Goodbye My Looooove
Theo Epstein is gone. As the October 31st deadline approached I read every kind of article, from every kind of sports writer, with every kind of opinion. Since then, more of the same. Theo and Larry Lucchino just couldn’t get along; Theo wants to walk away from baseball, tour with Pearl Jam, and do goodwill in Africa; Theo has greater ambitions, and wants to be the youngest president of baseball operations; Theo got tired of the media circus in Boston and New England; Theo didn’t have as much control as he’d like. That’s a lot of explanations for one man’s decision, but none of them explain why a Brookline native, a Yale graduate who had worked in baseball since he was 19(under Lucky no less), the first general manager to bring a World Series Trophy to Fenway since Woodrow Wilson was president, none of them explain why a twenty eight year old phenom would abandon his dream job three years in. “In eleven years its gonna be 1984, man, think about that!” Makes almost as much sense, maybe more.
Theo had an undeniably excellent three year reign in Boston. His first year, the Red Sox came within five outs of their first World Series in 17 years; yet the way that year would have lived on were it not for the successes of the team the following year. Theo assembled the 2004 Boston Red Sox, had Thanksgiving dinner with Curt and Shonda Schilling, snatched Kevin Millar from Japan, signed David Ortiz at a fraction of his current market value (“What good is mining nose gold if you can’t share it with the village people?”), signed Keith Foulke, who may have prematurely ended his career to bring the Sox to the promise land(which I consider more impressive and heroic than Schilling’s ankle, if only because Schilling is on the wrong side of 35, and Foulke is now only 33), shipped Nomar out for Dave Roberts, Orlando “Mighty Mouse” Cabrera, and the guy who tried to steal the ball from the final out, and in the end wound up pouring champagne over Terry Francona, Manny Ramirez, Trot Nixon, Jason Varitek, and even Dale Sveum. I will remember these things about him, along with images of him sitting beside John Henry and Tom Werner with a Poland Springs bottle(the camera always caught him mid-gulp), announcing signings and trades with a stoic confidence, and most of all, for 2004.
When people point out the number of deals that didn’t work out in his favor, and then ultimately did(Vazquez, Contreras, A-Rod/Ordonez) I can only think about the G.M.’s who came before him, the inconceivably inept general managers who made incomprehensible moves day in and day out, ran popular stars out of town like it was their job, raised ticket prices, and didn’t seem to give a fuck about the fans; those men may have had plans, and backup plans, and backup plans for their backup plans, but for them, NONE of them ever worked out.
Theo we could trust, and that’s what I’ll miss. When he took over he and the new ownership group said they would rebuild the farm system. Three years later, as the door catches his heels, we can look to the roster and see names like Jon Papelbon, John Lester, Manny Delcarmen, Anibel Sanchez, Craig Hansen, Dustin Pedroia, Hanley Ramirez, and Kelly Shoppach. After 2003, when it was clear the team needed a starter to pair with Pedro and a closer(after the closer-by-committee proved to be disastrous), he signed Foulke and dealt for Schilling. This past season, he refused to deal prospects for immediate gratification. When his plan A failed, he moved to plan B, but he never mortgaged the future or reacted in panic. Theo we could trust.