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Sox front office has SoCal roots
10/27/2004 12:58 PM ET
ST. LOUIS -- For the denizens of Red Sox Nation, the time elapsed between Boston's last World Series title in 1918 and the remarkable run of 2004 might as well have been a million years.

For the front office management team that helped put together the 2004 saga, now just one victory away from that elusive title, a journey of similar proportions took place in just the last few years.

It might not be a million miles away, but Boston sure is a long way from San Diego, the decidedly different locale where many of the members of the team's front office were last seen turning around a franchise and reaching the Fall Classic.

When Larry Lucchino signed on to be the president and CEO as part of the John Henry-Tom Werner ownership of the Sox, he brought with him a promising young baseball executive and a cadre of other front office executives whose hard work and loyalty helped create a new identity of the Padres under the ownership of John Moores.

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While the experience in Boston has been very different at its core, in some ways it has been very much the same.

"It's an interesting story," said Lucchino, who spent 14 years in the Baltimore Orioles front office before his move to San Diego. "We took so many of our front office people from San Diego with us when we came to Boston. We had all that background of doing things with one franchise, and then coming here hopefully we've done it a little bit better."

Thus far, it's hard to argue that they haven't done it better -- and better than it has ever been done in Boston.

Put it this way: Members of the 1918 Red Sox front office could not be reached for comment.

Young and tested

Of course, the young front office man who made the trip from San Diego to Boston is Theo Epstein, who became general manager of his hometown Red Sox two years ago, at age 28.

Epstein had spent the better part of the previous decade in San Diego, first in the Padres' media relations department, then in the baseball operations department, while earning his law degree at the University of San Diego.

After his graduation from Yale and an internship with Lucchino's Orioles front office, San Diego and the Padres became a significant era in his young life.

"It was great," said Epstein, who grew up in Brookline. "I mean, I spent most of my 20s in San Diego. What more could you ask for? You know, there was a real evolution there. I showed up and I was 21, and genuinely out of control. By the time I left, I was at least ready to be assistant GM of the Red Sox.

"I'd made plenty of mistakes and learned from them. Most important, I had terrific friendships there and mentorship from a lot of people, mainly Larry and KT."

The initials "KT" refer to Kevin Towers, the GM of the Padres who had Epstein by his side as director of baseball operations from 1997-2001.

"It's amazing what he's done at such a young age, but he was never a guy in a hurry. He was always willing to learn. Things happened quickly for him, but they happened on merit."
-- Padres GM Kevin Towers, on Epstein

While Epstein was working toward his law degree, he was working on a baseball degree at the same time. He was studying under a career baseball man in Towers, who was a minor-league pitcher and beat the bushes as a scout before becoming GM following the 1995 season.

"I rely on lessons I learned from Kevin every single day," said Epstein, who had Towers by his side as a special guest for Game 1 at Fenway.

Epstein lists those lessons: Resourcefulness, guts, competitiveness, trusting scouts, trusting your own instincts.

On the flip side, what stands out to Towers about Epstein?

"His intellect," said Towers. "He's one of the smartest individuals I've ever been around. He has a passion for the game, and a great work ethic.

"It's amazing what he's done at such a young age, but he was never a guy in a hurry. He was always willing to learn. Things happened quickly for him, but they happened on merit."

Towers used to have Epstein come up with a trade idea a day, all the while instilling confidence in decisions, a steadfast respect for the scouts in the field and a general respect for the game. Quickly, Epstein was intimately involved in contracts and negotiations, putting that law degree to good use.

A strong advocate of statistical analysis, Epstein has shown with the Red Sox that he has an open mind -- going from closer-by-committee in '03 to signing Keith Foulke for '04 -- as well as some serious guts -- trading fan favorite Nomar Garciaparra -- in his two years at the helm.

Towers isn't surprised Epstein rose so far, so fast.

"It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out this kid had a chance to be a real star," Towers said.

Trail of success

While he certainly did so with the spotlight's brightest glare, Epstein wasn't the only one who traveled from one corner of the country to the other to work toward winning a championship in Boston.

