Jim O'Donnell: Theo's next puzzle not all that puzzling

  • Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said he will take a break before moving on to his next chapter.

    Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said he will take a break before moving on to his next chapter. Daily Herald File Photo

Updated 11/18/2020 6:27 PM

SO THE THEO EPSTEIN OF NOW arrives for a job interview.

And the H.R. director asks: "What exactly do you do?"


Epstein replies: "I solve puzzles."

He doesn't paint houses. He no longer chases Bambinos. He doesn't spruce ivy.

He solves puzzles.

Epstein solved major ones at Fenway Park.

He solved a mystic one at Wrigley Field.

And then he moves on.

Leave the platitudes and mythologizing for others to construct and contextualize.

Gone like a cool breeze. Up, up and away.

Nine years ago, at age 37, in The Boston Globe, he made it clear he visualizes his career in blocks of approximately 10 years.

Block one, Red Sox, victory.

Block two, Cubs, goat-neutering triumph.

Block three ...?

As was strongly suggested in this space 21 months ago -- anything short of a significant equity stake in whatever his next adventure is, Epstein is cheating himself.

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Block four then becomes easy to project -- majority ownership of whatever he deigns to undertake as his final professional opus, be it a baseball team, a new-age sports and entertainment conglomerate, a used book store on Martha's Vineyard.

A bit of background on what was swirling toward The Orb of Theo during the winter of 2018-'19:

He had three years to run on his contract as president of baseball ops for the Cubs.

But the dog had been fed at Clark and Addison and the iridescent flame of November 2016 was clearly fading to dying ember.

A business force of significant resources had its designs set on an eminently rehabbable MLB team.

And that force wanted Epstein, complete with a minor stake in the project, as its master of baseball operations.

For the record, all was simply in the air.


There was no meddling. To this day, Epstein retains all plausible deniability. He has long had an appropriate relationship with the primary source of "the force."

The purchase didn't happen. Epstein had no firm offer and, thus, no decision to make about leaving the Cubs in 2019.

Now he is more free an agent than the election cybersecurity chief at the White House.

A realistic seer would venture that Epstein will rise higher than ever in his block three.

And wherever his used book may land, he will continue to do what he does best:

Solve puzzles.

STREET-BEATIN': Unusual storm clouds over CBS Sports: Jim Nantz's contract -- at $6.5M per -- is up next year. His price point now becomes the $18M NFL mate Tony Romo makes. But in these economic times? ...

The idea of Fox Sports losing Urban Meyer to Michigan's pathetic football program makes sense for a lot of reason save one: Could the former Ohio State charmer walk into the same sort of living rooms where he was selling against U Mich from 2012-'18 and now "win?" ...

Ratings for the Masters were down 51 percent from last year and the lowest since 1957. For the first time, the CBS perennial was up against the NFL and a Dustin Johnson runaway one year after a magical Tiger Woods win is like comparing driveway dandelions to Harry Potter among the pink dogwoods. ...

When Northwestern (4-0) and Wisconsin (2-0) clash in Evanston Saturday (ABC-7, AM-720; 2:30 p.m.), the most important mind on either sideline will be NU DC Mike Hankwitz. The Badgers let the defensive wizard go 12 years ago, Pat Fitzgerald immediately snapped him up and Hankwitz schemes for this game with extraordinary determination. ...

Recent news White Sox radio play-by-play will land at ESPN AM-1000 drew a collective "Meh" from Chicago cognoscenti. The addition will further constrict free-flowing comments on the lagging outlet and station crankers Craig Karmazin and Mike Thomas remain in need of power talent, money and promotion. ...

Intriguing news around the NBA draft has been once-touted Zion Williamson continues to battle weight problems. "Z-Haystack" has been working to get his BMI (body mass index) under 34. ...

Actor Michael B. Jordan -- once teen QB Vince Howard in "Friday Night Lights" of NBC and DirecTV fame -- is People magazine's 2020 "Sexiest Man Alive." Basketball/blackjack icon Michael Jordan is not expected to sue for a recount. ...

And to show Pro Football Reference statistics can still prompt the ol' Danny Thomas spit-take -- even in a bye week -- Nick Foles limps tied for 30th in all-time NFL QB ratings, ahead of Otto Graham (No. 33), Dan Marino (No. 34) and Brett Favre (No. 35).

• Jim O'Donnell's Sports & Media column appears Thursday and Sunday. Reach him at jimodonnelldh@yahoo.com.

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