Interview: Theo Epstein, Peter Gammons at ‘Hot Stove Cool Music’ in Chicago

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CHICAGO – With the 2014 Major League All-Star game coming up next week on July 15th, that break is a time to reflect on the current season and your favorite team. At the “Hot Stove Cool Music” event in Chicago on June 20th, got in the All-Star spirit by talking with the President of Baseball Operations for the Chicago Cubs, Theo Epstein, plus baseball writer and former ESPN commentator, Peter Gammons.

Hot Stove Cool Music was co-founded by Peter Gammons in 2000, and began in Boston. Theo Epstein and his family charity organization, “Foundation to Be Named Later” partnered with the event shortly thereafter, and in total it has raised more than $5.5 million dollars, creating positive opportunities for disadvantaged children and families. Cub Charities was also a co-sponsor of the night, which featured Gammons, Epstein and other Chicago talents rocking on the Cabaret Metro stage in Wrigleyville, about one block from the Chicago Cubs home base, Wrigley Field.

StarTheo Epstein, President of Baseball Operations, Chicago Cubs

Theo Epstein
Theo Epstein at the ‘Hot Stove Cool Music’ Event in Chicago, June 20th, 2014
Photo credit: Patrick McDonald for

Theo Epstein is the young wunderkind from Boston, who came to the Chicago Cubs after serving as General Manager for the Boston Red Sox from 2002 to 2011 – at the time of his hiring in Boston, he was the youngest General Manager in baseball history at the age of 28 years old. Not satisfied that he broke the Boston Red Sox “Babe Ruth Curse” in 2004, after they won their first World Series since 1918, Epstein became President of Baseball Operations for the Chicago Cubs, who haven’t won a World Series championship since 1908. Epstein’s family also has a indomitable place in film history, as his grandfather Phillip and grand uncle Julius combined to write the classic “Casablanca” in the early 1940s, and won the Oscar for Best Screenplay – the family still has the trophy. You and your family are famous for your charitable giving and you’ve been participating in Hot Stove Cool Music since 2002. What had been given back to you in this participation?

Theo Epstein: I’ve gotten to know the people who run the non-profits and some of the kids that have benefitted from this concert. It brings people together – in those connections you make, you get a greater sense of community. Since you’ve famously had to infiltrate a traditional game as GM at a very young age, with ideas that went against the grain of those traditionalists. What situation that you were involved in best illustrates the clash of those generations?

Epstein: I didn’t sense much ‘clashing,’ it was more subtle. Every individual has a different approach on how to run a organization, and it bears out over time. I think the observation I had is that when I took the job, baseball people rushed to talk to me, thinking that they could take advantage of me. I proved myself, and that went away. My philosophy was to show everyone respect, and then earn my place in the game. You are on the third year of one of the most ambitious championship rehabilitations in baseball with the Chicago Cubs…

Epstein: I hope it’s a championship rehabilitation. [laughs] What have you learned about being a Cub that you never expected?

Epstein: I guess I didn’t expect the sense of optimism that pervades the whole Cubs community. You associate long losing droughts with skepticism and pessimism, but at Wrigley Field they’re looking for something to cheer about, and all the fans have an inherent sense of optimism. I think it’s the Midwest sensibility, I was surprised by that, and I appreciate it. I know it has been the official policy of the Chicago Cubs and their executive suite to ignore or dismiss the spiritual purpose of their curses. Have you ever discussed a different public relations strategy regarding them, such as embracing and even making fun of them?

Epstein: I don’t talk about PR that much, and operationally I’m just trying to develop a strategy for winning. We don’t really talk about the curses, that probably would be a waste of our time. We focus on getting players that are self motivated, who rely on each other, and help to create a buffer zone to the outside world. I worked in Boston, so I know all about curses. [laughs] What was your favorite trade in the history of your time as a baseball executive?

Epstein: I think it was part of that big four team trade on July 31st, 2004, when we traded Nomar Garciaparra for Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz. Around the same time we got Dave Roberts for Henri Stanley. Those were trades that didn’t make sense on the surface at the time, but we had a vision that it might end up working by October of ’04, and that fall we made a lot of Boston Red Sox fans very happy.

