Theo Epstein departed the Cubs as President of Baseball Operations last November, and recently took a position as a consultant in the Commissioner’s office. His role: helping MLB tweak rules and procedures to make the game better.
The Athletic recently surveyed player agents about a number of issues surrounding baseball and one of the topics was “Who should be the next Commissioner?”
(Side note: Part 1 of The Athletic’s survey of MLB agents is also worth reading.)
I particularly liked these responses from some of the agents surveyed:
“Somebody with a better understanding and love for the game.”
“Anybody but the one we got.”
“Anyone but Rob.”
Pretty sure similar responses would have come from a survey of BCB readers.
But then The Athletic writers surveyed the agents on who they thought would make a good Commissioner:
Theo Epstein essentially reached supermajority status with this question (14 of 23 agents) — and those responses were largely tallied before MLB announced his hiring as a consultant for on-field matters. While not universally beloved, Epstein has a deep network of contacts and instant credibility as the architect of three World Series winners, including the 2004 Red Sox and 2016 Cubs.
“He’s got the Superman complex. If there’s anyone who can fix the game, it’s only Theo Epstein.”
“We need someone to change the vibe of what’s going on. Baseball is getting lapped by other sports in marketing and promoting the game and keeping up with the times. I think getting someone younger in there who understands this would go a long way.”
“(Theo’s) not proud of all the decisions that he made and what ultimately transpired in the aftermath. It helped the team win, but it didn’t always help baseball. I get the vibe that he is a really good person — and it doesn’t always come off like that — (but) his heart is in the right place. (We need) somebody that looks at every single decision and says, ‘Is this in the best interest of the owners? Is this in the best interest of the players? And is this in the best interest of the fans?’ You have to look out for all three of those because it really is a tripod. Without the players, you have no games. Without the fans, you have no money. Without the owners, you’ve got no backing. We have to acknowledge that fairness needs to exist for all three parties. The fans — you can’t keep on just spitting in their face. You have to give them a product that they want to go out and see.”
“A case can be made for literally anyone else, but imagine if baseball got someone smart, young and savvy in that role? I don’t know if he’d like dealing with 30 owners, though.”
Those responses were probably better than anything I could suggest to you here, so I pass them along in their entirety. There is no doubt about one thing, no matter how you feel about Theo’s tenure in Chicago: He loves baseball.
Now, that’s certainly not the sole criterion in deciding who the next Commissioner should be, especially now that the position has become one of “Let’s make as much money as we possibly can for the owners.” Rob Manfred has certainly done a good job of doing that, but despite his constant retelling of a story of being taken from his upstate New York home to Yankee Stadium in 1968, I am not convinced Manfred loves the game. Further evidence for that can be seen in a couple of quotes from him in an article I posted here last September:
“What I do take exception to: People routinely write about how I feel about the game,” Manfred said. “They have no idea how I feel about the game. The fact that, you know, I don’t wear an ‘I love baseball’ tattoo on my forehead doesn’t mean that I don’t love the game. I actually do. I’ve devoted the vast majority of my career to it.”
Nothing there about loving the game — only that he’s worked in it for a very long time. And then there’s this:
“When I read somebody writing in a blog, saying ‘Rob Manfred doesn’t love the game,’” Manfred said, “that’s like water off a duck’s back.”
Well, sure, Manfred doesn’t have to like or dislike what people like me write about him and his apparent lack of love for the game, but man, are those statements bloodless. They read like they were written by a spokesman for the lawyer side of Manfred and then approved by a 7-5 vote in committee.
Manfred has been almost completely tone-deaf in a number of changes made to the game in an alleged effort to pick up the pace of play. The automatic intentional walk, the cut-down in mound visits, the three-batter rule: All of these trim, literally, seconds from games. The single thing that really could help the pace of play, the pitch clock, they refuse to institute.
Now MLB has hired Theo Epstein to do what Manfred and his battery of lawyers have failed to accomplish. I’ll give Theo a pretty good chance of accomplishing this, because not only does he love baseball, but he has acknowledged that what he and other baseball executives have done over the last decade or so to apply analytics to game play have probably caused the very problem he’s now tasked to fix:
Theo Epstein said he was interested in a baseball job that allows him to help address some of more existential threats to the game. So I asked him what he thinks those are: pic.twitter.com/3yjdKvatGF— Hannah Keyser (@HannahRKeyser) November 17, 2020
You can’t do this sort of thing in a clinical way. You have to love the game, understand the game, in order to understand “what fans want,” in Theo’s words. His status as a consultant should help, but why not put him in charge?
Rob Manfred’s contract as Commissioner runs through the 2024 season. The labor negotiations he’s going to head up after the 2021 season are likely to be contentious. Why not replace him with Theo, a man who’s succeeded in breaking two long World Series droughts and who actually likes the game?
Who should be Commissioner of Baseball after 2021?
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Someone else (leave in comments)