically are Crane’s responsibilities and what does he now not do in his position?

TR: There’s not a lot of change in what Crane does. First of all, Crane does a terrific job in terms of keeping the business running and also he does a great job in looking to the future in things we should be prepared for or changes in the system or changes in baseball or the business of baseball.

Crane’s job really hasn’t changed that much. I think Theo has a little more bandwidth on some of the things like building the new facility in the Dominican. He weighed in on how our new facility will look down there. He’ll have the bandwidth to weigh in on the Mesa redesign which is just now getting drawn up. So I think he can fill in a lot, but in the end it comes down to if it’s a baseball decision it’ll roll in through Theo and if it’s a business decision it’ll roll in through Crane, and I think for the most part we have very little overlap on those two silos.