This is a two-part series called Reverse the Curse. An inside look at Theo Epstein and the teams he built to win the World Series. Epstein became known for breaking the “Curse of the Bambino” and the “Curse of the Billy Goat”.
Part one will cover his early beginnings up to his tenure with the Boston Red Sox. Part two, which will be released later this week, will cover his current position with the Chicago Cubs.
Theo Nathaniel Epstein stepped into the Major League Baseball (MLB) spotlight when he was named the youngest general manager in the history of MLB in 2002. Now 43-years old, Epstein has 15-years of MLB experience as the chief architect behind ending two of the longest championship droughts sports has ever seen.
Epstein won world championships that could not have been won in the combined 194 years before he took his turn. His teams have won three World Series titles and made appearances in the playoffs five other times. This is the story of his early beginnings leading up to his tenure with the Boston Red Sox.
Theo Epstein attended Yale University with a degree in American Studies in 1995. He lived at Jonathan Edwards College, a residential college associated with Yale. It was during his time at Yale where his interest in sports started to show.
He served as the sports editor for Yale Daily News. Once school was coming to a finish, Epstein began contacting several major league baseball teams showing interest in working with them. Epstein would start out as an intern for the Baltimore Orioles until he was promoted to the public relations assistant with the Orioles.
Epstein would move with Orioles owner Larry Lucchino to the San Diego Padres. Lucchino became the owner and Epstein served as a director of player development for the Padres. It was his time with the Padres that led Epstein to earn his Juris Doctor degree at the University of San Diego School of Law- under Lucchino’s encouragement.
By doing so, Epstein was invited to take part in high-level negotiations and discussions by then-GM Kevin Towers since few in the Padres’ small operations division had a legal background to understand contract language. Epstein’s experience led him to become the Director of Baseball Operations for the Padres.
Epstein would once again follow Lucchino- this time, to the Boston Red Sox. Lucchino served as the president and chief executive officer (CEO) while Epstein was named assistant general manager. Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane came really close to becoming the new Red Sox general manager in 2002. However, he declined to come over and Epstein would become the next general manager for the Red Sox after Mike Port. The significance about this was that Epstein became the youngest general manager in major league history.
Starting out with the Red Sox wasn’t easy at first. Numerous talk shows wanted to interview Epstein due to him being the youngest general manager. He declined due to it being “too much of a gimmick” at the time. Needless to say, that was a bold move on his part.
Since the “Impossible Dream” in 1967, the Red Sox have been either competitive or, failing.
It all started with the Curse of the Bambino– where Babe Ruth was infamously sold to the New York Yankees. Before that point, the Red Sox had been one of the most successful professional baseball franchises. They won the first World Series while earning five World Series titles overall. After the sale, they went without a title for many decades, even though the Red Sox won four American League championships from 1946 to 1986.
There were attempts at breaking the curse but they had some really bad breaks in some World Series appearances. A Game 7 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1946- which was the Red Sox first Wolrd Series appearance since 1918. Following that was the infamous Bill Buckner incident in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. The New York Mets would win the game and the World Series in Game 7.
When Epstein took over in 2003, the Red Sox last losing season came in 1997 under previous general manager Dan Duquette. Duquette’s team was a small market club thanks to the previous owner Tom Yawkey. Duquette is credited for having Nomar Garciaparra, Pedro Martinez and Manny Ramirez in the fold but failed to provide a strong supporting cast.
When Epstein moved up in the ranks of baseball, he became more interested in sabermetrics. The statistics analogy and new ownership quickly did away with the previous policies as Epstein used the money to improve the pitching rotation. His first missteps include the signings of infielder
His first missteps include the signings of infielder Todd Walker and Ramiro Mendoza. He made up for those mistakes by signing free agent David “Big Pap” Ortiz. The future Hall of Famer was released by the Minnesota Twins as they did not like his approach at the plate and previous injuries that derailed his chances of being a regular for the Twins.
In Epstein’s first season with the Red Sox, they finished with a record of 95-67. Good enough for the second place in the American League East division behind the Yankees. Unfortunately, the Red Sox would fall short after a game seven loss to their bitter rivals in the American League Championship Series.
Epstein knew that he had the right team to contend, but there were some missing pieces to the puzzle of making it to the World Series. The 2003 offseason began with Epstein dismissing manager Grady Little after his contract was not renewed. Epstein gave a chance to Terry Francona. Francona previously managed the Philadelphia Phillies, accumulated a 285-363 record in four seasons with the Phillies.
