Preliminary Note: The sermonic example below is applied to church life. A wealth of material is cited and linked for anyone who would like to develop a great illustration and/or go other directions.
Good public speaking and preaching take WORK. It also requires reading outside of your field of interest or comfort level. Personally, I have little interest in baseball (too slow for me), but I was taken up with Theo Epstein, and the more in listening to his interview on the “Axe Files.” The audio interview is worth a listen for some additional great quotes about leadership and life.
The material and links provided for you are all part of the work and provided for you and your personal development.
Who: Theo Epstein, General Manager of the Bost Red Sox (2002) and the Chicago Cubs (2011)
- Born: December 29, 1973
- Raised In Brookline, Mass
- Graduate of Yale University and University of San Diego School of Law
- Married & two children
- 2008 — Baseball America named Epstein its Baseball America Major League Executive of the Year.
- 2009 — Sporting News named Epstein Executive of the Decade.
- 2016 — Sporting News named Epstein Executive of the Year.
When: General Manager of the Boston Red Sox in 2002 / President of the Chicago Cubs in 2011
What: World Series Championship
- Theo Epstein was the General Manager when The Red Sox won the 2004 and 2007 World Series championships. These two World Series wins were the first since 1918.
- Theo Epstein was president of the Chicago Cubs when they won the championship in 2016, their first championship since 1908.
“For those who don’t follow baseball: a little background. I work for the Chicago Cubs, a team with a following so loyal and adoring and a history so forlorn that we were known nationwide as the Loveable Losers. As of last fall, the Cubs had not won the World Series since 1908. Think about that. 1908. That’s the Teddy Roosevelt administration. The Ottoman Empire was still around. That’s two World Wars ago. (Well, I haven’t checked the news since breakfast… let me look at my phone… oh, good, yes, still only two World Wars ago!) It was a 108-year drought, the longest in the history of professional sports. As the late Cubs broadcasting legend Jack Brickhouse said: “Hey, anybody can have a bad century.”
- “7 sports figures who made TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people list”
“Theo Epstein: The Cubs President of Baseball Operations helped build a team that won its first World Series since 1908 (not to mention, he already assembled the Idiots who broke the Curse of the Bambino for the Red Sox in 2004). In the writeup, John Cusack recalls telling Epstein that the World Series Game 7 win over the Indians was the greatest sporting moment of the century.” — https://www.nydailynews.com/sports/7-sports-figures-made-time-100-influential-people-list-article-1.3079258
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What: His 2017 Commencement Speech Delivered At Yale University — See Below [Link To Full Speech]
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Key Biblical Thoughts:
- the church
- Shadrack, Meshack, Abednego
. . . . .
. . . . .
[Include whatever details you find useful]
Theo Epstein was invited back to his alma mater and devlieved the commencement speech to the graduating class. Theo Epstein spent the majority of his time recalling the World Series win of the Chicago Cubs — which was unclebrated since 1908 . . . . Epstein states that “the Cubs had not won the World Series since 1908.
- During the Teddy Roosevelt administration.
- The Ottoman Empire was still around.
- That’s two World Wars ago.
- It was a 108-year drought
- the longest in the history of professional sports.”
His wife Marie, and his oldest son — Jack — were with him at that game. Jack repeataed computed the odds of winning as the possibilities went up and down through the game’s innings. . . .
67% — ““I know, buddy. It’s going well. But, remember, it’s baseball. Lots of things can happen.”
97% — “I know, buddy, I know.” I said. “It’s so great. One batter at time, though. We still need four more outs. Don’t want to look too far ahead.”
50 % — I couldn’t think of anything wise to say, so I just sat up in my seat, stared stoically out at the field, put one arm around my son, and with the other I patted his leg as reassuringly as I could.
The game went into extra innings and then a rain delay, and a 10 minute team time in the locker room waiting for the weather to clear.
After they won that epic World Series, Theo Epstein focused on what he wanted to say to his son Jack that he would remember about that day and the World Series win of the Chicago Cubs. . . .
“After all the champagne had dried and we finally got a good night’s sleep, I found myself returning to a simple question: what should I tell Jack and his younger brother, Drew, about this historic achievement; what is it, exactly, that I want them to hold on to?”
