By GABE FRIEDMAN
(JTA) – The World Series this year is being fought between two franchises with long and painful histories: The Cleveland Indians have not won a championship since 1948, and the Chicago Cubs go all the way back to 1908 for their last crown. The latter hasn’t even been in the Fall Classic since 1945.
Young sluggers Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant powered the Cubs to the National League title, while pitchers Corey Kluber and Andrew Miller have been among the stalwarts for the American League champs, aka the Tribe. And in the front office, Jews helped assemble both teams: Theo Epstein, the Cubs’ president, and Mike Chernoff, the Indians’ general manager.
With the Series underway — the Indians prevailed easily behind Kluber in Game 1 on Tuesday night, Oct. 25, — we take a closer look at how these two esteemed baseball architects stack up against each other on and off the diamond.
Epstein: As president of baseball operations for the Cubs, Epstein is second in command in the team’s front office behind only the team’s owners. He oversees the team’s general manager, Jed Hoyer, also Jewish, and manager, Joe Maddon. Along with Hoyer, he makes the baseball-themed decisions for the organization, from procuring players via trade or free agency to hiring coaches to doling out hefty contracts.
Chernoff: As general manager, Chernoff is also in charge of the Indians’ baseball decisions, albeit in a less senior role. (Some have argued that the term “president of baseball operations” is now not much different that general manager.)
Epstein: Attended Brookline High School in Brookline, Massachusetts; B.A. from Yale University (American studies); law degree from the University of San Diego.
Chernoff: Attended the Pingry School in Basking Ridge, New Jersey; B.A. from Princeton University (economics).
Epstein: Grew up in Brookline. His grandfather Philip Epstein, along with his brother, the screenwriter Julius Epstein, wrote the script for the Oscar-winning classic “Casablanca.” Epstein’s father, Leslie, is a novelist who has been the director of Boston University’s creative writing program for over 20 years. Among his several novels is King of the Jews, focused on a Jewish character who is made the head of a Judenrat council during World War II.
Chernoff: Grew up in Livingston, N. J. His father, Mark, 64, is the vice president of programming for WFAN, a leading sports radio station in New York.
Professional track record
Epstein: Even at his young age, Epstein already owns a historic resume. In 2002, he was hired by the Boston Red Sox as general manager, at 28 the youngest to hold the post in baseball history. He helped Boston overcome the Curse of the Bambino to win its first World Series in 86 years in 2004; in the A.L. Championship Series, the Sox became the first team in baseball history to overcome a 3-0 series deficit to advance. (Boston won again during his tenure, in 2007). The Cubs hired Epstein as president in 2011.
Chernoff: A promotion to GM after last season was the natural next step in his rise through the Indians’ executive offices. Chernoff has worked for the Tribe since college, when he took an internship during his senior year. He was named assistant general manager in 2010 and had a close relationship with the former club president, Mark Shapiro (also Jewish), who has since left to helm baseball operations for the Toronto Blue Jays.
Epstein: Epstein brought in former Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester as a free agent last year, and the reunion has paid big dividends: The southpaw went 19-5 with a 2.44 earned run average in 2016. This year, Epstein traded for Aroldis Chapman, a closer with a fastball clocked at over 100 miles an hour, to shore up the bullpen. The Cubs also drafted Bryant, last season’s Rookie of the Year and a leading Most Valuable Player candidate in ’16 — during Epstein’s tenure. Bryant has 65 home runs and 201 runs batted in his first two major league seasons.
Chernoff: Perhaps the best decision made by any team this season was Cleveland trading for Miller, a hard-throwing reliever from the New York Yankees. As of Wednesday, the 6-foot-7 lefty has pitched 13 2/3 innings in the playoffs without allowing a run (including in the 6-0 shutout in the Series opener). Chernoff also helped sign free agent first baseman Mike Napoli to a one-year deal before this season, during which he erupted for 34 home runs and 101 RBIs.
Relationship to Judaism
Epstein: Raised in a secular Jewish family in Brookline. He and his wife, Marie Whitney, who is Roman Catholic, are not raising their two sons with any religion.
Chernoff: Had his bar mitzvah at the Reform Temple Emanu-El in Livingston, N J. (The bar mitzvah theme? You guessed it: sports.) Since moving to Cleveland, Chernoff and his family have attended services at the Reform Temple Tifereth-Israel congregation in Beachwood, a Cleveland suburb.