Epstein traded Casey Fossum, Brandon Lyon, and Jorge de la Rosa to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Curt Schilling. Epstein would continue to the shake up the team when he made a big trade. Nomar Garciaparra, the Red Sox shortstop and fan favourite, was traded to the Chicago Cubs. The Red Sox received Orlando Cabrera from the Montreal Expos and Doug Mientkiewicz from the Minnesota Twins.
The Red Sox appeared to make a big push for the playoffs once again. After defeating the Anaheim Angels in the American League Division Series, they found themselves in a rematch of the 2003 Amercian League Championship Series, against their nemesis once again.
The series started off very disastrous for the Red Sox as they found themselves in a 3-0 deficit, one loss away from losing another Championship series. But, of course, comes the turning point in any series. This was the most interesting of them all.
The Yankees led Game 4 by one run in the ninth inning, but a steal of second base by Red Sox Dave Roberts and a single by Bill Mueller off Yankees closer Mariano Rivera tied the game. A home run hit by Ortiz in the 12th inning would send it to game five. Ortiz played the role of hero once again as he hit another home run in the 14th inning to give the Red Sox a second straight win.
Game 6 was very well known for Curt Schilling pitching with a bloody sock. Schilling pitched with a torn tendon sheath in his right ankle, which was sutured in place in an unprecedented procedure by Red Sox team doctors. His strong pitching helped the Red Sox tie the series, and send it to Game 7.
With the series all tied 3-3, Game 7 featured the Red Sox paying back New York for their Game 3 blowout with a dominating performance on the road, anchored by pitcher Derek Lowe and bolstered by two Johnny Damon home runs, as one of them was a grand slam. David Ortiz was named the Most Valuable Player of the series.
Boston became the first team in baseball to come back from a 3-0 deficit. They went to the World Series for the first time since 1986. The Red Sox would go on to sweep the St. Louis Cardinals.
Mark Belhorn helped the Red Sox win Game 1 with a home run, while Curt Schilling led the team to a Game two victory by pitching six innings and allowing just one run. The Red Sox won the first two games despite committing four errors in each game. The Red Sox easily won Game 3, thanks to seven shutout innings by Pedro Martinez. A home run by Johnny Damon in the first inning helped to win Game four for the Red Sox to secure the series. The Cardinals did not lead in any of the games in the series. Manny Ramirez was named the series’ Most Valuable Player.
Epstein became known as the man who ended the Curse of the Bambino. 84-years of misery for Red Sox fans finally came to an end.
On October 31, 2005, Epstein resigned, rejecting a three-year, $1.5-million-per-year contract for personal reasons. Because it was Halloween the night he resigned from the Red Sox, Epstein left Fenway Park wearing a gorilla suit in an attempt to avoid reporters. A witness reported spotting a person wearing a gorilla suit driving a Volvo similar to Epstein’s that night. Epstein remained in contact with the team’s front office and on January 12, 2006, he and Red Sox management announced his return. Six days later, the team announced that he would resume the title of general manager and add the title of executive vice president.
Under Epstein’s guidance, Boston went 839-619 in the regular season and 34-23 in the playoffs. The Red Sox and Epstein would go on to win another World Series title win 2007.
He acquired many stars throughout the draft including Dustin Pedroia, Clay Buchholz, and Jacoby Ellsbury. He also acquired ones who fell short of expectations not to mention Edgar Renteria, Daisuke Matsuzaka, John Lackey and Carl Crawford.
In 2011, Epstein’s final season with the Red Sox was considered one of the biggest meltdowns in sports history. The Red Sox became the first team in the history of MLB to have a nine-game lead in September and failed to make the playoffs. They went 7-20 in the final month of the regular season.
Red Sox front office and manager Terry Francona decided to part ways as they did not exercise the additional year options in his contract.
Epstein however, was looking elsewhere to build off his work. He entered talks with the Chicago Cubs as he interviewed for the vacant general manager position. Epstein would eventually agree to a five-year contract worth $18.5 million.
This time around, he had more chores at hand. Overlooking a team who haven’t won a World Series title since 1908 as fans of the Cubs looked to Epstein to break another curse- the Curse of the Billy Goat.