Theo: Red Sox were swallowed by 'The Monster'

Theo: Red Sox were swallowed by 'The Monster'
June 14, 2012, 12:14 pm
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There are codewords for it. Bricks. Sox Appeal. Sweet Caroline. The sellout streak.

But Theo Epstein had a better, more direct, phrase:

"The Monster".

He wasn't referring to the left-field wall. The former Red Sox GM, now the president of the Chicago Cubs, was talking about the post-2004 Sox organization's "emphasis on doing things bigger, better . . . pushing to be more marketable, more profitable, not to lose any fans, continuing to push all these numbers".

Which leads them to sell bricks. And do everything they can to keep their record sellout streak alive. And play 'Sweet Caroline' every night in the middle of the eighth, even if they're losing 16-5.

"It's perfectly understandable; I don't blame anyone for it," Epstein said Wednesday on the 'Felger & Mazz' radio show. "It's sort of a natural consequence of winning and a natural consequence of being a business."

The problem is, it also leads them to do things like signing a 30-something pitcher like John Lackey to a multiyear contract. To run through a revolving door of overpaid, mediocre shortstops. To embrace quick, external fixes to problems that sometimes would be better solved with long-term, internal strategies. The need to win now, to sell tickets, to keep ratings high, to keep impatient fans and a braying media (especially the talk-show media) at bay, led to what Epstein called a "push and pull" in the Red Sox organization.

"Our true baseball approach, what we most wanted to do in an ideal world, was a bit antithetical to this notion of 'The Monster'," said Epstein.

In the end, 'The Monster' won . . . something Epstein feels bad about to this day.

"If I have one serious regret, I think that 'The Monster' grew and grew and grew and then I didn't do as good a job of pushing back, clearly, in the later years," he said. "I kind of gave in to it."

Not at the beginning, though.

"The philosophy that I tried to bring to our baseball operation -- again, especially in the early and middle years -- was built around developing young players, built around the draft, built around development," Epstein said. "We talked all the time about how the ideal world would be developing a complete roster full of homegrown players.

"We knew, as we dreamt about that, that it was probably impossible in a big market. But as recently as a couple of years ago, we talked about it. 'Well, what'll be like if we could have Will Middlebrooks at third and Jed Lowrie at short and Dustin Pedroia at second and Anthony Rizzo at first and Ryan Lavarnway behind the plate and Jacoby Ellsbury, Josh Reddick and Ryan Kalish in the outfield? Wouldn't it be incredible to have that kind of team, and can we get there?' And that was really . . . the drive behind almost everything that we did . . .

"And then you had the reality of being a big market and being in a really competitive atmosphere and being in a place that wasn't that patient."

The problem is, such an approach can only work with patience. Young players take time to develop, and sometimes they regress before they move forward.

Boston, however, is not a patient place.

"You guys remember -- you probably were at the forefront of -- all the mockery when I talked about, 'Hey, having a bridge year', and being patient and letting these guys develop," Epstein told hosts Michael Felger and Tony Massarotti. "In retrospect, I could have done a better job of articulating that and fighting the forces that didn't allow that to happen."

The Red Sox sit today with a bloated payroll, an aging and thus far underachieving roster, and an uncertain future. It's not where anyone thought they'd be in the mid- to late 2000s, when the farm system was annually sending top prospects like Pedroia, Ellsbury, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and Daniel Bard to Boston, and the Sox were being hailed far and wide as baseball's most progressive and forward-thinking organization.

In some circles, Epstein is catching much of the blame; after all, everything that happened up until this past offseason was his handiwork. And he freely admits that, at the end of his reign, he began "giving in to the need to be good next year".

But, he says he learned his lesson.

"Be true to the philosophy and understand the bigger picture," he said. "There's always another day to fight."