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Chicago does have plenty of promise up the middle with 21-year-old shortstop Starlin Castro, who had 207 hits in his first full major league season, and second baseman Darwin Barney.

Still, the Cubs finished the year a dismal 71-91 and once Hendry was gone, talked turned to someone _ anyone _ who might be able to bring the team back to the postseason and erase the endless talk of the purported Billy Goat curse of 1945 and the Steve Bartman foul ball debacle in Game 6 of the NLCS in 2003.

A native of Brookline, Mass., who grew up down the street from Fenway Park, Epstein left the team once before, in 2005, fleeing Fenway Park in a gorilla suit on Halloween after a tiff over his contract extension went public. He resigned and stayed away from the team for several months before returning to his old job.

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AP Sports Writer Jimmy Golen in Boston contributed to this report.