Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Theo Epstein's Book Club

For about an hour this afternoon, an eerie sense of uncertainty hung over the ballpark just a few blocks from my house. The Spring Training game between the Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays was delayed as the Red Sox threatened to boycott the team's trip to Japan, upon which they were scheduled to depart at 5:30 p.m. The players were fuming over what they believed had been empty promises about the perks involved in the 19-day trip, chiefly the $40,000 bonuses they thought should be extended to the team's coaches. Thousands of fans at City of Palms Park, a national ESPN television audience, Japanese baseball faithful and Major League Baseball officials were all cast into a nervous state of limbo.

And to think, I could have resolved all of this the night before with a few extra swipes of Theo Epstein's American Express Gold Card.

The Boston Red Sox GM came through my line at Barnes & Noble Tuesday night to pick up a few books, most notably "The Thin Red Line" by James Jones and Ian McEwan's "Atonement." This led my friend Alan to wonder aloud if Epstein only reads books that have been made with the words "Now a Major Motion Picture" on the cover. I think he only reads titles likely to be co-opted as ESPN promo tag lines for Red Sox-Yankees Sunday Night Baseball games.

Regardless, Epstein showed no signs of a man who's team was about to do some major rabble-rousing the next day. Instead, he seemed fairly laid-back and easy-going, so much so that he seemed just like you're average 30-ish young professional just stopping in for some weekend reading before heading back to the 'burbs to rest up for the next day in a soul-sucking job as a middle manager at an architectural firm. (Or something like that.) In other words, one of the guys. Who just happened to look a lot like that hotshot young wheeler-dealer of the Sox who built two World Series champions for a franchise that was never supposed to have one. I was about to bring up that resemblance when I looked down at the credit card he handed me and saw "Theo Epstein" (not, in case you were wondering, Theodore) in unmistakeable raised plastic lettering.

I decided to engage him a bit and wish him well, but since I had already done the conventional, "hope you have a good season" when I shook Manny Ramirez's hand by the newsstand, I decided to up the ante a bit.

"I hope you make Hank Steinbrenner eat his words!" I said as I bagged his purchase.

He paused for a split second as he seemed to strain for a proper response.

"Those are a lot of words," he replied.

"All he does is talk," I said, for some reason channeling my inner Wilbon as I gestured with one hand and handed him the bag with the other. "Yap yap yap yap yap!"

Theo, smartly, ended things here with a pleasant but short goodbye, and acknowledged the brief greeting of the man behind him in line before leaving. That next guy turned out to be a beat writer for the Boston Herald (Michael Silverman, if I remember correctly), which explains why Epstein was being so careful about what he said. Not that I would expect him to start venting about Hank's Spaulding-Smails-esque invective just anywhere, but still. Someone, somewhere has to call Hank on his shit. And what happens next will be Atonement, with Jon Miller and Joe Morgan, Sunday Night at 8, with Baseball Tonight starting at 7!