At The Ballyard ... with Steve Weissman

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Theo Says Goodbye: No Reasons Offered, But None Are Important!

On what could only be described as a strange and mournful day (with apologies to Paul Simon), Red Sox outgoing GM Theo Epstein met with the press yesterday and left observers on-site, on-air, and online with as many questions as answers.

During the event, Epstein attributed his departure from the club to the fact that he no longer could be “all in” about the job. It wasn’t due to any sort of conflict with CEO Larry Lucchino, he said, or disagreement over money, or professional burnout, just the result of considerable organizational and personal introspection.

“There was a process, leading up to the decision, during which we really turned the microscope on ourselves and on the organization, on relationships,” Epstein said, adding, “There were a lot of difficult discussions that probably should have happened a long time ago. But in the end, you asked what changed, the process revealed that I could not put my whole heart and soul into the job at this time.”

Why not? What was revealed, exactly? How long ago did he sense there were issues to be addressed, and why weren’t they discussed at the time? Internal reviews of the sort just undertaken are not unusual in business, and in fact, they are a particularly good idea. But they rarely result in the exit of a major participant – especially following several years of close cooperation among senior executives – over what in this case feels distinctly like philosophical differences.

Epstein wouldn’t elaborate, and principal owner John Henry could only say, “You’ll have to ask Theo” when asked for his opinion during his turn at the podium. So we are left to speculate why Epstein made a decision he clearly thought he should, rather than the one he wanted to, and why Henry, who obviously was troubled and hurt by the outcome, was evidently so surprised by the late turn of events. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think this could happen,” he said, and in an emotional moment he elicited sympathetic smiles by remarking, “There’s no crying in baseball.”

As an organizational and strategy consultant by trade and a Sox fan by default, I am pained to see opportunity and potential walk out the door in the person of Theo Epstein. But I also am enough of a realist to recognize that all this will be forgotten, and perhaps even forgiven, if the team beats the Yankees/makes the playoffs/ wins the World Series. So you see, in the end, the reasons aren’t all that important, and I suspect no one knows this better than John Henry, Larry Lucchino, and Theo Epstein himself.

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