Epstein Leaves Red Sox For Cubs

Boston Red Sox General Manager Theo Epstein is leaving his hometown team to take the reins of the Chicago Cubs. He departs after a disastrous season, but he will be remembered for making history. The youngest ever general manager in major league baseball designed the teams that won two World Series, Boston's first since 1918. Now he'll try to make Wrigley's loveable losers into champions.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host: One curse reversed, one more to go. Theo Epstein, the general manager of the Red Sox, who's credited with turning the team around and steering Boston to two world championships, is leaving. And the word is he's taking on a real goad of a job. From the home of the green monster to the land of brick and ivy, from Fenway Park to Wrigley Field, Epstein is said to be the new G.M. for the Chicago Cubs, a five-year deal for $18 million. From member station WBUR in Boston, Curt Nickisch reports on Epstein's legacy, something the Cubs hope to repeat.

CURT NICKISCH: When the Red Sox named their new G.M. back in 2002, it was a big shock to longtime fan Dave Ryan.

DAVE RYAN: The first thing I looked at him, you know, he looked 10 years younger than my youngest brother. You know, he looked like a little kid.

NICKISCH: Twenty-eight years old, Theo Epstein became the youngest general manager ever in Major League Baseball.

THEO EPSTEIN: We're going to turn the Red Sox into a scouting and player development machine. The sky is the limit. I'll say it again. We're going to become a scouting and player development machine.

NICKISCH: Epstein took over the Fenway Park operation during a new wave in baseball management that's the subject of the current film "Moneyball." Teams had learned to be more sophisticated, more analytical about how to craft winning franchises. Epstein was the face of that for the Red Sox, whose fatalistic fans had seen their team lose out decade after decade to the point they believed they were cursed. With the new system, Epstein promised to change that.

EPSTEIN: We have a chance to win in 2003, we have a chance to win it all.

NICKISCH: He was one pitch away from being right. The Sox lost the American League championship that year. But the following, dreams came true. The Sox made sweet history by coming back against the rival New York Yankees in the playoffs and then won their first title since 1918.

(SOUNDBITE OF BASEBALL GAME)

JOE BUCK: Back to Foulke. Red Sox fans have longed to hear it. The Boston Red Sox are World Champions.

NICKISCH: Joe Buck making the call on FOX television. Reversing the curse put Epstein and the team he assembled on the eternal heroes list of countless Red Sox fans. But Epstein's reign wasn't all cotton candy. When Boston fizzled the following year, he and ownership weren't getting along. Epstein shocked fans by choosing not to stay on when his contract ended on Halloween. He wore a gorilla suit to sneak past reporters waiting outside Fenway Park. He spoke publicly a few days later.

EPSTEIN: The way I am, to do this job, you have to go all in, put your faith and your trust in the organization. And in the end, I determined it was the right thing for me not to return.

NICKISCH: A couple of months later, differences patched, Epstein came back. And when the Sox won it all again in 2007, with many of the players brought up through his scouting and development machine, nobody could call it a fluke. Today, though, the memory that's freshest in fans' minds is an odious piece of history. This season the Red Sox wrote a sorry record for themselves by blowing a huge lead in the final month to miss the playoffs. The next day, Epstein faced the cameras.

EPSTEIN: When we're at our best, I think this was the best organization in baseball. This year, we weren't at our best.

NICKISCH: By leaving the Red Sox now, Epstein has the chance to be better, one of the best G.M.'s ever. He's taking over another storied franchise in another beloved ballpark, the lovable loser Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. Just imagine the legacy if Epstein can do in the Windy City what he did here in his hometown. The Cubbies haven't won the World Series since 1908.

For NPR News, I'm Curt Nickisch in Boston.

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