RW Emerson on Boston’s Theo Epstein Compensation


Ralph Waldo Emerson loved pretending to read.

As discussed this morning in some detail by Bradley Woodrum and, more generally, by the concerned citizens of the internet, the Red Sox and Cubs are currently engaged in talks over what sort of compensation the former team should receive from the latter for the right to realease from his present contract, and sign, (quasi-) former Boston GM Theo Epstein.

The situation is a complicated one — and when complicated matters arise, the only prudent course of action is to appeal to Important Voices of Yore. We look not for a precise answer to our own particular dilemma — that would be impossible — but at least for foundational ideas on which we can arrive at our own conclusions.

Fortunately, for our purposes, we find among the works of celebrated American thinker Ralph Waldo Emerson an essay actually titled “Compensation”. As a service to the reader, I’ve spent the afternoon in my richly paneled study, drinking deeply both of Emerson’s text and some really expensive scotch that I just drink whenever I want to.

Does Emerson speak directly to the quandary in which the Bostonians and Chicagoans currently find themselves? In a word: no. And in two words: absolutely not. And in three, largely blasphemous, words: Oh God, no.

Am I prepared to let that prevent me from finishing this post that I started? In three words, two of them combined via the literary devise known as tmesis: abso-fuckin-lutely not.

To that end, I’ve submitted below, for the reader’s pleasure, three passages from Emerson’s “Compensation” — passages that, while lacking any direct relevance to the Theo Epstein Compensation situation, are at least instructive in some small way.

To wit:

Emerson: The world looks like a multiplication-table, or a mathematical equation, which, turn it how you will, balances itself. Take what figure you will, its exact value, nor more nor less, still returns to you. Every secret is told, every crime is punished, every virtue rewarded, every wrong redressed, in silence and certainty.

Analysis: With the suggestion that the world is a composite of countless mathematical exchanges, Emerson here is more or less advocating for a sort of sabermetrics-as-ethical-approach.

* * *

Emerson: The good are befriended even by weakness and defect… [N]o man had ever a defect that was not somewhere made useful to him. The stag in the fable admired his horns and blamed his feet, but when the hunter came, his feet saved him, and afterwards, caught in the thicket, his horns destroyed him. Every man in his lifetime needs to thank his faults… Has he a defect of temper that unfits him to live in society? Thereby he is driven to entertain himself alone and acquire habits of self-help; and thus, like the wounded oyster, he mends his shell with pearl.

Analysis: Emerson argues that our flaws are only flaws because we refer to them as such. Rather than flaws, they are merely facts. And we should endeavor both to discern and to obey the facts of our respective natures. To suffer, for example, has been a fact of being a Cubs fan. There’s maybe some benefit to that, as well. Probably. If you look hard enough. And are drunk.

* * *

Emerson: Blame is safer than praise. I hate to be defended in a newspaper. As long as all that is said is said against me, I feel a certain assurance of success. But as soon as honied words of praise are spoken for me I feel as one that lies unprotected before his enemies. Furthermore, the Cubs would be fools to surrender any kind of prospect for the services of Theo Epstein, regardless of the latter’s qualifications.

Analysis: Emerson goes on to write, “Trey McNutt? More like, ‘Trey McWhat are you thinking?'”



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Carson Cistulli has published a book of aphorisms called Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast.

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