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Curse-breaker Theo Epstein is exactly what Cubs need


Red Sox general manager Theo Epstecould do for North Side whhe did for Boston. | Elise Amendola~AP

Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein could do for the North Side what he did for Boston. | Elise Amendola~AP

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Updated: January 23, 2012 3:45AM



Let’s go back to Oct. 14, 2003, nine days from being exactly eight years ago.

How different things were in baseball.

There were three teams — the Cubs, White Sox and Boston Red Sox — that between them had gone 266 years without winning a World Series title.

Of the three historic — nay, epic — losers, the Cubs were the most pitiable. They had spent the longest time — 95 years — without a crown. And the White Sox and Red Sox had at least been in the World Series since the Cubs had last staggered onto that main stage in 1945.

But, oh, things were a-changing on Oct. 14!

The Cubs were hot, on a roll, the world was behind them. They were five outs from the World Series, the White Sox were sitting at home and the Red Sox were getting squeezed out of the playoffs by the New York Yankees.

And then an eighth-inning foul ball into the stands at Wrigley against the Florida Marlins and . . .

Well, baseball history changed.

The next year, the Red Sox won the World Series, and in 2005 the White Sox won theirs.

The Cubs?

Nothing. Never.

And so when I think back to that fall that recedes faster than I ever dreamed it could, I recall that of the three Laughable Losers, the Red Sox seemed to be going the right way the fastest.

They had problems — prime among them the fact that the indomitable Yankees were in their division — but it seemed they had a plan.

They had a new owner, John Henry, who had played in rock-and-roll bands, never graduated from college but developed a futures trading system that made him a billion dollars.

Henry installed a mere child it seemed, 28-year-old Theo Epstein, the youngest general manager in baseball history, as his go-to guy in 2002, started spending money and off the Red Sox went.

Of course, at that time, nobody knew for sure the Red Sox were going anywhere but into the red.

Two World Series crowns and lots of playoff appearances later, we know where they went. Even if they melted down this season, that ‘’Curse of the Bambino’’ thing is dead and buried.

Not so the Cubs’ goats, cats, Moises Alou/Mark Prior/Alex S. Gonzalez inning, etc.

So the Ricketts family, which has much in common with the self-made Henry and his parents’ once-humble roots (Henry’s dad started as a farmer in Quincy, Ill.; the Rickettses’ father, Joseph, worked 80-hour weeks starting his trading business in Omaha, Neb.), can’t be blamed for looking east for help.

Hello, boy wonder!

OK, Epstein is a grizzled 37 now, and he has another year on his Red Sox contract, but he seems tired of Boston and ready to move on. The fickle Boston fans — tell me, is there a novelist, professor or poet in the world who isn’t a Sawx fan? — aren’t hot on Epstein anymore, and Theo might be grab-able by the Cubs.

Tom Ricketts, the chairman of the family-owned Cubs, has long admired the model the Red Sox have used for success. And word is Ricketts wants Epstein.

And if Epstein is truly available and eager, even if he comes with disgruntled Red Sox manager Terry Francona, that would be a coup for the Cubs. Perhaps Epstein would demand to be team president and take Crane Kenney’s job. That would be OK, too. It’s gotta start somewhere. And the top is the best.

I have often wondered who in his right mind would want to work for the Cubs at any position — unless he needed a job or cash — but Epstein could be that unique exception.

He has had success with another cursed franchise.

He knows about antique, quirky little ballparks that some people want to blow up and some want to gild.

He knows about changing the culture from hoping to expecting.

He knows the Cubs are the cheese that stands alone, noticed and observed by all from a safe distance, circled and poked and explosive with gases.

But the guy went to Yale, he earned his law degree and he was ambitious enough to think he could reform a famous team at the age most young people are weening themselves from singles bars.

Epstein knows what his place in baseball history would be if he led the Cubs to a World Series.

It’s possible he could get to a moment of disabling Cubs crisis and say to himself, Man, I’ve already won two with the Red Sox. This team is impossible.

But maybe not. Maybe not.

If he’s got the fire, he’s the man.



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