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Mudville: May 30, 2024 6:20 am PDT

A Blueprint for Theo

It was announced on January 14 that (former Chicago Cubs President of Baseball Operations) Theo Epstein had been named as a consultant to the Baseball Commissioner’s Office in on-field matters.

This could be a breath of fresh air for fans and a “game-saver” for Major League Baseball itself.

Being the Commissioner of any professional sport is hardly a walk in the park and one of the biggest jobs of a Commissioner is to protect the basic traditions of his game and/or to not step in any “potholes” media-wise or otherwise.

Suffice it to say one can find an immense number of fans who seem to be of the opinion that current Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred:

  1. Does not like baseball.
  2. Thinks the World Championship trophy is just a “piece of metal” (Manfred’s own words).
  3. Was remiss in not finding a way to discipline Houston Astros players for involvement in their “cheating” in the 2017 World Series.
  4. Is the man behind too many “placebo-motivated” rule changes in efforts to speed up the game while unknowingly promoting the very mechanisms that slow the pace of play.

And significantly:  the man behind the current dismantling of minor league baseball, leaving communities without their baseball entertainment, and costing minor league playing, managing, coaching, training and umpiring jobs (along with costing jobs for support personnel like bus drivers, hotels, restaurants, in-season stadium workers and the like).

Now comes Theo Epstein as a consultant to Commissioner Manfred.

When this writer served as the interim General Manager of the Boston Red Sox in 2002, Theo joined the club as the Assistant General Manager.  I must admit that, at that time, I considered him to be somewhat arrogant, snobbish, and with an omniscient attitude.

But here is the great thing about Theo and how he has evolved.  I believe that were I to confront Theo with those accusations now, he would probably just smile and say: “You know… you were probably right”.

Theo Epstein is bright, self-effacing, confident, and knowledgeable.  He knows the game’s history and traditions.  He has vision and knows what needs to be fixed in order to keep the National Pastime from becoming the National Past-Its-Time. He has recently shown his open-mindedness in allowing that, aside from the current rage for analytics, player character and more traditional evaluative methods (called scouts) have a definite and necessary place in the game.

“Some of the greatest dangers to mankind will come from advances in science and technology”

He is smart enough to know what he does not know and bright enough to know how to find the right people who do have the answers.

Appreciating all of that, here is my (unsolicited) advice for Theo.

  1. Get the game back to basics. Eliminate the poorly-considered rules – such as a man on second base in extra innings, the automatic base on balls, etc..
  2. Paul Sullivan wrote in the Chicago Tribune (on January 14) that: “In his new role Epstein will work in Commissioner Manfred’s office with analytics experts on potential rules changes that MLB is exploring”. If indeed you will be working with “analytics experts” I suggest you lock them (and their laptops) in the nearest closet immediately.

There are fans who are of the opinion that many of the games ills (relating to pace-of-game as an example)  result from over-analyzation and an information glut, paralysis-by-analysis if you will. There are probably players who would agree.

As for technology, listen to the words of the late theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking when he said:

“Some of the greatest dangers to mankind will come from advances in science and technology”.  That wisdom has great applicability to the current state of Major League Baseball.  Remember that technology, in a baseball sense, has no morals and no emotion which takes a lot away from the game and fan entertainment.

I know it is required that changes in working conditions need to be negotiated with the Players Association but one of the biggest things that could be done to save the Major League game is (at game time) to eliminate, lock down, or remove anything of a  technological nature from the dugout and clubhouse areas (the technological stuff can share closet space with the analysts).  In other words, prepare all you want but once you get to first pitch…. “Play the Game”.

Personally, I have every confidence you can help the Players’ Association see the wisdom in instituting much of the aforementioned.

Lastly, a message for Commissioner Manfred.  Congratulations on a wise addition to your office.  It now becomes important for you to heed Theo’s advice and counsel.

Mike Port spent over 40 years in professional baseball. He began as a player, becoming a minor league GM as the result of an injury. He advanced to the Major League level where he served the San Diego Padres in the positions of Director of Promotions and Director of Player Development. Mike then worked as the Angels' Director of Player Personnel, Chief Administrative Officer, and eventually their General Manager. Port was the founding President of the Arizona Fall League, then joined the Boston Red Sox as Assistant General Manager, Vice President of Baseball Operations and (interim) General Manager. He left the Red Sox to become Major League Baseball's Vice President of Umpiring. He was the only guy signed by Hall of Famer Duke Snider (then a Padres Scout) to ever make it to the Big Leagues, just not as a player.

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