Hippo Manchester
November 10, 2005

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LONGSHOTS: Saint Theo ascends to new heights in The Nation

By Dave Long

One of the bad things about writing for a weekly newspaper is you canít react to breaking news, like the uproar that followed the resignation of Saint Theo Epstein last Monday. One of the good things about it is, you get a chance to reflect a bit longer on what happened rather than write in the heat of the moment. And thatís what Iíll do today.

In watching it all happen I must say the passion for the Red Sox around these parts is certainly something to behold. It fueled the latest demonstration of the absolutely insane Red Sox Nation. Epsteinís resignation wasnít just front-page news four days in a row. Local TV stations pre-empted the Bold and the Beautiful to breathlessly carry his press conference on why he walked away from the job he had wanted all his life. And even though he never said what was preventing him from giving his all 24/7, it did once again show him to be a classy and impressive young man.

Everyone had an opinion. And whether it was in the Boston Globeís poll or  callers on my (plug, plug) 610-WGIR radio program, the overwhelming majority defended Theo and assigned CEO Larry Lucchino the bad guy role last played in the Nation by Grady Little. And while good points were made, a lot of it was typical, hysterical ranting from the over-reactionary nation. Hereís my take on some of what I heard and saw.

The uproar: Youíd have thought the rioters in France had burned down Fenway Park, instead of a guy not getting along with his boss. Compare it to hearing nary a whimper when in the late 1970s Celtics owner John Y. Brown tried to push Red Auerbach out the door. Since, by then, Red had 13 rings to Theoís one, I scratch my head and say I donít get it.

The Ogre factor: Lighten up on the Lucchinoís a bad guy rap. He could be the meanest guy in the entire world and he still would not be the worst guy in baseball to work for. That goes to George Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman. Cashman just re-upped to GM with Steinbrenner AC a few days before Theo walked.

Timing: Iíll give you this one. With pressing decisions to be made on free agency, injuries and Mannyís annual trade request, the Sox need to address holes at first, second, third, left, center, two starters and two prime bullpen slots. There are probably better times to be looking for a new GM.

Unproven Assumption: Has Epstein already put together a farm system to rival what the Braves have done for the last 15 years? Maybe that eventually will be the case, but to date Iíve seen just one who makes me say wow. Jonathan Papelbon. Though watching Jon Lester blow away 15 or so F-Cats in June was impressive. Iím a show-me kind of  guy whoís been hearing about five-tool minor leaguers like Henley Ramirez  headed to Cooperstown since long before SI put canít-miss (flop) Clint Hurdle on its cover in 1977.

Prediction: Like Bob Kraft eventually did after the Parcels who-ha theyíll find a guy who can take them back to the promised land.

The MVE: If you had to pick between Lucchino and Theo as the Most Valuable Executive who would you pick? Iíll take Larry. Even though the White Sox won this year with just a $69 million payroll, the AL East is still a money game. Thus they need a guy at the top to keep revenue growing while playing in the smallest ballpark in the majors. Given what he did with Camden Yards and in San Diego, Lucchino is that guy. Look at whatís going on in the Fenway area and guess whoís behind that development. Itís those kind of things that are going to let the Sox maintain the second highest payroll in baseball, which is what everyone wants, even as they whine about the Yankees. And, oh by the way, wasnít it Lucchino who saw Theoís talent way back when? What makes you think he canít do it again?

Final word: Itís not like itís Bill Belichick or Auerbach walking out that door. Red started from scratch in delivering 16 titles, and they havenít been close since he left. Belichick has been a key guy on five Super Bowl winners and he came from a roster that, aside from Tedy Bruschi, Willie McGinist, Ty Law and Ted Johnson, was mostly turned over from previous administrations. Theo already had Manny, Pedro, Derek Lowe, Johnny Damon and Trot Nixon here when he took the job. Thatís not to diminish what he did. Itís just to put it in context. He did a very good job at a young age, with the gutsy Cabrera deal being his finest hour. And heíll no doubt get even better. But the uproar was over the top, since heís not on the level of Red or Bill Belichick.

At least not yet anyway.

Dave Long hosts a nightly radio program nightly from 6-7pm on WGIR-AM.