I’ve always wanted to dramatically quit a job. Who hasn’t? The relationship we have with our work — especially in an economic age when capital is set on eliminating labor altogether — is complex and fraught with contradictions. Work teases us with promises of meaning and fulfillment. But, in reality, it almost always takes more from us than it gives back. So we dream. We dream about not needing work anymore, about telling off the boss, about marching out the doors without looking back.
Few of us actually get to do it. And almost no one gets to do it by marching out the doors in a gorilla suit and then, nearly two decades later, walking back through the doors as a friggen’ owner.
But Theo Epstein did get to do that. Today, the most accomplished baseball executive since Branch Rickey returned to the Boston Red Sox.
In a video conference call, Fenway Sports Group announced that Theo Epstein is coming on board as a minority owner. What this actually means vis-a-vis the Red Sox isn’t yet clear. Some fans are already expecting him to take over the role that Larry Lucchino held for so long as the public face of the team and the man who sets the direction of the franchise. But it seems clear that that’s not going to happen. Larry Lucchino was the president and CEO of the Boston Red Sox, the most important off-field individual in the entire organization, who was involved in every single aspect of the club. But the Red Sox already have a president and CEO, and that’s Sam Kennedy, Theo’s former teammate on the Brookline High School baseball team.
Theo’s role, on the other hand, is being described as “part-time.” It isn’t even clear that he’s moving back to Boston for this, and he’s certainly not going to be only working with the Red Sox, but with FSG’s entire portfolio:
At Fenway, Epstein will work on sports initiatives across the business’ holdings, which include Liverpool FC, the Pittsburgh Penguins, RFK Racing, TGL’s Boston Common Golf and a recently acquired stake in the PGA Tour, in addition to the Red Sox.
As for baseball operations, don’t expect him to start setting strategy:
On the baseball side, Epstein says he’ll act as a sounding board and executive coach, if needed, to the Red Sox baseball operations people. Notably, he hired Red Sox chief baseball officer Craig Breslow while at the Cubs. “I’m a full believer in him and what he and his team are going to mean for the Red Sox,” Epstein said of Breslow, who joined the Red Sox in October. “With the other sports, where I have a lot to learn, hopefully my experience not only with teams but with Major League Baseball and with private equity will come in handy, at least as a supportive resource for the people at FSG.”
Frankly, given Theo’s close relationship with Craig Breslow, I suspect he will be extremely careful to not be seen as some kind of uber-GM. He’ll likely want to give Breslow the room to operate independently that Larry Lucchino famously struggled to give him.
So what does Theo’s return actually mean about the operations of a front office that has done almost nothing right since February 11, 2020? We don’t know yet. But after Theo walked out in that gorilla suit back in 2005, he proceeded to spend the next 15 years proving that he’s one of the best baseball minds of the modern era. So it sure as hell ain't a bad thing.
Welcome back, Theo.