Epstein then says this . . .
“During rain delays players typically come in off the field and head to their own lockers, sit there by themselves, change their wet jerseys, check their phones, think about what has gone right and wrong during the game, and become engrossed in their own worlds. “
” Instead, they had the instinct to come together.”
“Actually, it was not an instinct; it was a choice.”
“And I will tell Jack and Drew that we all have our rain delay moments. There will be times when everything you have been wanting, everything you have worked for, everything you have earned, everything you feel you deserve is snatched away in what seems like a personal and unfair blow. This, I will tell them, is called life. But when these moments happen, and they will, will you be alone at your locker with your head down, lamenting, divvying up blame; or will you be shoulder to shoulder with your teammates, connected, with your heads up, giving and receiving support?”
That’s the reason for finding a church home. That’s the reason for having a church family. That is what the Lord intended the church to be in the lives of His people! It’s a choice that has real life implications! . . . .
Transcript Of Primary Section Of His Commencement Speech
[Introductory Comments] . . . .
So, Class of 2017, if you’ll indulge me, I’m going to tell you just one baseball story. It’s a bit long, but don’t worry you’ll like the ending… unless you happen to be from Cleveland, in which case I am truly sorry! The story is about a very important game — Game Seven of last year’s World Series — but has little to do with the actual outcome of the game.
For those who don’t follow baseball: a little background. I work for the Chicago Cubs, a team with a following so loyal and adoring and a history so forlorn that we were known nationwide as the Loveable Losers. As of last fall, the Cubs had not won the World Series since 1908. Think about that. 1908. That’s the Teddy Roosevelt administration. The Ottoman Empire was still around. That’s two World Wars ago. (Well, I haven’t checked the news since breakfast… let me look at my phone… oh, good, yes, still only two World Wars ago!) It was a 108-year drought, the longest in the history of professional sports. As the late Cubs broadcasting legend Jack Brickhouse said: “Hey, anybody can have a bad century.”
I joined the Cubs after the 2011 season amid an inordinate and uncomfortable amount of media attention. The Chicago Sun-Times, I remember, ran a full-page, front-page photo-shop of me walking on water across Lake Michigan, as if by showing up I was going to miraculously fix the team’s fortunes. Imagine their disappointment, then, when I announced a long-term rebuilding plan focused on acquiring young players and winning in five years. One season and 101 losses later, the same paper ran the identical picture on the front page, but this time the only part of me above water was the tip of my nose!
One day in the early years, after a particularly humiliating double-digit loss at Wrigley, I was walking home amongst the fans in a bit of a foul mood and I remember I kept my head down, trying not to get recognized. A very charming elderly woman spotted me and came over to ask a question. “I appreciate what you are trying to do, young man, I really do. I understand why you are bringing in so many young players, but, tell me: exactly when are you planning on winning a World Series? I’m not sure how much time I have left.”
I was a little taken aback and all I could think of to say as I put my head back down to walk away was: “Ma’am, I hope you take your vitamins!” (That was five years ago. If it happened today I guess I would say: “Ma’am, I hope you don’t have any preexisting conditions!”)
After three years of arduous rebuilding, we had a nucleus of young players we believed in who were ready to break into the majors together. Many of these players were 21- and 22-years-old: your peers, your generation. Typically, it takes young players years to adjust to life in the big leagues and to start performing up to their capabilities. Most of the blame for this rests on these ridiculous old baseball norms that say young players are to be seen and not heard. That young players must follow and not lead. That young players must adhere to the established codes — from the dress code that requires them to wear suits and ties to the code that says major league players can’t get too excited on the field or look like they are having too much fun.
Thankfully, we hired a manager in Joe Maddon who agreed it was time to turn these conventions on their heads. We asked our young players to be themselves, to show their personalities, to have fun, to be daring, to be bold. The dress code was changed from suit and tie to: “If you think you look hot, wear it!” Unburdened, and empowered, our young team flourished last season, winning 103 games, the most in baseball, and reached our first World Series since 1945. After fighting back from a three-games-to-one deficit against the Cleveland Indians, we faced a decisive Game Seven in Cleveland.
