Should a baseball team’s general manager be attending rock concerts on the same night that his team loses an excruciating game against their chief rival? That’s the question being asked across Red Sox Nation after Theo Epstein was spotted at a Pearl Jam concert on the same night Jonathan Papelbon was blowing a save at Yankee Stadium.
Not surprisingly, there has been some strong reaction (and overreaction) to Esptein’s musical interlude. Specifically, with the team struggling, and many of Epstein’s off season acquisitions contributing to the malaise, questions about his priorities have been raised. In response, the legion of Epstein defenders in the media, including Nick Carfardo and Rob Neyer, vehemently supported his right to have a social life, but in doing so, I think they are missing the point.
The passion among fans of teams like the Yankees and Red Sox is so strong that it often borders on irrational. You can be sure that once the ball left Marcus Thames’ bat on Monday night, more than a few Red Sox’ fans spent a sleepless night worrying about the team. That level of engagement might seem ridiculous to some, but it is also what fuels both teams’ considerable economic success. After all, an apathetic fan base doesn’t sell out the park or light up the ratings of the local RSN.
So, does attending the concert mean Epstein is not working hard enough as GM? Of course not. However, it does show that he may be a tad out of touch with Red Sox fans. Epstein has been to Pearl Jam concerts before, and will have the opportunity to attend more in the future, so it would have been wise for him to skip this one and avoid the perception of fiddling (or playing the electric guitar) while the Nation was burning bright.
Making matters worse, Yahoo!’s Big League Stew blog uncovered pictures of Epstein incognito at the event. Although not in costume as elaborate as his infamous gorilla suit, the clandestine Epstein makes it seem as if he was sneaking out. Sometimes perception trumps reality, and in this case, Epstein should have used better judgment, if only out of respect for the portion of his fan base who did more tossing and turning after Monday’s loss than Epstein at a rock concert.