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Up next for Theo? 'I need a new challenge'

November 17, 2020

Theo Epstein has compiled a résumé that will someday land him in the Baseball Hall of Fame, though as he stressed Tuesday, the last lines have not yet been written. Epstein stepped down from his role as the Cubs’ president of baseball operations on Tuesday, leaving the organization with one

Theo Epstein has compiled a résumé that will someday land him in the Baseball Hall of Fame, though as he stressed Tuesday, the last lines have not yet been written.

Epstein stepped down from his role as the Cubs’ president of baseball operations on Tuesday, leaving the organization with one year remaining on his contract. And while the 46-year-old’s name was immediately mentioned industry-wide as a candidate for the top baseball operations position with both the Mets and Phillies, Epstein emphasized that he has no plans to pursue a job with any club in 2021.

Epstein a superstar in his field

“I come from the school of never ruling anything out,” Epstein said. “But having some firm ideas in my mind of what I think is best for me and best for my family, I do hope and expect to have a third chapter in baseball, but in no shape or form do I expect to do it right away.”

Epstein plans to fill his time during the next year working with some nonprofit organizations, spending time with his family, and, quite possibly, helping the sport he loves through some turbulent times off the field.

“I do hope to stay engaged in the game. This game is my passion. I care deeply about it, so I’m going to seek out ways to serve the game in the near future,” Epstein said. “I have already started to pursue a few possible avenues to do that. I expect my phone will probably be ringing, and I always answer it. I look forward to hearing what people have to say since I’m open-minded about my future. Those are my plans; I don’t expect to jump right back in with another team now. I’m really looking forward to the freedom to explore lots of different things.”

Epstein said he was not burned out by the job, but just as he felt his time in Boston had run its course after nearly a decade, he felt like it was the right time to leave the Cubs following a nine-year tenure. In each case, he was the architect that helped end historic curses with World Series titles, though the years after those championships proved to be less fun for him.

“If you look at my track record in Boston and then here, in the first six years or so, we did some pretty epic things,” Epstein said. “The last couple years weren’t that impressive. Maybe what that tells me is I’m great at and really enjoy building and transformation and triumphing. Maybe I’m not as good and not as motivated by maintenance, so to speak. As soon as you get to the point where it can start to feel that way to you, you owe it to yourself and as importantly if not more importantly, to your employer to be open about that and seek to pursue change that’s in the best interest of the organization and the individual.

“I’m somewhat self-aware -- not in a lot of areas, but in some areas, I am. I’m self-aware enough in this area to know that, after a while, I need a new challenge.”

What might that challenge be? It appears that it won’t involve running another organization for at least a year. Epstein has said that becoming part of an ownership group at some point is appealing to him, though that possibility doesn’t seem to be in his immediate future.

“It can seem so unattainable that I haven’t been realistic about it yet,” Epstein said.

Citing the work that the Ricketts family has done in Chicago and the impact that John Henry and Tom Werner’s ownership group has had in Boston, Epstein spoke admiringly about the influence a baseball team’s ownership can have on a city.

"Team owners can be transformed into forces for civic good and help a lot of people, be involved in a lot of the important conversations in the city and be a solution for a lot of issues in cities,” Epstein said. “That does appeal to me. A lot of things would have to go right for that to happen. Usually, for that type of thing to happen, you need access to a lot of capital. You need to have pretty good proximity to those types of transactions, you need to be able to single-handedly transform a baseball organization. Who knows? Maybe I have plans for some of those things down the line, but a lot would have to go right for that to happen. That would be a great role.”

In the short term, Epstein hopes to stay engaged with the game and help “as best I can.” While he hasn’t had any official discussions with MLB about a role in the Commissioner’s Office, he said he's had ongoing conversations through the years with Commissioner Rob Manfred and other top executives at the league office, including Dan Halem, Morgan Sword and Chris Marinak.

“I’m happiest when baseball drives the sports conversation in this country and is atop the perch as the true national pastime, hands down, no questions asked,” Epstein said. “There are a lot of threats to that with everything going on in the world and industry issues that we face over the next year or so. Now that I’m not with a team and I’m outside, maybe there’s some way I can help or be of assistance. I’m going to stay in the game in one form or another, short term and long term. I’m confident of that.”

One potential career path that Epstein will definitely not be pursuing? Running for public office.

“I’m not sure why anyone would inflict that upon themselves or their family,” Epstein said. “Policy is interesting to me; politics, not so much. I think there are ways to impact the world around us without necessarily diving into those political waters. Maybe I’ll be lucky enough to have a chance to do that in some form or another.”

While Epstein spends the coming months figuring out his next step won’t be using that time to document his journey to this point. Asked whether he plans to write a book, he quickly slammed the door on that idea.

“No plans to do that,” Epstein said with a laugh. “That’s for old people -- and great former presidents.”

Mark Feinsand, an executive reporter, originally joined as a reporter in 2001.