The hiring of Craig Breslow, a former Red Sox middle reliever turned low-level front office executive, to run the whole dang thing, should tell you everything you need to know about where we are, as a Nation. But if it doesn’t, let me help: The cult of the General Manager is dying, and that’s a good thing for all of us. Healing may be possible.
It’s been a long time coming. Since the publication of Moneyball, more or less, fans have wanted their GMs to be characters, outside-the-box thinkers with identifiable strategies fitting their personalities. I was definitely guilty. The Red Sox’s abortive hiring of Billy Beane, and their eventual hiring of Theo Epstein, showed how in line the team’s owners were with this particular iconoclasm, but back then it meant something wholly different than it does today. Back then, it was about winning. Now? Not so much.
Beane was a cost-cutter by nurture, not by nature. Epstein wasn’t a cost-cutter at all. He made some amazing smaller deals, the signing of David Ortiz obviously foremost among them, but he also inked Curt Schilling to a huge contract as the Sox pushed like hell to win it all, and did. It was still baseball, and it was still Moneyball — money won games, and the Sox spent money to do it, albeit in the right ways.
Life changes! Over 15 years, and through outright collusion, luxury tax reform and John Henry’s decreasing interest in spending relatively large amounts money on the Red Sox, the league and our team found themselves embracing austerity and trying to crib the absolute wrong lessons from Beane, et al. Chaim Bloom took over in a snit and wanted to win at no cost, not because he had to, but because he thought he could, no matter how embarrassing the product... and, years later, thought himself straight out of the job his bosses would have plainly preferred he had been good enough to keep.
That said, when word came that Bloom was overly solicitous of the opinions of his potential trades, and overly scrutinizing of the ones he made, it laid bare what went wrong: He was afraid to make even halfway difficult decisions, and in so doing turned a job that was easy into a job that was near impossible. He let the perfect be the enemy of the good, and fumbled the biggest bag he’s every likely to carry. It was a failure directly proportional to how much vitriol he kicked up among the team’s fans who, without anything tangible to claim, spent years trying to prove negatives in his favor in ultimately fruitless arguments.
Now Breslow is running the show, and he ought to be fine because, frankly, the job isn’t that hard. The data are complex and the available knowledge is far more expansive than it used to be, but the fundamental goal of “signing good players” hasn’t actually changed a lick. In an egalitarian system, Breslow, “inexperienced” as he is, might face long odds. But this isn’t egalitarian. The Sox can play at the high-roller tables if they want. Few others can. Bloom was afraid to, and I don’t think Breslow will be.
On the most recent episode of the Monsters of Sox podcast, which I encourage to not just sample but complete, if only to hear my son roast me to hell and back, I said the lack of decision-making “experience” was something that would only last through Breslow’s first day of work; Mike Hazen, in his World Series glow, basically said the same thing. Which was in essence: One day, you’re not in charge of everything. Once you are, you are, and the world unfolds before you.
Still, it’s technically true, as Dan said in our podcast, that we have no idea what Breslow will be like, but I think I have a good idea. If he’s a decent mix of Epstein-endorsed “knows ball” intelligence and former-player-backed common sense, he should be perfectly fine, especially building on an organization that Bloom nurtured largely through paralysis by analysis. The Sox plainly don’t need a genius to compete for a title; they need a functionary.
And so in some ways, their belabored search may have landed them the perfect man for the job, a guy with nothing to lose in a situation where losing is more or less a choice. To crib from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Bloom chose poorly. But at least in the movie, there was only one cup out of hundreds that was right. In Bloom’s case, he chose the one bad cup out of a host of good ones. Breslow isn’t likely to make the same mistake in reverse. There’s really only one way to go backward, and nobody’s choosing that one. We’re way past that shit.