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The Hangover’s 2010 Person of the Year: Theo Epstein

22 Dec

The Hangover’s 2010 Person of the Year is Theo Epstein, General Manager of the Boston Red Sox.  It might seem odd for the Hangover to tout the GM of a baseball team when so many are doing so much in the world.  But Epstein did something that few others on the national stage have the intestinal fortitude (in the words of Gorilla Monsoon) to do:  Form a philosophy based on a set of beliefs and then stick to it, even when it is painful and unpopular to do so.    

When Epstein took over as GM of the Red Sox in 2003, he instituted an organizational approach based on player development, which could also be supplemented by key free agent acquisitions.   Prospects could be used as trade bait or to strengthen the major league team.   This strategy, Epstein maintained, would keep the Sox in contention most years.  It worked out okay in 2004, when the Sox won the World Series.  It also worked in 2007, when they won it again.

However, in 2006, Epstein briefly left the Red Sox because of interference from certain Sox higher-ups (read:  Larry Luchino) who wanted baseball decisions made with marketing and “buzz” impact in mind.  Only when owner John Henry worked things out so that Epstein could run the Sox his way, without interference, did Epstein come back to the team. Imagine that, a man with principles and integrity.  Many of The Hangover’s younger readers might not have heard of such a thing.

Which brings us 2010.  On the field, the year was a disaster for the Red Sox.  Injuries ravaged the team.  Important pitchers had sub-par seasons.  Some nights half of the lineup looked like they’d been called up from AA Portland.  Many pundits screamed that Epstein was short-changing Sox fans by playing young, unproven players and not going out and finding “major league” replacements.  Of course, they failed to realize that trading prospects for what would be overpriced “Band Aids” might hamstring the team for years to come.

By sticking to his philosophy, in the 2010 off-season Epstein was able to retool his team into one that is younger, more powerful, faster, better in the bullpen, and better defensively.  Sure, 2010 hurt; however, 2011 should be great (The Hangover is predicting an ’84 Tigers-type season).  But as we all know, (cliché alert) the games are played on the field, and (cliché alert) the games aren’t won on paper.  At least these moves should have the Sox challenging well into the future.  One can’t ask for more than that—unless, of course, you’re one of those living-in-Mom’s-basement, pre-2004 win-it-all-or-else fanatics.  If that’s the case, have another PBR and call WEEI. 

What sets Theo apart from just about every other public figure this year is that despite hardship, bad publicity, and public outcry, he stayed true to his vision.  He was willing to endure the slings and arrows of The Knights of the Keyboard, various talking heads, and countless knuckle-headed zealots.  This allowed him to place his organization on a course for long term success.  Has anyone in Washington heard of such a thing? 

Let’s compare Theo to some other public figures in 2010: 

President Obama sells out the public option of his health care plan before he even brings it to Congress.  His health care makeover creates more business for insurance companies, while claiming health care “should be a right for every American.”   The Hangover fails to see how that jibes. 

Obama then agrees to a tax cut (extending the Bush tax cuts) for the wealthiest 5% of Americans, despite saying, “I’m still opposed to it.”  The Hangover’s glad he’s not running the Sox.  Admittedly, it’s a compromise with Republicans so that unemployment benefits can be extended for two million other Americans.  Of course, Obama could have taken the fight to the airwaves and the American people.  Perhaps a populist outcry could have broken Republican opposition.  Coincidentally, it’s the five percent getting the break who contribute the most to presidential and congressional campaigns. 

Let’s not forget the Republicans and Tea-Partiers, who are intent on doing two things:  cutting the deficit and lowering taxes.  Enough said.

 President Obama recently stated: 

“We’ve got to make some difficult choices ahead when it comes to tackling the deficit. In some ways, this [tax cut deal/”compromise”] was easier than some of the tougher choices we’re going to have to make next year.”

No kidding, and with the integrity that Washington’s show this year, good luck with that.

Perhaps someone could invite The Hangover’s 2010 person of the year, Theo Epstein, to our nation’s capitol.  He might be able tell our leaders that it is important to form a set of values and beliefs based on thoughtful consideration, intellect, and logic.  Then he could reiterate the importance of maintaining that philosophy, even if it might not be popular to do so.  Perhaps he could introduce them to “long term planning” and “responsibility.”  If he shows them his shiny World Series rings, they might even listen. 

Then again, Theo Epstein’s biggest worry isn’t about getting re-elected.  He’s only trying to do what he knows is right.  And in 2010, that’s a singular quality.

Theo Epstein with the 2007 World Series trophy. Perhaps if our leaders in Washington knew they could get things like trophies as a reward, they might show some interest in long term planning.

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