Theo Epstein. John Henry, Tom Werner, and Larry Lucchino.
Theo and the Trio.
The Four Horsemen of Boston’s Baseball Renaissance.
And to think we once had reservations about them . . .
When the Henry group’s bid was awarded the Red Sox Dec. 20, 2001, there was considerable railing (some of it here) about “outsiders” and the corrupt nature of bag man John Harrington doing exactly what Bud Selig wanted, delivering our cherished regional franchise to men who failed with teams elsewhere - Henry with the Marlins, Werner with the Padres.
It was true, of course. The sale of the Sox to Henry and his people was venal. The Commish denied his heavy hand in the transfer, but a couple of months later slipped and told me, “Someday you’ll thank me for it.”
What is there to say now other than, “Thanks, Bud.”
Henry has turned out to be the Bob Kraft/Walter Brown of the Red Sox. He has spent money - the Red Sox had a $143 million payroll in 2007, second highest in baseball. Henry agreed to spend $51.1 million just to negotiate with Daisuke Matsuzaka. Henry has also stayed out of the way, overseeing an ever-sprawling organization (the club directory is considerably swollen since the Harrington era) that has simultaneously made the Red Sox the most popular team in baseball and the last team standing in October. And let’s not forget the ballpark. Thanks to Henry’s money and Lucchino’s vision, Fenway has been restored and remodeled and is at once a cash cow and the Hub’s most popular tourist destination.
Winning two championships, both sweeps, in four years, with every reason to believe there are more rings in the near future, the “new” owners (they chuckle at that handle - how long before you are no longer new?) have completely changed the way the Red Sox are perceived. Ridicule has given way to respect. “The sky is falling” has been replaced by “It’s not over until we say it’s over.” Frustration has yielded entitlement (This is the place where I am obligated to note that one of Henry’s partners is the New York Times Co., which owns the Boston Globe).
Henry, the low-talking hedge funder, has had considerable help in Lucchino, Werner, and of course, the brilliant young GM who has spawned a new generation of BlackBerry-wielding, stat-driven, cold-blooded hardballers intent on reinventing baseball operations.
The last seven games of the playoffs elevated Epstein to a new level. Many times he pointed out that “anybody can win once,” but the way the Sox played over the last two weeks, outscoring opponents, 59-15, in seven straight wins, cemented young Theo as the reigning guru of baseball ops. The Red Sox Way is now the way to run a baseball team. True, Epstein has been able to throw money down the hopper without much damage (J.D. Drew, Matt Clement, Eric Gagné), but it’s rare that a team is able to dominate at the highest level while integrating new talent with old. The playoff contributions of Messrs. Papelbon, Youkilis, Pedroia, Ellsbury, Lester, and Delcarmen made Theo look awfully good.
He’s got the hammer now. Based on what we saw in October, Theo assembled the relentless offensive machine he always spoke about. He’s in position where he can lose wildly popular Mike Lowell and Curt Schilling and remind us he was right about Johnny Damon and Pedro Martínez. He can cling to top prospects and we’ll remember he was smart not to part with Jon Lester and Jacoby Ellsbury. He can point out that the Sox drafted Ellsbury with the pick they were awarded when Orlando Cabrera signed with the Angels. Clay Buchholz was a draft pick they got from the Mets when Pedro bolted.
It’s hard to believe that two years ago Epstein walked away from the Sox because of a rift with Lucchino. There continues to be some frost on the walls of Fenway whenever they are in the same room, but they have made it work. And Henry has come to learn that he needs Lucchino - most responsible for the urgency of ‘07, the renovation of the ballpark, and the globalization of the Red Sox brand name - as much as he needs Theo and the baseball ops wizards.
Harmony is neither easy nor predictable. We’re not sure when Epstein’s contract is up (one more Belichickian trait Theo shares), and he’s in a good position to ask for more power next time he negotiates with Henry. Meanwhile, there will be battles. Lucchino will want to go to Japan, Epstein won’t. There could be a split at the top on Lowell and . . . (gulp) A-Rod. One thing we know they agree on is Schilling: thanks for the clutch work, big fella, now don’t let the door hit you on the way out. We’ll invite you back for Old-Timers’ Day.
They also agree that winning is a good thing. Championship rings have a way of bringing people together.