I watched Game Seven from the stands with my colleagues, my wife Marie, and my oldest son Jack, who was then eight years old. Jack, a big baseball fan and the math whiz of the family, kept me updated on the Cubs’ win probability throughout the game. As we enjoyed a two-run lead after five innings, he tapped me on the leg: “Dad, we have a 67% chance of winning the World Series.” “I know, buddy. It’s going well. But, remember, it’s baseball. Lots of things can happen.” Later, we had a three-run lead with just four outs to go in the game, nobody on base, and the bottom of the Indians order coming up. Tens of millions of Cubs fans nationwide, counting down the outs, put their arms around loved ones – or called them – to keep them close for the big moment ahead.
Jack put his arm around me: “Dad, we have a 97% chance of winning the World Series!”
“I know, buddy, I know.” I said. “It’s so great. One batter at time, though. We still need four more outs. Don’t want to look too far ahead.”
“But, Dad, first time in 108 years!”
Then, out of nowhere, as storm clouds suddenly moved into the area: an infield single, a double, an errant fastball, a fateful swing, an impossible home run…. and a tie game.
Indians fans erupted, rocking the stadium on its foundation with ear-splitting cheers. Cubs fans and I slumped in our seats, heads in hands. I felt another tap on my leg. “Dad, we definitely have less than a 50% chance of winning the World Series now.” I couldn’t think of anything wise to say, so I just sat up in my seat, stared stoically out at the field, put one arm around my son, and with the other I patted his leg as reassuringly as I could.
Minutes later, the skies opened up and rain halted the action. It was just enough of a pause to ponder the magnitude of the situation. Extra innings in Game Seven of the World Series. An entire season, down to this one moment. A five-year plan, down to this moment. 108 years of patience and unrequited love from our fans, down to this moment.
Still in a bit of a daze, I cut through our clubhouse toward a meeting about the weather. Turning a corner, I saw, through the window of the weight room door, the backs of our players’ blue jerseys, shoulder to shoulder and packed tightly, all 25 guys squeezed into a space designed for half that many. It was an unusual sight. We hardly ever had meetings and never during a game. I inched closer to the door and saw Aroldis Chapman, the pitcher who had surrendered the tying home run, in tears. I lingered just long enough to hear a few sentences.
“We would not even be here without you,” catcher David Ross said as he embraced Chapman. “We are going to win this for you. We are going to win this for each other.”
Outfielder Jason Heyward walked to the middle of the room: “We are the best team in baseball” he said. “We’ve leaned on each other all year. We’ve still got this. This is only going to make it sweeter.”
And then first baseman Anthony Rizzo: “Nobody can take this away from us. We have each other.”
Kyle Schwarber stood up with a bat in his hands: “We win this right here!”
I turned away, a big smile on my face, and headed to the weather meeting.
Ten minutes later, the rain cleared. Schwarber led off with a single, Ben Zobrist doubled just past the reach of the third baseman, and we took the lead. In the bottom of the 10th, with the tying run on base and the winning run at the plate, at 12:47 a.m., Kris Bryant fielded a slow roller with a gigantic smile on his face and threw to Rizzo for the final out. We had won the World Series. My wife, Jack and I embraced in celebration – equal parts ecstasy and relief. I noticed Jack’s mouth agape; the young mathematician was shocked and overjoyed that we had for once beaten the odds.
Later that morning, back in Chicago, the team bus passed a cemetery on the drive from O’Hare to Wrigley. We saw countless Cubs hats and pennants already draped lovingly over tombstones for family members who did not quite live to see the moment. The next day, five million triumphant Chicagoans from every corner of the immense city gathered downtown for a victory parade. The sea of blue was a beautiful sight; Chicago, fractious and endangered, was united in the aftermath of the championship.
After all the champagne had dried and we finally got a good night’s sleep, I found myself returning to a simple question: what should I tell Jack and his younger brother, Drew, about this historic achievement; what is it, exactly, that I want them to hold on to?
