Baumann: Everybody wants their own Theo Epstein

From SABR member Michael Baumann at The Ringer on June 27, 2016:

On June 17, 2003, Michael Lewis’s Moneyball hit bookshelves, and it changed the way the average fan looks at baseball. The book ultimately became a crossover sensation, influencing the business world and, perhaps more impressively, turning Jonah Hill into an Academy Award nominee. It called into question baseball’s tactical and statistical conventions in a way that, with all due respect to the ongoing work of Bill James, no mass market publication ever had. It spawned an eponymous revolution in the management and discussion of the game, and even though that revolution has undergone schisms of its own as it’s become the new orthodoxy, Moneyball is baseball’s decisive historical turning point of the 21st century.

It also shifted the focus of baseball in a way that’s altered our understanding of the game. For the first time, the hero was not the player, but the executive. And even though Billy Beane was the hero of Moneyball, he’s not the archetypal general manager of the Moneyball movement. No, it’s the guy the Red Sox hired when they couldn’t get Beane.

When Boston hired Theo Epstein on November 25, 2002, it changed the game forever, both figuratively and literally. Boston had finished second to the Yankees in the AL East for five straight years, despite making big, headline-grabbing moves for Pedro Martínez, Manny Ramírez, and lastly Johnny Damon, whose departure from Oakland precipitated the events of Moneyball itself. Unlike the 2002 A’s, Boston wasn’t an experimental group of castoffs on a shoestring budget; it was Old Money, a rich, well-scrutinized organization that would ordinarily have been run conservatively. Instead, team president Larry Lucchino handed the reins to the youngest general manager in MLB history. A 28-year-old lawyer with no playing or coaching experience, Epstein looked like he’d gotten lost on the way to a high school mock trial competition, and he showed up with big ideas and a mountain of quantitative data.

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Originally published: June 27, 2016. Last Updated: June 27, 2016.