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MARKETPLACE:  Auto | Jobs | People Search | Personals | Travel | Yellow Pages  January 16, 2005
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Epstein did a job for the ages
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ST. LOUIS (AP) -- In the tumult of the visitors� clubhouse at Yankee Stadium, champagne pouring all around him, Theo Epstein held a beer.

�I came in and there was no champagne left,� he said this week. �I said, �I�ll have champagne if we win it all.��

Get ready to pour a glass of bubbly for Epstein.

No I.D. necessary.

The youngest general manager in baseball history, Epstein has presided over Boston�s transformation from a stodgy�and, ultimately, unsuccessful�ballclub to an organization on the verge of its first World Series title since 1918. Boston takes a 3-0 lead into Game 4 against the St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday night.

�There are moments when you kind of step back and realize ...  we�re doing some historic things here,� Epstein said. �I thought I knew what it might take to win in Boston from having grown up there. But I think I learned a lot.�

As he watched his team practice last week, Epstein thanked predecessors Lou Gorman and Dan Duquette for making such critical signings as Trot Nixon, Pedro Martinez and Manny Ramirez.

Gorman came within one strike of ending Boston�s drought in 1986; Duquette amassed a lot of talent and a lot of wins but his teams never could put it all together. To shake things up in an organization that needed it, owners John Henry and Tom Werner and president Larry Lucchino turned the reigns over to Epstein, who was 28 at the time.

�I�ll say one thing about our ownership,� Epstein said.  ï¿½They�re not afraid to fail, and I think that�s important. We�re not afraid to do something stupid.�

The Red Sox failed spectacularly last offseason when they pursued Alex Rodriguez and couldn�t close the deal. Instead of swapping the overpaid Ramirez for Rodriguez, gaining some payroll flexibility and making Nomar Garciaparra�s impending free agency less painful, Rodriguez went to the hated New York Yankees, Ramirez and his salary remained in Boston, and Garciaparra sulked in the clubhouse.

Lucchino still bristles at the mention of Rodriguez. But, in many ways, the deal was a tribute to Epstein�s management: He came up with a bold idea, worked it from every angle, tirelessly, and wasn�t afraid to back away when it stopped making sense for the team.

It�s the same approach he took to pursuing Kevin Millar, one of the clubhouse�s most vocal leaders, when he was supposed to be on his way to Japan. It�s the same approach he took to the aborted �closer by committee��never his words, it should be noted�experiment.

It�s the same approach the Red Sox took when they made a deal to make Oakland�s Billy Beane the Red Sox GM, only to have it fall through. Epstein was the fallback plan.

Epstein inherited a countdown to free agency for some of the team�s top players, with Martinez, Garciaparra, David Ortiz, Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek all due to be free agents this offseason.  While conceding it would be difficult to sign everyone, Epstein said that championship teams are built by accumulating Hall of Famers, not dispersing them.

This summer, he did just that.

With Garciaparra�s contract running out, his mysterious heel

injury lingering, his range at shortstop shrinking and his mind more focused on his impending free agency than the team�s pennant run, Epstein traded him to the Chicago Cubs. In return, Boston got former gold glovers Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz; outfielder Dave Roberts was acquired in a separate trade.

It wasn�t immediate, but the team started playing better defense and was the hottest in baseball over the last six weeks.

�The days leading up to the 31st (of July), we were bunkered away, only trying to make the team better. We didn�t really get away from that until after the trade,� Epstein said. �It kind of struck me that this better work out.

�We did it for the right reason. The process was correct. But there would have been hell to pay if the results didn�t work out,� he said. �Pretty soon after that, we hit our stride.�

Things are working out for Epstein, who grew up just blocks from Fenway Park in Brookline. When he was hired in 2002, and turned 29 the following month, he joked that his first name had changed�he went from �the 28-year-old Epstein� to �the 29-year-old Epstein.�

Now 30, Epstein could be in for a bigger revision: from boy genius to the GM who might bring Boston its first World Series in 86 years.

And no one is talking about his age anymore.

�I don�t think it�s my job to evaluate him. That�s kind of the other way around,� 45-year-old manager Terry Francona said of his boss. �I understand the order, chain of command. The age I don�t think was ever an issue. I know it wasn�t. The first 10 minutes of the interview, he had me.�


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