I thought immediately of the players’ meeting during the rain delay, and how connected they were with each other, how invested they were in each other’s fates, how they turned each other’s tears into determination. During rain delays players typically come in off the field and head to their own lockers, sit there by themselves, change their wet jerseys, check their phones, think about what has gone right and wrong during the game, and become engrossed in their own worlds. That would have been disastrous for our team during Game Seven — 25 players sitting alone at their lockers, lamenting the bad breaks, assigning blame, wallowing, wondering. Instead, they had the instinct to come together.
Actually, it was not an instinct; it was a choice.
One day I will tell Jack and Drew that some players — and some of us — go through our careers with our heads down, focused on our craft and our tasks, keeping to ourselves, worrying about our numbers or our grades, pursuing the next objective goal, building our resumes, protecting our individual interests. Other players — and others amongst us — go through our careers with our heads up, as real parts of a team, alert and aware of others, embracing difference, employing empathy, genuinely connecting, putting collective interests ahead of our own. It is a choice.
The former approach, keeping our heads down, seems safer and more efficient, and I guess sometimes it may be. The latter, connecting, keeping our heads up, allows us to lead, and, every now and then, to be part of something bigger than ourselves, and, therefore, to truly triumph. I know, I will tell them, because I have tried it both ways.
And I will tell Jack and Drew that we all have our rain delay moments. There will be times when everything you have been wanting, everything you have worked for, everything you have earned, everything you feel you deserve is snatched away in what seems like a personal and unfair blow. This, I will tell them, is called life. But when these moments happen, and they will, will you be alone at your locker with your head down, lamenting, divvying up blame; or will you be shoulder to shoulder with your teammates, connected, with your heads up, giving and receiving support?
And I will tell them not to wait until the rain comes to make this choice, because that can be too late. We weren’t winners that night in Cleveland because we ended up with one more run than the Indians. If Zobrist’s ball were four inches farther off the line, it would have been a double play and we would have lost the game. That was randomness; like much of life, it was arbitrary. We were winners that night in Cleveland because when things went really, really wrong — and then the rains came — our players already knew each other so well that they could come together; they already trusted each other so much that they could open up and be vulnerable, and they were already so connected that they could lift one another up. We had already won. That’s why I had that smile on my face as I walked away from the weight room door.
I learned later that the players’ only meeting had been called by Heyward, a 27-year-old who was suffering through a terrible offensive season, by far the worst of his career. Most players who are having seasons that rough detach from the team and isolate themselves — either to the disabled list or to the periphery of the clubhouse. But Heyward stayed at the center of everything: he never stopped being invested in his teammates, opened up to them about his own struggles, and bought them suites on the road for gatherings. The first to speak was Ross, the 38-year-old backup catcher in his final season who made a career out of being a wonderful teammate (and who is now in the finals of Dancing With The Stars. And you thought you were having a good year?) Rossy was always reaching out to befriend the loneliest players, organizing team dinners, breaking down the barriers that sometimes arise between players of different backgrounds in the clubhouse. The last to speak was Rizzo, the young team leader who all season long was reminding his teammates they were going to make history together, have a parade, and spend the rest of eternity linked with one another. Anthony, a survivor of pediatric cancer, just celebrated the World Series by making a $3.5 million gift to Chicago’s Lurie Children’s Hospital. Schwarber, who raced out of the meeting and right into the batter’s box, had torn two ligaments in his knee in the third game of the season – a 12-to-15 month injury. Rather than disappearing to a rehab facility, Schwarber, just 23, stayed connected with his team, getting his rehab work done early so nobody would have to see him in that state, and then functioning as an extra coach for his teammates the rest of the day. He kept telling his teammates he was going to find a way to help them win. Shocking the doctors and everyone else, Schwarber returned in just six months, right in time for the World Series. He hit over .400, including the single to start the deciding rally in Game Seven.
Early in my career, I used to think of players as assets, statistics on a spreadsheet I could use to project future performance and measure precisely how much they would impact our team on the field. I used to think of teams as portfolios, diversified collections of player assets paid to produce up to their projections to ensure the organization’s success. My head had been down. That narrow approach worked for a while, but it certainly had its limits. I grew and my team- building philosophy grew as well. The truth – as our team proved in Cleveland — is that a player’s character matters. The heartbeat matters. Fears and aspirations matter. The player’s impact on others matters. The tone he sets matters. The willingness to connect matters. Breaking down cliques and overcoming stereotypes in the clubhouse matters. Who you are, how you live among others — that all matters. The youngest team in World Series history with six starters under the age of 25; they helped me get my head up.
