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Theo Epstein stepped down from his role running the Cubs on Tuesday, having succeeded in building the first World Series championship for the franchise in over 100 years but failed in parlaying that championship into a dynasty. In his good-bye letter to the team, Epstein talked about his next steps, saying he’s going to take a gap year from running a baseball team and get involved with non-profits.
Epstein also dropped this line in there: “I would love to find a way to serve the game that has given me so much and am pursuing a few possible avenues to do just that.”
Hannah Keyser of Yahoo Sports asked him about that, and Epstein responded with an acknowledgement that the analytics he helped steward into the game with the Red Sox and Cubs have had a “negative impact on the aesthetic value” of baseball games. He said that the strikeout rate is “out of control” and that “we need to find a way to get more action in the game, get the ball in play more often, allow players to show their athleticism some more and give the fans more of what they want.”
Theo Epstein said he was interested in a baseball job that allows him to help address some of more existential threats to the game. So I asked him what he thinks those are: pic.twitter.com/3yjdKvatGF
— Hannah Keyser (@HannahRKeyser) November 17, 2020
That Epstein is being so forthright about this suggests to me that it is likely he will partner with MLB commissioner Rob Manfred on this mission. Frankly, this would be outstanding news. Of course it was incumbent among front offices, managers, and players to identify advantages for winning, but it’s gotten so calibrated that the soul of the game has withered. A perpetual procession of strikeouts, walks, and home runs has yielded a dearth of base runners and therefore of action.
Manfred gets a lot of criticism for appearing like he is unsentimental about the game of baseball, but he’s been ahead of the curve in sounding the alarm that they are going to have to tweak the sport to liven it up. Every time he brought it up, he was met with staunch resistance from detractors who told him he just hates baseball.
You never let a crisis go to waste, and so the commissioner used the pandemic as an opportunity to ram in universal DH, a runner starting on second base in extra innings, and seven-inning doubleheaders. People complained initially, but these changes wound up, in my opinion, being positive innovations.
This isn’t to say that he did anything unethical with his application of analytics, but hiring Epstein to fix the bugs in baseball would be like how casinos hire old cheats or card counters to identify their own kind in table games. Other than eliminating the shift, I don’t have a ton of ideas off the top of my head for what Epstein should do to spruce up the game, but he’s the perfect person for the job.