I have a candidate for the new chair of the Democratic National Committee.
There are a couple of problems. Potential problems. Well, okay: problems. For one thing, my candidate has never worked in politics. For another, I don’t know if my candidate is a Democrat. (JK: he is). And I get that that could be a deal-breaker. If he’s a Republican, he might not be completely committed to, you know, do what the DNC chair is supposed to be do: elect Democrats.
Though he could hardly be worse at it than Deborah Wasserman Schultz was.
Still, I’m making a serious proposal here. I’m suggesting a genuine, thinking-outside-of-the-box pick, fresh thinking. I mean, we’d need to ask if he’s interested, and if he’s a Democrat. But if the answer to both questions is yes, this guy has a track record.
I nominate Theo Epstein for DNC chair.
Theo Epstein. Team President of the Chicago Cubs. The guy who built the World Series champs. The Cubs had not won the World Series since 1908. They were a bad team, a team of losers. Then they hired Theo Epstein, in 2011. Took him five years to build a winner. Course, he’d done it before. His first gig was as General Manager of the Boston Red Sox, another sad sack franchise, another team that hadn’t won, a team on an 86 year losing streak. He was hired by the Sox in 2002, at the age of 29, the youngest General Manager in baseball at the time, and one of the youngest in baseball history. They won the World Series in 2004. To repeat: the two most storied losers in baseball history hired this brilliant young guy, and in two years and five years, respectively, he’d built them into winners.
He’s 42 years old. He’s never not succeeded, spectacularly. He has no more professional mountains to climb. And he may well be looking for a different kind of challenge.
Here’s the Epstein method. He identifies and acquires underutilized talent. That’s it. He loves data and he loves computer geeks. He puts together a team of really smart guys, and they comb through player personnel records and they find talented guys who aren’t being valued by their teams, guys who, in Epstein’s words ‘are just about to break.’ Look at this year’s World Champion Cubs. Their best player (and team leader) Anthony Rizzo, batted .141 in his rookie year with the San Diego Padres. Epstein traded an okay pitcher, Andrew Cashner, for him, and Rizzo’s now a star. Likewise their best pitcher, Jake Arrieta. Struggled with the Orioles; Epstein traded a back-up catcher for him. Epstein does this all the time. Identify talent; develop it; motivate it; reap the benefits.
Okay, imagine that skill set in the DNC. Because, let’s face it, the number one task of the Democratic party has to be to rebuild the party from the ground up. State legislators, city council members, school board members. In the last election, it was depressing to see all the races in which the Republican was running unopposed. Granted, I live in Utah. Still, the Democratic party needs to compete; we need to compete everywhere. In the last election, the Democratic candidate for the US Senate from Utah was a woman who worked as a clerk at a grocery store. Nice lady, but she had no credentials. Shouldn’t the DNC have discouraged that? Encouraged her to run instead for the state legislature? Build a resume, get experience, start modestly. Wouldn’t that have been better than just running someone who was going to get clobbered?
That’s what Theo Epstein is great at. Find and identify talented people, put them in a position to succeed, motivate them, coach them up, and give them the resources to succeed. Oh, and one more thing: nobody outworks Theo Epstein. There’s a reason a 29 year old was given the reins of the Boston Red Sox.
He’s also personable, an excellent interview. He’s very comfortable hanging out with rich guys–has to be, to succeed in baseball. And there’s also this; he’s every bit as great at understanding and responding to the needs of ordinary folks. Both in Boston and Chicago, he’s made ‘improving the fan experience’ a high priority. He listens, in other words. He makes sure all the seats are comfortable, all the bathrooms clean, all the refreshments tasty. He’d be an outsider, if he ran for DNC chair. That’s a good thing. He’s the best possible guy for the job. You know, if he’s a Democrat.
(Which, by the way, he is. He strongly supported Hillary Clinton’s campaign, with a big donation). When one of his players (Arrieta, in fact), came out for Trump, Epstein responded: “Tolerance is important, especially in a democracy. The ability to have honest conversations, even if you come from a different place, is fundamentally important.” He didn’t reprimand the player, nor did he reprimand Curt Schilling, the famously conservative former Red Sox player, when he spoke out. In both instances, Epstein found an opportunity to have a conversation with the guy. And, with both guys, cordially agree to disagree.
We probably can’t afford him. Epstein makes ten million a year to run the Cubs. But he’s the perfect choice.
In the real world, the DNC chair will probably be Keith Ellison. He’s the only Muslim in Congress, a strong Bernie Sanders supporter, a great choice in most ways. And there are other fine candidates. But really, it should be Theo Epstein. Right man for a tough and important job. Let’s see if we can make it happen.