After remarkable run with Cubs, Theo Epstein hopes to help rebuild baseball

Epstein is leaving the Cubs and turning his attention to new endeavors.

(670 The Score) During the difficult early years of his tenure as Cubs president of baseball operations, Theo Epstein would wake up from a recurring dream of leading the organization to a World Series championship.

Epstein's dream would remind him of the extraordinary impact a championship would have on Cubs fans and his burning desire to fulfill his promise of winning in Chicago. Then his eyes would open.

"Only to wake up to the realization that it was just a dream, and, no, we're in fifth place and have a lot of work to do," Epstein said with a laugh.

On the morning of Nov. 3, 2016, Epstein woke up from what little sleep he had gotten and finally realized the dream had become a reality -- he had built the Cubs into a World Series champion.

Epstein reflected fondly on those memories Tuesday afternoon after he announced he's stepping down from his role leading the Cubs' baseball operations department for the past nine years. In a transition that will officially occur Friday, general manager Jed Hoyer will be promoted to fill Epstein's role.

"I want to thank him for nine incredible years," Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts said of Epstein. "For delivering on the promise of a World Series, for creating that sustained success, for destroying the 'Lovable Losers' moniker. Really, I think the legacy that Theo leaves behind is an organization that expects to win, not an organization that's surprised to win."

With three World Series titles to his name, Epstein, 46, is already a surefire future Hall of Famer. He subscribes to the Bill Walsh theory that no individual should stay in the same job longer than 10 years. That's what initially led him from Boston to Chicago after he guided the Red Sox to their own long-awaited World Series championship in 2004 and then another in 2007. And it's what led him to the office of Ricketts over the course of this past season with the intention of forming a succession plan for the Cubs.

A Yale graduate, Epstein could be successful in seemingly any position of power that he would so choose. In 2017, Fortune magazine ranked him the world's greatest leader. But he doesn't want a position in politics -- "I don't know why anyone would inflict that upon themselves or their families," Epstein joked -- or anywhere but baseball.

It's still the game Epstein loves and what he wants to be involved with moving forward. He left open the possibility of running baseball operations for a team again but indicated that time wouldn't be in 2021. Epstein doesn't intend to explore the high-profile executive jobs that the Mets and Phillies have open. For now, he plans to continue living in Chicago while looking to impact the game in a new way. Epstein hopes to help guide MLB through its current and looming challenges as it balances the financial fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic with a collective bargaining agreement that's set to expire in a year.

Epstein also sees an on-field product in baseball that needs to better capture the attention of fans. Whether Epstein's vision leads to a role within the commissioner's office or with the players' association or somewhere else, he hopes to rebuild a sport that has become deeply fractured.

"It is the greatest game in the world, but there are some threats to it because of the way the game is evolving," Epstein said. "And I take some responsibility for that, because the executives like me who spend a lot of time using analytics and other measures looking to optimize team performance have unwittingly had a negative impact on the aesthetic value of the game and the entertainment value of the game.

"Give the fans more of what they want, and maybe there's a way to do that through changes over time to give the game back to the hands of the players and let them do their thing on the field. I think that's the best way to give the fans more of what they want."

Epstein's ultimate move could be into an MLB ownership group. It's something he admits appeals to him, but he won't rush into any next role. Epstein has been in the game of baseball since he was 18 years old, working as a public relations intern with the Orioles while attending Yale. He rose through the baseball operations side with the Padres before becoming the youngest general manager in baseball history when hired by the Red Sox in 2002.

Epstein is now a 46-year-old father of two boys who finally has more time to be a husband, parent and Chicagoan first. He plans to call this city home and even get season tickets to games at Wrigley Field.

Epstein is looking forward to attending the first game in which Cubs fans are allowed back into the ballpark so he can greet them in Wrigleyville and offer thanks for nine years of unwavering support. Epstein already knows where he wants to be sitting inside Wrigley Field -- in the sun-soaked bleachers, underneath those the World Series championship flag he helped raise up for the Cubs.

"Now that I won't be affiliated with the Cubs, I can truly enjoy the full Bleacher Bum experience," Epstein said. "And I look forward to doing that."

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.