back in through the out-door
January 25, 2006Red Sox Return Epstein to Office He Never Left
By JACK CURRY
Theo Epstein left the Boston Red Sox
almost three months ago and said he no longer wanted to be their general manager. Epstein insisted that he was not "all in" regarding the organization he always dreamed of running and would not discuss the rift that had developed with Larry Lucchino, his mentor.
But, really, Epstein never left the Red Sox. He continued speaking with John Henry, the team's principal owner, and other former colleagues. He kept himself involved with the Red Sox. He kept discussing a possible return until they made his new role a familiar one yesterday by saying he was back as general manager.
In a news release that included comments from six Red Sox officials and mentioned more than 20 team employees, Henry said the Red Sox were "exceedingly happy" to have Epstein return. Henry added that Lucchino's role as president of the team had not changed and that "there was never a power struggle between Larry and Theo."
Still, even as the Red Sox tried to portray Epstein's return to his old job as a common development in a corporation, there were baseball executives wondering how it would affect the organization, and especially Lucchino. Epstein worked under Lucchino for 14 years on three teams, then evolved into an even more revered figure in baseball-crazy Boston after leaving.
Even though the Red Sox ended an 86-year drought by winning the 2004 World Series, the despair about Epstein's messy departure made it seem as if those joyful memories happened a lot longer than only 15 months ago.
Lucchino and Epstein referred to the testiness in their relationship, which surfaced when Epstein declined to accept a three-year, $4.5 million contract last October. Lucchino said "the passage of time" helped "put behind us the friction" that cropped up during the negotiations, friction that had to with issues of trust and power.
Epstein acknowledged that there was a difference in philosophies between upper management and the baseball operations department while he was trying to work out a new contract. Because of what Epstein called "this lack of a shared vision" and "a far-too public negotiation," he and Lucchino sparred.
"Gradually, with the benefit of time and greater perspective, we tackled not only our personal conflicts but also the differences regarding our thoughts for the organization," Epstein said. "We emerged, ten weeks and many spirited conversations later, with the comfort of a shared vision for the future of the organization, including the role of the baseball operations department."
Lucchino said the Red Sox would be "stronger, deeper and bolder and more effective" with Epstein as the general manager. As Epstein had conversations with Henry; Tom Werner, the Red Sox' chairman; and Lucchino, Lucchino said "an enhanced sense of team" emerged. The executives, including Epstein, realized they were all committed to working toward continued success for the Red Sox, he said.
Epstein replaced the co-general managers Jed Hoyer and Ben Cherington, who had five-week tenures in their not-so-dream jobs. Hoyer, an assistant general manager, and Cherington, the vice president for player personnel, said they were aware that Epstein could return when they agreed to succeed him.
While Epstein was gone, the Red Sox failed to re-sign center fielder Johnny Damon, who is now a Yankee; traded shortstop Edgar Renteria; and acquired starting pitcher Josh Beckett and third baseman Mike Lowell from the Florida Marlins
The Red Sox are still trying to fill holes in center field, where they could soon obtain Coco Crisp from Cleveland, and at shortstop, where they may sign the free agent Alex Gonzalez. Now that the Red Sox have what Epstein called "a new vision in place" and "a real sense of unity," he said they could be an even "greater organization." Lucchino said the principals in this soap opera would be available for questions today about Epstein's comeback, but after that, the team would not discuss it.