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Red Sox & a Blue Leader
Bringing a World Series championship to Boston has eluded nine general managers. Can newcomer GM Theo Epstein ’95 overcome “the Curse of the Bambino?”

Theo Epstein '95

Last November, when the Boston Red Sox ordained 28-year-old Theo Epstein ’95 as the youngest general manager in major league baseball history, the media blitz ranged from a four-page spread in Sports Illustrated to an appearance on NBC’s Today Show. Columnists, talk show hosts, and the passionate-verging-on-fanatical members of the “Red Sox Nation” voiced amazement that the franchise would hire such a young skipper.

But at least one fan seemed unimpressed with the youth issue. “What’s all the fuss?” asked novelist and Boston University creative writing professor Leslie Epstein ’60, ’67DFA, reflecting on his son’s sudden celebrity. “At Theo’s age, Alexander the Great was already general manager of the world.”

Alex may have had the easier task.

To succeed in sports-hungry Boston, Epstein the Younger must do nothing less than lead the Red Sox to victory in the World Series. The last time this happened was in 1918, and the following year, team owner Harry Frazee, to raise money for his Broadway theater projects, sold George Herman “Babe” Ruth to the archrival New York Yankees. The result was the “Curse of the Bambino,” an enchantment that since then has supposedly kept the team from winning baseball’s biggest prize.

But while Epstein, the tenth GM to try to exorcise the curse, may be young, he brings considerable experience to the position of overseeing a ball club. He also continues a venerable Boston tradition: a Yale man leading the Red Sox.


By his own admission, Epstein was not varsity caliber at Yale.

So it has been since 1933 when Thomas Austin Yawkey ’25, four days after coming into the inheritance that accompanied his 30th birthday, purchased the team and transformed it from a hapless also-ran into one of baseball’s premier franchises. Yawkey maintained ownership until his death in 1976, and the Yawkey name continued on the masthead, first under the aegis of his widow Jean and later, through the Yawkey Foundation. And when the team was sold last year, one of the lead investors, now president and chief executive officer, was veteran baseball executive Larry Lucchino ’71JD, who had served similar roles with the Baltimore Orioles and the San Diego Padres. In both places, he had a protégé: Theo Epstein.

An American studies major with a law degree from the University of San Diego, Epstein has been in the big leagues his entire professional life. He played baseball in high school, but by his own admission, he was not varsity caliber at Yale. Still, as a youngster, he had told his father, “Dad, when I’m your age, I’ll be a disappointed man if my life hasn’t been spent in sports.”

Instead of playing, Epstein turned to writing. He became sports editor of the Yale Daily News, and he also worked during the school year in the athletics department’s sports information office and in the summer as a media relations intern with the Baltimore Orioles. After graduation, he signed on with the San Diego Padres, beginning in their PR office and eventually becoming director of baseball operations.


Carm Cozza has forgiven Epstein. But he hasn’t forgotten.

“Theo is really bright, and with his passion and intelligence, he probably can’t help but succeed,” says Billy Beane, GM of the Oakland Athletics. But while preliminary reviews have been good, it is simply too soon to tell how Epstein will do in a position that former Red Sox GM Lou Gorman has called “probably the toughest job in baseball.”

The fans are, well, rabid. Partisans may forget anniversaries or birthdays, but they know exactly where they were when the ball went through Bill Buckner’s legs on October 26, 1986, the pivotal error that, many feel, cost the team the World Series.

“The Sox are very much in my blood,” says Epstein, who was raised a mile from historic Fenway Park in a family devoted to the team and, true to form, remembers that awful night when he and his twin brother Paul climbed atop the couch where they were “poised to leap off in celebration.”

If that leap is ever to occur, Epstein must satisfy expectations that are higher than Fenway’s fabled left field wall, the Green Monster. And he must do it in a city in which media scrutiny is intense, relentless, and unforgiving. “I grew up second-guessing Red Sox general managers,” he says. “Now, I’ll be the target.”

One former Epstein “target” is watching events with keen interest. The day before the 1993 Harvard-Yale football game, the cover headline of a special edition of the YDN asked: “Is It Time for Carm to Go?” The lead column suggested that Yale coaching legend Carmen Cozza should move on. The columnist was a junior named Theo Epstein.

“Carm’s teams had been struggling,” Epstein recalls, “and in my amateur opinion, I felt the program would benefit from updating the offense and improving recruiting. And we wanted to stir things up.”

The journalist did, but Cozza landed the last jab. Yale upset Harvard in a 33–31 thriller at the Bowl, and the coach awarded credit where he felt it was due. In a postgame jest, Theo remembers, Carm proposed that “the game ball should be given to the YDN for firing up” his team.

Ten years later, Cozza, who retired in 1996, has forgiven Epstein. But he hasn’t forgotten.

In the movie Casablanca, whose Oscar-winning screenplay was written by Epstein’s grandfather and grand-uncle, there’s the famous line, “Here’s looking at you, kid.” The coach is doing just that, and he’ll certainly have plenty of critical company.

“Tell Theo the shoe is on the other foot now, and I’m keeping an eye on him,” says Cozza, who once played center field in the Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox organizations and still “loves” baseball. “And tell him if I don’t like what I see, he’ll be hearing about it.”  the end


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