By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) It looks like a franchise due for a little luck finally had its number come up.
Thanks to a once-thought-impossible confluence of circumstances — Boston’s historic collapse, an opening at Clark and Addison, and one man’s desire to leave the nurturing nest of his home city and spread his wings — Theo Epstein is reportedly ready to be the Cubs’ top baseball executive for five years and many millions.
This is a big deal. It’s a dream hire for a fandom too familiar with nightmares.
It’s also unlikely to yield instant gratification.
As dramatic a move as it is, and as high-profile as he will be (wanna bet he graces the pocket schedule – the first Chicago GM to do so, I think, since that grotesque caricature of Hawk Harrelson was sporting a ten-gallon hat and grinning at us in 1986?), his actual impact will probably not mirror the lightning-strike nature of his arrival.
There are some things that can be done, to start, with the on-field effect felt in due time.
First, actually let him go to work. His people, his baseball organization. Nobody’s safe, not even farm-chief Oneri Fleita or scouting head Tim Wilken, two well-paid pets of owner Tom Ricketts. If overpromoted meddler Crane Kenney remains as nominal President (or any other title), he needs to be moved well down the hall, if not to a different floor. Better yet, treat him like Milton in “Office Space” and relocate his desk to the basement. Rather than a red Swingline stapler, he’ll fetishize the “Kenney 1” uniform he wears around there.
Ricketts, himself, must also get out of the way. He once said he doesn’t need a baseball guy to watch his baseball guys, so he should avoid pretending to be a baseball guy, as tempting as it can be.
Besides, he has something more important to do, and he’s now better-prepared to do it with Epstein on board.
There’s that little concern of several hundred-million tax dollars needed to rebuild Wrigley Field, as inspired by the renovations to Fenway Park and the surrounding area. The haphazard last attempt at public money crashed and burned due to ham-fisted public-relations and sloppy, amateurish politics, but Ricketts is taking another shot.
He now has Rahm Emanuel to contend with locally, and sources tell us the new mayor is amenable to lending a hand, but only if he has political cover for something like this, while he’s busy fighting with teachers and closing police stations. Epstein’s hire gives Ricketts added juice in his efforts, looking serious about baseball and giving taxpayers a connection to another franchise that reconstructed both their ballpark and their fortunes. Look for them to move quickly behind well-connected new frontman Julian Green, trying to capitalize on a groundswell of optimism and good will.
Epstein will have to hire a manager, too. As much as Ryne Sandberg didn’t make sense for 2011 – helming an ostensible competitor doomed to fail under a lame-duck regime – he may fit now, leading a long-view rebuild. Epstein interviewed Sandberg for the Red Sox AAA job, remember, before Sandberg realized he wouldn’t have a big-league offer and took another AAA post with the Phillies.
Outside of putting together a front office and passively improving the atmosphere around the Cubs, there’s not much Epstein will do early on that excites. Unless some piecemeal trades of underproducing vets get your juices flowing.
2012 will probably be bumpy, at best, as the dig-out begins from the Tribune era of broken hopes, playoff flameouts and no-trade clauses.
This is a great move for the Cubs. It may just be a while before it feels like it.
So grab a cold one and a bucket of popcorn, sit down in front of the TV, and get ready to enjoy watching Theo Epstein general-manage.
Dan Bernstein has been the co-host of “Boers and Bernstein” since 1999. He joined the station as a reporter/anchor in 1995. The Boers and Bernstein Show airs every weekday from 1PM to 6PM on The Score, 670AM. Read more of Bernstein’s columns here. Follow him on Twitter @dan_bernstein.
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