Photo by Associated Press.
Originally Published: November 3, 2016 9:04 p.m.
CLEVELAND — Holding the World Series trophy in his right hand, Theo Epstein grinned: “We don’t need a plane to fly home.”
After putting together the first Boston Red Sox team to win the World Series in 86 years, he masterminded the Chicago Cubs’ first title in 108.
Good chance baseball’s drought-buster will be flying to Cooperstown one day for his Hall of Fame induction.
“It’s fitting it’s got to be done with one of the best games of all time,” he said after Wednesday night’s 8-7, 10-inning thriller over the Cleveland Indians in Game 7. “Just unbelievable. What a testament to our players, their grit.”
A sports editor of the Yale Daily News with a 1995 degree, Epstein interned with the Baltimore Orioles, went along with Larry Lucchino to the Padres and earned a law degree at the University of San Diego. He was hired by the Red Sox under Lucchino in November 2002, at 28 the youngest general manager in major league history.
Boston won the World Series in 2004 and again in 2007. Epstein quit after the 2011 season to become president of baseball operations of the Cubs, who had been bought by the Ricketts family two years earlier.
“After 10 years, no matter how passionate you are, you see the same issues, day after day and you are around the same people day after day,” Epstein said then. “You are around the same landscape day after day for 10 years and eventually you will benefit from a new landscape and fresh problems.”
He and general manager Jed Hoyer led a near-total makeover.
Albert Almora Jr., who scored the go-ahead run on Ben Zobrist’s 10th-inning single, was the first player drafted under Epstein’s regime, taken sixth overall in 2012. Third baseman Kris Bryant was drafted in 2013 and outfielder Kyle Schwarber in 2014, and the Cubs traded for pitcher Jake Arrieta (from Baltimore), first baseman Anthony Rizzo (San Diego) and shortstop Addison Russell (Oakland).
Chicago spent on the free-agent market after the 2014 season for pitcher Jon Lester and last offseason for pitcher John Lackey, all-purpose player Ben Zobrist and outfielders Dexter Fowler and Jason Heyward.
Hard-throwing closer Aroldis Chapman, who got the win after blowing a 6-3, eighth-inning lead, was acquired from the New York Yankees in July, when Mike Montgomery, who got the save, was obtained from Seattle.
Catcher Willson Contreras and second baseman Javier Baez were holdovers from the administration of Jim Hendry, the Cubs’ GM from 2002-11.
While managing against the Cubs in the World Series, Cleveland’s Terry Francona praised Epstein, his boss in Boston from 2004-11.
“Theo had the guts to hire me up there when, I don’t know, I didn’t have a ton of resume and they were expected to win, and he believed in me,” Francona said. “We went eight years of a lot of good baseball. You’ve been to Boston enough to know if you can survive with somebody through eight years there, that says enough right there.”
Epstein’s grandfather Phillip and grand-uncle Julius J. Epstein won Academy Awards along with Howard E. Koch for the screenplay of “Casablanca.” While his relatives earned fame for fiction, Theo had made his mark in stark reality: ending two of baseball’s most notorious streaks.
“Our fans just deserve this so much, and all the former Cubs — everyone,” he said. “This is for so many people: Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Billy Williams, who’s still here to come celebrate with us tomorrow when we see him. We’re bringing the trophy home to you guys. It’s been a century in the making.”