That is why, at the important moments in their lives, I’m going to keep telling my sons about the 2016 Cubs and that rain delay. And I’ll remind them – when they are graduating college or starting a new job, heading off to grad school or beginning a new life somewhere foreign – that they have a choice.
So, to the Class of 2017, as someone who has already been uplifted by members of your generation, I am thankful and in awe of what you all can accomplish when given the space to be free, to let your personalities out, and to figure it out. I am truly inspired by the traits that distinguish your generation — your diversity, your boldness, your optimism, your tolerance, your treatment of each other based on substance rather than on the labels that used to divide us.
I am so excited to see what lies ahead for you all. While there will undoubtedly be times here and there when you have to suck it up, follow the code, and put on that suit and tie, I urge you to remember that if you think you look hot, wear it! And please remember that even though so much can be quantified these days, the most important things cannot be. And, finally, when things go really, really wrong — and then when it rains on top of everything else — I ask you to choose to keep your heads up and come together, to connect, and to rally around one another, especially those who need it the most. It is likely to uplift you all.
Thank you, and congratulations.
Other Information & Links:
PDF of Theo Epstein’s Letter To The Boston Red Sox Fans
Football legend Bill Walsh used to say that coaches and executives should seek change after 10 years with the same team. The theory is that both the individual and the organization benefit from a change after so much time together. The executive gets rebirth and the energy that comes with a new challenge; the organization gets a fresh perspective, and the chance for true change that comes with new leadership. This idea resonated with me. Although I tried my best to fight it, I couldn’t escape the conclusion that both the Red Sox and I would benefit from a change sometime soon.
With this thought in mind, my assistant general manager, Ben Cherington, and I discussed how best to finish preparing him to take over as general manager, likely after the 2012 season, and how to ensure that the Red Sox could maintain continuity within our talented baseball operations group. Those steps were important for me before I could begin to feel comfortable making a transition. This summer, when ownership and I first discussed Ben as my successor, the Red Sox were stable, thriving, and talented enough in the big leagues and in the farm system to compete as one of the best clubs in baseball this year and for many years to come.
All of a sudden, we found ourselves needing to pick a new manager, a decision with long-term implications and one best made by someone who could lead the Red Sox baseball operation for the foreseeable future. Then the Cubs asked permission to interview me. The Cubs – with their passionate fans, dedicated ownership, tradition, and World Series drought – represented the ultimate new challenge and the one team I could imagine working for after such a fulfilling Red Sox experience.
So, knowing my time as the general manager was drawing to an end, I had a decision to make: stay one more year and do my best to conduct the manager’s search under less than ideal circumstances, or recommend the succession plan, allow Ben to run the search process, and join the Cubs. I wrestled with leaving during a time when criticism, deserved and otherwise, surrounded the organization. But Walsh’s words kept popping into my head, and I recalled how important it was for me as a relatively new general manager to bond with Terry Francona during the interview process back in 2003.
It was very difficult deciding to leave the place where I grew up, where I met my wife, where my son was born, where my family and closest friends live, and where I help run a charitable foundation. And it was equally hard to part with the organization and the people, including John, Tom, and Larry, who entrusted me with this role at such a young age and supported me along the way. But it was the right thing to do.
On successor Ben Cherington:
If not for the complete confidence I have in Ben to address these issues, I could not in good conscience leave the organization at this time. But there is no one in baseball more qualified to be the next general manager of the Red Sox.
Ben is infinitely more prepared than I was when I took over nine years ago. He’s been an area scout, an international scout, an advance scout, a farm director, and he’s supervised drafts. Ben is honest and insightful, fearless and friendly – and he is ready to lead this organization forward.
On the September Collapse:
Yes, September was a collective failure. As the general manager, I am the person ultimately responsible. Things did indeed happen in the clubhouse that do not have a place at the Red Sox or anywhere in sports. But the reports about team-wide apathy and indulgence are exaggerated. It may not seem this way now, but the team did care about winning, about the fans, and about each other; unfortunately, we failed when we let less important things get in the way. I tried desperately to reverse our slide, as did Tito, the coaches, and the players. But we just could not play well, and then we did not handle the adversity well.
