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The general manager’s goodbye: Theo Epstein’s parting words to Red Sox fans

10.25.11 at 12:34 am ET
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Former Red Sox GM Theo Epstein offered his farewell to Red Sox fans in an editorial. (AP)

Former Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein, in an op-ed in the Boston Globe, detailed some of the factors that led him to walk away from what he described as his childhood “dream job as general manager of the Red Sox” after nine seasons in order to accept a position as President of Baseball Operations with the Cubs.

Epstein, who was the architect of a Sox franchise that reached the playoffs six times in his nine-year tenure and won two World Series (a prospect that was unfathomable when he was growing up in Brookline), made clear that he still has enormous respect and appreciation for his colleagues and bosses with the Red Sox.

While he described his “close relationships” to principal owner John Henry and chairman Tom Werner, Epstein described a “complicated but ultimately productive and rewarding relationship” with CEO Larry Lucchino. But he dismissed the idea that his move to Chicago is related to “power, pressure, money, or relationships.” He also said that his relocation is unrelated to the Sox’ September collapse, which he said happened “despite [the Sox' owners], not because of them.”

Instead, he suggested, he had already begun contemplating change as part of the natural cycle of a sports executive. Initially, he planned to leave his position as GM of the Sox after the 2012 season, at the expiration of the four-year contract that he signed with the Sox following the 2008 season.

“Football legend Bill Walsh used to say that coaches and executives should seek change after 10 years with the same team,” he wrote. “The theory is that both the individual and the organization benefit from a change after so much time together. The executive gets rebirth and the energy that comes with a new challenge; the organization gets a fresh perspective, and the chance for true change that comes with new leadership. This idea resonated with me. Although I tried my best to fight it, I couldn’t escape the conclusion that both the Red Sox and I would benefit from a change sometime soon.”

This season, Epstein had been grooming Assistant GM Ben Cherington as his successor, a process that the Sox expected to play out after the 2012 season. Yet the late-season collapse, and the following decision that manager Terry Francona would not be back, preceded an offer from Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts to meet and discuss a position running the Cubs’ baseball operations department.

“I wrestled with leaving during a time when criticism, deserved and otherwise, surrounded the organization,” he wrote. “But Walsh’s words kept popping into my head, and I recalled how important it was for me as a relatively new general manager to bond with Terry Francona during the interview process back in 2003.”

And so, Epstein determined, it was the right time to move on, and to turn over the stewardship of the team to Cherington. He described the deeply personal components that went into the decision.

“It was very difficult deciding to leave the place where I grew up, where I met my wife, where my son was born, where my family and closest friends live, and where I help run a charitable foundation,” he wrote. “And it was equally hard to part with the organization and the people, including John, Tom, and Larry, who entrusted me with this role at such a young age and supported me along the way. But it was the right thing to do.

“What a privilege it has been to be a part of the Red Sox these last 10 years. The first title in 2004, born from the heartbreak of Aaron Boone, was unforgettable: The Steal, Papi, the Bloody Sock, the Greatest Comeback Ever, the end of The Curse. The second, 2007, was equally rewarding as it solidified the franchise’s rise and marked the emergence of a core drafted, developed, and trained in the ‘Red Sox Way’ so many had worked so hard to establish.”

Epstein also spoke of the accomplishments in building an organization that went beyond the simple results of champagne celebrations. He identified core values that permeated the organization, and that, he noted somewhat pointedly, were betrayed during the unraveling of the 2011 Red Sox last month.

“Beyond the results on the field, I believe the Red Sox came to stand for certain things over the last decade,” he wrote. “Pride in the uniform. Appreciation of our history. Controlling the strike zone. Grinding at-bats. Having each other’s backs. Rising to the moment. Never backing down. Connection to the fans. Hard work. Playing with passion and urgency. These concepts were taught in the minor leagues and reinforced at the big-league level by our homegrown players and by Tito, a selfless leader who always put the Red Sox first. These principles united the organization and came to define us.

“This is why September – when we let fans down by falling short of these ideals – was so crushing. But the Red Sox will recover. What was built up with pride and passion over so long cannot be torn down in one bad month. The same is true, I know, of the fans’ loyalty.”

Epstein went on to note that, despite the revelations of clubhouse improprieties, the team continued to care about winning. He also noted that, under Cherington and the new manager, “there are plans to raise standards in several areas.” Epstein described Cherington as the right person to fix those elements of the club that went astray.

“Ben is infinitely more prepared than I was when I took over nine years ago,” he wrote. “He’s been an area scout, an international scout, an advance scout, a farm director, and he’s supervised drafts. Ben is honest and insightful, fearless and friendly – and he is ready to lead this organization forward.”

Epstein closed by painting an optimistic portrait of his former franchise, suggesting that “the cacophony of the last few weeks” had obscured the fact that the Sox “remain one of the preeminent organizations in baseball, with an extremely bright future.”

“It may not seem this way now,” Epstein wrote, “but I am convinced that we will look back at September of 2011 not as some harbinger of the demise of the Red Sox, but as an anomaly in the midst of a decades-long run of success for the franchise. Some good may even come from it..”

From afar, Epstein suggested, he will continue to root for the Red Sox — save for an interleague series against the Cubs in Chicago this summer. And, he hopes, there will be a future October when he will have occasion to be back in Boston.

“Thank you for all the incredible support this last decade. I will never forget it,” Epstein concluded. “May we meet again in an October not too many years from now.”

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