By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Senior Staff Writer
On Wednesday night, in a game for the ages, the Chicago Cubs ended a 108 year drought, winning the World Series over the Cleveland Indians in the 10th inning of game seven, and the man they have to thank for it might not be who you think it is.
Yes, Theo Epstein took only five short years to turn the Cubs from laughingstocks to literally the best team in baseball, but the driving force that sent him to the windy city wasn’t a lifelong quest to end the curse of the Billy Goat; it was finally getting out from under Larry Lucchino.
In fact, the Cubs team president and otherworldly hex breaker might just want to send his old boss a ring next spring, because if Larry didn’t decide to lowball John Lester prior to the 2014 season, the tough as nails lefty might never have left Boston, and the Cubs could very well be talking about waiting till next year for the 109th winter in a row.
Epstein, who might as well be put in Cooperstown next summer after accomplishing what no one else could over a combined 109 years, chafed under the overbearing Lucchino so much so, he famously walked off the job in a gorilla suit on Halloween in 2005. Principal team owner John Henry – who is as much responsible for Theo’s flight to the Midwest as Larry is – was able to mend fences for a while, but when it all hit the fan following the 2011 chicken and beer epic collapse, Epstein decided that Wrigley’s Ivy was greener than Fenway’s Monster, so he pulled up his hometown stakes and headed west.
How do you think John Henry has slept over the last couple of weeks, and especially last night knowing he chose a gruff, conniving lawyer to run his team over perhaps the best baseball mind in the last 50 years?
Not very sound, one would think.
In the five years since Theo left town, the Cubs have followed a steady ascent in becoming the best team and organization in baseball, while his team has floundered under Lucchino’s watch so much, that he forced him to retire at the end of the 2015 season. And while the Red Sox ran into a World Series victory in ’13, it was largely with what Epstein had built, and had little to do with Larry’s self-thought magical touch.
Henry has seen his team finish in last place three out of the five seasons since the pair parted ways, so whether he ever admits it to anyone but himself or not, he has to know that he made a colossal mistake.
Lucchino’s hard-driving, micro-management style, might fit with running a legal practice or a major corporation, but it wasn’t a fit for Epstein, who had outgrown his former mentor’s omnipresent way of running the Red Sox. Theo wanted autonomy and when Henry didn’t give it to him, he turned his attention to someone who would.
The Ricketts family and their loveable losers, the Chicago Cubs.
Now, five years after the fact, Henry finds much of the talent that Epstein had surrounded himself with in baseball operations has left Boston for other opportunities. And while his ball club seems poised to compete for the next several seasons due to the work that was done by the people Theo groomed, what is going to happen to that system under Dave Dombrowski, who is known more for trading prospects than providing them?
Although he would likely never say it, winning the World Series with a club that is exclusively of his own making must be more satisfying for Epstein than even ’04. At the time, I’m sure that the 30-year-old Theo thought it couldn’t get any sweeter than breaking an 86 year curse with his hometown team. However, looking back on the job he did for the Cubs – not to mention the misery he endured under Larry before he left – the 42-year-old Epstein must savor this victory more than either one he had in Boston.
It’s official, hell has frozen over, pigs have taken flight, and the Cubs and Red Sox have won a World Series within three years of each other. Nevertheless, one has to think how different it would be if John chose Theo over Larry five years ago. There might just have been a rolling rally taking place in Boston this Friday, with Jon Lester taking center stage on the lead duck boat.
Instead, the long-suffering fans of the once clueless Cubs will take to the streets of Chicago to toast the team that Theo built over the next couple of days. It would be only fitting if the savior of two of the most tortured franchises in Major League Baseball’s history, would reach out to Larry to see if he wants to come along for the ride.