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Epstein builds long-awaited winner
10/28/2004 2:22 AM ET
ST. LOUIS -- Theo Epstein grew up a Red Sox fan, lived and died with them as a kid, and experienced the pain of the 1986 World Series at the impressionable age of 12.

Like millions of other members of Red Sox Nation, he knew all about 1918 practically since his first day as a fan. Now, the young but savvy general manager of the Red Sox knows about 2004.

"Not bad -- 1918's now just another year we won the World Series," Epstein said.

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John Henry, the principal owner of the Red Sox and one of the people who took the leap of hiring Epstein at age 28 to lead the team's baseball fortunes, knows very well what this victory of all Red Sox victories means to their fans.

"It means that all the patience they had and all the great faith that they had paid off in the end," said Henry, who shares ownership with Tom Werner and club CEO and president Larry Lucchino. "It took us awhile, but we got it done."

Thing is, Henry actually grew up a Cardinals fan, so even he couldn't experience the victory the way Epstein could as a lifelong Sox fan.

But in the midst of the greatest celebration in Boston baseball history, the GM of the World Series champion Red Sox was doing his best not to be a fan. He was trying hard just to be a proud employee of the organization, enjoying the view of a champagne celebration of a club he put together to do what before so many had believed was impossible.

"I'm a fan of all these people in this room," Epstein said, drenched in champagne and smiling. "The fan part kind of goes away. I just feel proud of the whole organization and I look at these people and think about how hard they worked to make this all possible. I don't need to be a fan anymore."

Sure, sure.

It takes a fan to invoke the greatest name in Red Sox history after the greatest victory in Red Sox history.

"You've got to think about Ted Williams," Epstein said. "He dedicated his whole life to excellence and the Red Sox, and he never got to do this. He's with us in this room tonight. All those guys are every bit the world champions that we are."

Then, finally, his true Red Sox colors came out.

He got in a polite but pointed shot at the Yankees.

"I hear they're getting the '2000' chant ready in Boston when the Yankees come to town," Epstein said, referring to the last year the Yanks won the World Series.

Naturally, he followed that one-liner with appropriate statements of respect for the organization that has set the gold standard for excellence the last decade or so. He knows well enough to do that.

Yet for all the looking back that people have done leading up to this World Series -- from '18 to '46 to '75 and '86 -- Epstein is looking to the future of the Red Sox organization.

"I'm looking forward to getting baseball to where it was from 1903 to 1918 when the Red Sox kind of set the standard," Epstein said, referring to an era in which the Sox won five World Series titles. "Why not? We have tremendous revenues, we have a hard-working front office, we have a terrific nucleus of players. Why can't we get back and do this every year?"

"I'm looking forward to getting baseball to where it was from 1903 to 1918 when the Red Sox kind of set the standard."
-- Theo Epstein

With Epstein in the driver's seat, it's certainly the goal -- and it's obviously possible.

Actually getting it done in his second year on the job, well, that was beyond expectations, even if it was the hope. Lucchino, Epstein's mentor and boss, knew what they were all getting into when they signed on to take up the Red Sox legacy in 2002 -- but to a person, the members of the organization directed their energies toward this victory.

"We knew that had to be the defining goal," Lucchino said. "I wish I could say that Page 11 of our marketing plan called for it to happen in our third year. We were not certain when it would happen. We just knew that we had to do it. That was how we would be judged by Red Sox Nation."

Said Epstein: "I didn't really think I'd hold this job long enough to do it. Getting fired and watching somebody else do it would have sucked."

Epstein getting fired wasn't going to happen any time soon, at least the way Henry speaks of the GM who built this winner.

"Hiring Theo was a calculated risk," Henry said. "It was one we were very, very comfortable with. The only risk we thought was that we would be criticized for placing a team of this magnitude in this particular market in the hands of someone who was 28 years old. But we were very confident that he was the right guy."

Apparently, Red Sox Nation agrees.

Long after Game 4 was over but the celebration continued on the infield at Busch Stadium, the thousands of Red Sox fans still gathered and cheering their heroes broke out in a chant:

"Thank you, Theo! Thank you, Theo! Thank you, Theo!"

See, he really is one of them, and always will be.

"It's been 86 years that history didn't go our way," Epstein said. "Growing up in Boston, you get to know so many people who live and die with this club.

"A whole lot of people can die happy now, and a whole lot of people can live happy now -- and we plan on doing it."

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

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