At the head of that list of transplants is Charles Steinberg, the team's executive vice president for public affairs -- the same title he held in San Diego. Chief operating officer Mike Dee and Steinberg brought along members of the Padres' front office who now reside in practically every department of the Red Sox front office, from media relations and community relations to corporate sales.

Some of them, including Steinberg and Epstein, also went from Baltimore to San Diego when Lucchino joined Moores in January 1995 in taking over a franchise in the middle of a work stoppage. Within four years, they'd helped guide the Padres to their second World Series and laid the groundwork for San Diego's beautiful new downtown ballpark.

Like Lucchino, Steinberg fell in love with the sandy beaches of La Jolla and the sunny San Diego sky. So when Lucchino and Moores went their separate ways in 2001, it was agonizing in many respects.

"You have to tackle [Sox history] head on. If you don't, then you're pretending that you're deaf to the chief melody that the fans sing. You'd better listen to your fans, and for us you have to feel it."
-- Charles Steinberg, Boston executive vice president for public affairs

But when the group landed in Boston, they hit the ground running in an entirely new atmosphere.

"The two cities are the definition of opposites," Steinberg said. "One has winter that turns into summer that turns into winter again. The other has eternal spring. One is so fast-paced and aggressive that you'll get run over if you don't keep up. The other's so gentle and laid back. History here is 400 years old. History there is 100 years old."

Actually, as far as Red Sox fans are concerned, history really began in 1918, the last time the city raised a championship banner for its beloved baseball team.

Without question, this ownership crew hasn't run away from that history, but rather embraced it.

"You have to tackle that head on," Steinberg said. "If you don't, then you're pretending that you're deaf to the chief melody that the fans sing. You'd better listen to your fans, and for us you have to feel it."

While it's a whole new song being sung in a different accent, the approach is very much the same as it was in San Diego.

Exhibit A: The "Keep the Faith" slogan might be brand new to Boston, but that was the slogan of the 1996 Padres, who went on to win the NL West that year.

The Padres also had fundamental commitments to their fans in San Diego that are mirrored in Boston -- to field a team worthy of their support, to market the team to a broader region, to enhance the ballpark experience, to be active participants in the community.

Of course, this time they had to add one more commitment, as stated in the team's media guide: To end the Curse of the Bambino and win a world championship for Boston, New England and Red Sox Nation.

A 'singulah' experience

For the newer members of the Red Sox front office family, the one swing of the bat that ended the 2003 American League Championship Series changed everything.

"Last year, when Aaron Boone hit the home run, anyone who wasn't originally from Boston was now a Boston native," Steinberg said. "It was the indoctrination into the Red Sox Nation, and it was gut-wrenching anquish."

"All those fans who have waited so long and speak with such wonder about '46, '67, '75 and '86 will be talking about this year."
-- Theo Eptein, GM of the Red Sox

Welcome to our world, the denizens of Red Sox Nation might have said.

Now, Lucchino, Epstein, Steinberg et al. have done their part to put the Red Sox on the verge of altering that world and extinguishing that anguish.

Much like they did in San Diego, the management group headed by Lucchino worked to embrace the fans as an organization and make them feel part of the team like never before.

The Red Sox circa 2004 are the best of the old and the best of a new brand of baseball management in Boston.

"I was told that when we came here that the Red Sox weren't very fan-friendly, and hopefully no one is saying that now," Lucchino said. "We've done a lot of things with the team in the community and a lot of things to maximize the game experience at Fenway Park. We've tried to accentuate the best things about the ballpark.

"Again, I'll leave that to others to talk about how successful we've been."

Epstein grew up knowing what it's like to be a Red Sox fan, so it's impossible for him to ignore the change he has seen take place these last few years. This is most notable on the field but also shows up coursing through the veins of Red Sox Nation.

"There are moments when you stand back and realize we're doing some historic things here," Epstein said. "All those fans who have waited so long and speak with such wonder about '46, '67, '75 and '86 will be talking about this year."

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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