Walk around U.S. Cellular Field this summer and it’s highly unlikely you’ll see any fan wearing a jersey bearing the name of Jerry Reinsdorf, Kenny Williams, Rick Hahn or any other member of the White Sox front office.
But visit Wrigley Field this season, where Theomania has reached a fever pitch, and you’re likely to see an entirely different sight now that retailers have realized that the Cubs new President of Baseball Operations has the potential to be very, very good for their bottom lines.
Sportsworld, a large souvenir store located directly across the street from Wrigley Field’s iconic red marquee, has begun selling Theo Epstein jerseys ($184.95 plus tax) and shirseys ($36.95 plus tax). No word on whether or not they plan on selling similar jerseys bearing new GM Jed Hoyer or Senior Vice President Jason McLeod’s names on the back as well.
We first suggested the possibility of selling Theo-related merchandise back on October 13th as a sort-of tongue-in-cheek idea to help finance much-needed renovations to Wrigley Field. At the time, the dilemma was which number would Theo be assigned. After all, as the team’s President of Baseball Operations, he wasn’t going to be assigned one by the team.
I spoke with Sportsworld managers about two weeks ago when I first learned of their decision to sell the jerseys and shirseys. They told me they chose no. 12 since Theo’s first season will be 2012, this despite the fact that outfielder Alfonso Soriano currently wears the number. The store began selling the Theo-related merchandise early last month online and have already completely sold out of both the jerseys and shirseys. Later this month, both are expected to be available in store, hanging up alongside the likes of jerseys belonging to Andre Dawson, Ryne Sandberg and Milton Bradley.
Other souvenir stores around Wrigley Field told me that while they’re planning on carrying Theo-related merchandise (a shirt bearing the phrase “In Theo We Trust” was popular among store managers) they don’t yet have plans to carry Epstein jerseys. That all could change given the fact that the jerseys and shirseys have been such a hot seller at Sportsworld. It’s believed to be the first time an executive who never played the game has been marketed to the fans in the form of merchandise, but looking at it from a business perspective it makes sense.
Since the beginning of October, there has been nobody more popular in the city of Chicago than Epstein. His mere mention stoked the hopes and dreams of an entire fanbase. Cubs fans who saw what he did in Boston are giddy with anticipation of what he can do at the Friendly Confines, hoping he’ll be the guy who ends a championship draught that has lasted more than a century. At this point, it’s completely within the realm of possibilities that his no. 12 will outsell Soriano’s, a true victory for numbers geeks everywhere who grew up watching the jocks get all the glory.
The question is, is this the beginning of a trend? Will Andrew Friedman or Jon Daniels’ current (or next) employers start printing up merchandise with their names and faces on it? Those two gentlemen have already done what Theo is expected to in Chicago — revive moribund franchises and give fans in Texas and Tampa respectively reason to care about baseball again. Or are Theo and the Cubs the perfect marketing marriage of an executive who has already saved a franchise once believed to be cursed and a fanbase so desperate for something — anything — to believe in that they’ll cling to a newcomer’s past glories as evidence that the end of their annual autumnal suffering is in fact in sight?