When Theo Epstein Took Over

The dearly departed Red Sox general manager was hired 10 years ago this month.

theo epsteinTheo Epstein photo via Wikimedia Commons

On November 25, 2002, 28-year-old Theo Epstein was named general manager of the Red Sox. Ten years and two World Series titles later, it’d be ridiculous to even consider questioning the hiring. But at the time, the move was met with a combination of anxiety and bemusement. Phrases like “boy wonder” (Jimmy Golen, AP), “wunderkind” (Jeff Jacobs, Hartford Courant), and “boy king” (Tony Massarotti, Herald) got tossed around. Epstein was the youngest GM in baseball history, and the Knights of the Keyboard wouldn’t let us (and him) forget it.

In hindsight, the writers’ fixation with Epstein’s age seems, well, childish. For example:

Massarotti:

“The 102-year-old Red Sox are going to place their fate in the hands of someone who could be their great grandson when they name 28-year-old Theo Epstein general manager today. Larry Lucchino is taking an awfully big gamble with an institution that he clearly knows so extraordinarily little about.”

Dan Shaughnessy, Globe:

“It sounds like a Bill Veeck stunt, like sending midget Eddie Gaedel up to the plate as a pinch hitter. Come to think of it, wasn’t there a movie like this—little kid inherits Minnesota Twins from grandfather and makes himself manager?”

(I do give Shaughnessy credit for a Little Big League reference.)

Jacobs:

“Red Sox Nation, meet Doogie Howser, GM.

Doogie, don’t let ’em bury the scalpel in your back.”

Brian McGrory—who’s deep in shtick here—Globe:

“Okey dokey. Knowledgeable sources say that when team president Larry Lucchino took Theo to Chuck E. Cheese’s on Saturday morning to offer him the promotion, the conversation went something like this:

Lucchino: ‘We’re going to give you your very own big-boy office.’

Theo: ‘Yippeee!’”

And let’s not forget the Herald’s Track Gals, who called Epstein “the Red Sox’ hunky homeboy.” To be fair, a few columnists, including Sean McAdam, Gerry Callahan, and yes, Shaughnessy, firmly supported the Epstein hire (in print at least). Still, it’s both funny and telling how strangely the press corps reacted to Epstein’s rise. I guess reporters were used to an organization that never would’ve considered such a green candidate. The stodgy Red Sox hiring a 28-year-old kid from Brookline? Shocking!

“We’re aware that as a public relations matter there are safer choices. But Theo is someone who is ready for this job,” team president Larry Lucchino said at the time. “Theo is young, but he’s older than he was when the process started.” There actually was nothing that unsafe about Epstein. Sure he was 28, but he’d worked nearly a decade in baseball. He’d also spent a year as Boston’s assistant GM. But relatively speaking, the Red Sox took a risk. It paid off.

Epstein wasn’t perfect, but his tenure in Boston was wildly successful—especially considering what he was up against. “[Former Sox GM] Lou Gorman at the age of 28 was on an aircraft carrier off the coast of Korea,” Shaughnessy wrote when Epstein was hired. “‘But,’ cautioned Lou, ‘that might have been safer than being general manager of the Red Sox.’”