For all he accomplished while with the Red Sox, Theo Epstein looked a bit awestruck when he was introduced to the Boston media contingent some nine years ago. He was young, likely quite nervous and required some choreography and a few deep breaths to get through that first question-and-answer session.
When Ben Cherington was officially introduced Wednesday at Fenway Park, it was like getting a bedtime story from your grandfather.
Epstein and Cherington are very much alike, and fostered a friendship and a strong working relationship over the years in Boston. But the latter, while much more unheralded than his predecessor, is stepping into the general manager's position at Fenway Park as a seasoned pro. While the seas around the Red Sox have been incredibly stormy of late, the club has in Cherington a calming presence who knows the organization top to bottom, has thrived in several roles and is perfectly primed to make the transition into Epstein's old role.
Epstein said as much in his farewell to Boston piece in The Boston Globe on Tuesday, adding that Cherington is "infinitely more prepared than I was when I took over nine years ago."
When it became official Tuesday afternoon at Fenway Park and Cherington got the pat on the back from team president/CEO Larry Lucchino, the 11th general manager in Red Sox history could reflect on his long, measured ride to this moment.
"I'm going to treat the job a little bit differently [than Epstein] because I’m at a different level, a different point in my tenure," said Cherington, who has been in the game since first interning with the Red Sox in 1997.
"I'm really excited about this job. I've thought a lot about this job in recent years as I hoped I was getting closer to this opportunity and thought about all the challenges that come with it. And my eyes are wide open that there are going to be tough days that come with this job but there's so much enormous upside. And look, at the end of the day, this is what we love to do. This is what I love to do."
Because of his opportunity to take part in almost every significant aspect of the organizational structure, Cherington has a keen awareness of his support system, and what it will take to get the Red Sox back to the top of the baseball world. The 37-year-old New Hampshire native indicated as much in a determined portion of his opening remarks Tuesday on Yawkey Way.
After referencing the turmoil of the previous two months and what it did to the loyal fans of the Red Sox, Cherington began the soliloquy that may one day be referenced when those same fans assess what he meant to the organization:
"What I'm left with is an incredible conviction that the Red Sox will be the best organization moving forward. I’m convinced of that because I know John [Henry], Tom [Werner] and Larry care more than any other ownership group. They've shown that over and over in different ways. I look forward to working with them more closely. I'm convinced of that because we have a baseball operations staff that is going to continue to strive to build advantages, to find better ways to do things. I'm convinced of that because I know we're going to have a scouting staff, domestically and internationally, amateur and at the pro level, that will help us identify and acquire the best players at every level around the world. I’m convinced of that because I know we’re going to have a player development staff that’s dedicated to getting the most out of every player we sign."
"I'm convinced of that because I know we’re going to have the medical staff that's going to help our players reach their peak both mentally and physically. I’m convinced of that because I know we’re going to hire a manager that mirrors our values and our ideals and has a strong voice and will help shape the culture that we need for the next generation of Red Sox teams."
Then, he summed it up:
"And I'm especially convinced of that because I know that we have the players in our clubhouse who have the talent to win, who are committed to it and who are motivated to put 2011 behind them and prove to everyone that they’re worthy of the fan's trust."
Cherington can speak with such conviction and not sound fabricated in the least. Not only does he have that familiarity with all aspects of the operation, but he was one of the guys that Epstein confided in to build the culture that was in place during the most remarkable run of success in franchise history.
After Epstein took over, he and Cherington, who was then named director of player development, had extensive talks on how to create the scouting and player development machine of which Epstein coveted. It was Cherington who was front and center when many of the stars that currently occupy the clubhouse rose from promising draft pick to standout major leaguer, most of that process taking place under Cherington's watchful eye.
And one of the men watching over that dynamic duo saw the growth and development of the man perfect for the job.
"He's done the work, he has the respect, he is a leader. His background in scouting is immensely impressive to me," Lucchino said Tuesday. "I've always believed in hybrid baseball executives and Ben is a hybrid baseball executive. He is conversant with, comfortable with progressive thinking, statistical analysis, etc. He also has a healthy, sincere respect for traditional observational scouting. You put those two together, you get the best baseball evaluators, the best baseball executives."
Some would say, especially those in the Cubs ownership group, that Epstein is among that group. Cherington's opportunity to stake his claim has come. It was only a news conference, but if his first few moments in the role are any indication, he'll get there one day.