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The Boston Globe Full-Page Ad
“Beyond the results on the field, I believe the Red Sox came to stand for certain things over the last decade. Pride in the uniform. Appreciation of our history. Controlling the strike zone. Grinding at-bats. Having each other’s backs. Rising to the moment. Never backing down. Connection to the fans. Hard work. Playing with passion and urgency. These concepts were taught in the minor leagues and reinforced at the big-league level by our homegrown players by Tito (Francona), a selfless leader who always put the Red Sox first. These principles united the organization and came to define us.”
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13 Components Of A Winning Culture
- A Winning Culture Has Symbols – This is part of your brand. This is what people think of when they hear you or your organization’s name. Epstein said, “Pride in the uniform.” He understood it meant something to an entire region when you put on that jersey.
- A Winning Culture Has History And A Sense Of Responsibility To Those Who Came Before You – You are standing on the shoulders of others who built the foundation you now operate on. There is a responsibility implied here. Epstein added, “Appreciation of our history.”
- A Winning Culture Is Disciplined – This speaks to focus and single-mindedness. Epstein noted the expectation of the players was “Controlling the strike zone. Grinding at-bats.” Your culture is greatly impacted by the lonely work, the things which do not receive public applause, that your team does.
- A Winning Culture Has Accountability – We are our brother’s keeper. Winning cultures are not made up of individual contractors. There is a sense of mutual responsibility. Epstein said it this way, “Having each other’s backs.”
- A Winning Culture Embraces Pressure – Leaders of winning cultures understand pressure comes with winning. Welcome or not, it is one of its rewards. There is no pressure with average or below-average cultures. Jurgen Klopp, the manager of the Liverpool futball team said, “The higher you climb performance-wise, the more likely it gets you’ll have a stressful conclusion of the season.” Epstein understands this and expects the Red Sox to be “Rising to the moment.”
- A Winning Culture Is Resilient – Building a winning culture is not easy. There are constant roadblocks and challenges to overcome. Failure is a constant companion. For example, when you read Bible you will learn God never called anyone to an easy task or assignment. Therefore, a primary component of a winning culture is “Never backing down.”
- A Winning Culture Builds Community – Winning cultures are attractive and highly inclusive. People want to be a part of them. The Red Sox are a picture of the New England region. Epstein acknowledged what all baseball fans know and that is the team’s “Connection to the fans.” Klopp would agree with Epstein. He added, “We are not alone on this planet and we should not be alone in a futbol stadium.”
- A Winning Culture Works Hard, Very Hard – Hard work works. You cannot have a winning team without it. Laziness is not present in winning cultures. It is simply not tolerated. Basketball announcer and former coach Jeff Van Gundy says, “Your best player has to set a tone of intolerance for anything that gets in the way of winning.” Epstein did not want this to be assumed. He proclaimed the Red Sox will be characterized by “Hard work.”
- A Winning Culture Is Easily Recognizable. It Has Passion And Urgency. – Passion is many things but ultimately it is owning the result. Passion also has a sense of immediacy. This was indicative of the Red Sox during the Epstein era. He expected the team to be “Playing with passion and urgency.”
- A Winning Culture Is Continually Reinforced At All Levels Of The Organization By The Language It Uses – Your culture will develop either by default or design. The tenants of your organization must be taught, modeled, and repeated over and over again. Epstein said, “These concepts were taught in the minor leagues and reinforced at the big-league level by our homegrown players.”
- A Winning Culture Is A Picture Of The Leader – Your culture is the length and shadow of a single individual – the leader. If you want a better culture, get a better leader and the Red Sox had a great one. Epstein added to the previous statement by recognizing the team’s manager, “These concepts were taught in the minor leagues and reinforced at the big-league level by our homegrown players by Tito (Francona), a selfless leader who always put the Red Sox first.”
- A Winning Culture Unites Your Organization – Epstein concluded, “These principles united the organization.” That’s what winning cultures do. They bring people together and create a sense of togetherness.
- A Winning Culture Defines Your Organization – Epstein concluded, “and came to define us.”