StarPeter Gammons, Baseball Writer and ESPN reporter

Peter Gammons
Peter Gammons at the ‘Hot Stove Cool Music’ Event in Chicago, June 20th, 2014
Photo credit: Patrick McDonald for

They don’t make them like Peter Gammons any more. As the Dean of Boston Red Sox baseball writers in the 1970s, and the co-founder of Hot Stove Cool Music – at which you’ll find him on guitar and vocals – Gammons had made his mark in baseball media history. He joined the fledgling ESPN Network as a in-studio analyst in 1988, and stayed with the network until 2009 in various capacities. He’s written several books about baseball, including “Beyond the Sixth Game,” an analysis of the impact that the iconic Game Six of the 1975 World Series between Boston and the Cincinnati Reds had on modern baseball. He is also a blues and rock music historian, and can often be seen at concerts around the Boston area. You came of age in the early era of rock and roll, graduating high school around the British invasion. How did that morph into your rock evolution, which later included more next generation rock bands like Midnight Oil and Pearl Jam?

Peter Gammons: It’s about listening to different types of music. I was sort of an ‘R&B’ guy when I was younger, and then the Rolling Stones came along and that changed everything. I like to quote Bruce Springsteen, ‘The Beatles were great but the Stones changed everything.’ You covered the famous 1975 World Series, with the iconic sixth game, and wrote a book on its impact. Many sports scholars point towards that game as a dividing line in baseball, to the bigger salaries and even more focus on baseball heroes. Looking at the sixth game near forty years later, what magic in your opinion uplifted the game and ushered in another era that impacted the game?

Gammons: One, I think it was the first time that TV really captured the World Series, in all its drama and scope. One of the most famous images from that sixth game, the Carlton Fisk game-winning home run when you saw him gesturing for the ball to stay fair, was actually an accident. The cameraman in left field was momentarily frightened by a huge rat, and couldn’t move from the shot. So a rat changed the industry. [laughs]

Second, games six and seven were the last two games played before free agency went into effect, and that started the salaries on their way up. But in the World Series itself there were eventually eight Hall-of-Famers on the two teams, and it was two baseball-historic teams playing for the championship. There was a moment in the 11th inning of the sixth game, when Pete Rose tapped catcher Carlton Fisk on the shinguard and said, “is this a great bleeping game, or what?’ You were a broadcaster during the steroid era of the 1990s, and the home run derby between two alleged users – Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa – helped propel attendance to new heights. With the complicity of the cheering media back then, and the spinning turnstiles for the game, is it fair to blame the whole era on the moral failing of the players, and not a moral failing of us all?

Gammons: We are all to blame. But also the media really didn’t understand it, nor did Major League Baseball. The popularity of the game skyrocketed, McGwire and Sosa were selling tickets everywhere and people in baseball weren’t asking too many questions – because balls flying out of the ballpark is what people wanted to see. Do you think baseball will forgive these guys, and allow them to enter the Hall of Fame?

Gammons: I don’t know, it’s going to be interesting. I find the attitude of those players in the era is ‘baseball is greater than what I did.’ Barry Bonds said to me this spring, ‘everybody makes a mistake.’ I got the distinct impression that he wished he never started using after 1998, because he doesn’t get credit for the home run record he broke. It really bothered him. What is your opinion on Pete Rose? Should he be allowed in the Hall of Fame?

Gammons: The distinction with Rose is that he violated rules that were in place [Rose gambled on his Cincinnati Reds team as a manager], but I think he eventually makes it. For one thing, what he did was as a manager, not a player. Pete Rose has no chance getting in as a manager, he wasn’t that good. But as a player, he symbolizes what is great about the game. He has to prove that the gambling is behind him, and he’s truly sorry. It’s getting closer, and when it happens he ends up in the Baseball Hall of Fame. I know I would vote for him. What three songs do you want in the mix at the party or wake after your funeral, to remind everyone there of who you are?

Gammons: Number one, ‘Gimme Shelter’ by the Rolling Stones. Next would be ‘Dixie Chicken’ by Little Feat. And finally Buddy Guy and The Rolling Stones doing, ‘Champagne and Reefer.’ [Quotes the song] ‘Bring me champagne when I’m thirsty and reefer when I want to get high.’

For information regarding the “Foundation to Be Named Later,” click here. “Beyond the Sixth Game” by Peter Gammons is available wherever books are sold. senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Senior Staff Writer

© 2014 Patrick McDonald,

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