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An eye for a … GM job? Remembering Theo Epstein’s debt to Ben Cherington

10.27.11 at 4:26 pm ET
By

Red Sox GM Ben Cherington (AP)

In some respects, it seems appropriate that Theo Epstein stepped aside as the general manager of the Red Sox to clear the path for Ben Cherington to claim the same role. After all, Epstein remained in the debt of his longtime colleague and friend after having once nearly broken his face.

In the early days of Epstein’s run as Red Sox general manager, the team’s baseball operations department — which resides in the basement of Fenway Park, separated from somewhat more traditionally corporate departments — skewed young and a bit wild. Members of the front office, when not leaving the premises altogether to play hoops, were known to take respites from work by playing whiffle ball or football inside their office.

Yet that was just the tip of the iceberg. There were also boxing matches in full gear. And, in one memorable instance, there was golf.

Epstein struck a ball with a wedge, trying to clear a cubicle and drop the ball into the kitchen. However, the uncooperative orb went astray and then took a turn reminiscent of the Larry Bird vs. Michael Jordan McDonald’s commercial sequence. The ball ricocheted off a support column running from floor to ceiling, flew threw an office door, bounced off the desk and jumped into the face of the unsuspecting Cherington.

A bellow from Cherington’s office prompted his co-workers to congregate at his door, where they saw blood pouring from the face of their colleague (then still the Red Sox farm director). His eye had averted catastrophe — narrowly — but Cherington required stitches for the wound, and the episode became a footnote.

That incident probably wasn’t what CEO/President Larry Lucchino had in mind when he said that he couldn’t imagine the Red Sox without Cherington nor could he imagine Cherington without the Red Sox. Nonetheless, colleagues joked in the aftermath of the incident that Cherington had guaranteed employment with the Red Sox for life.

However, those familiar with the incident also note that Cherington never had to cash in that card. Instead, his work in virtually every phase of the team’s baseball operations brought him to the point where, as Epstein said, it was impossible to imagine a more qualified person to take over as general manager of the Red Sox.

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