- - Thursday, November 3, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

It only took realizing the impossible dream and reaching the unreachable star for me to finally recognize the greatness of Theo Epstein.

I could just never get past the young intern I met in Baltimore more than 20 years ago. I didn’t see what Larry Lucchino and others saw in that 20-year-old kid from Yale.

I didn’t see Branch Rickey. I didn’t see Pat Gillick.

That’s what it was, essentially, when Lucchino, Orioles team president and part owner, took Epstein with him when he moved on to San Diego to run the Padres — and then to Boston, where Lucchino joined with John Henry and Tom Werner to make Epstein the youngest general manager in the history of baseball at the age of 28.

He and others saw greatness, like a baseball scout seeing Clayton Kershaw as an 18-year-old high school pitching prospect — although I doubt if anyone really foresaw that Epstein would take two of the greatest franchises in all of sports and vanquish the voodoo that had defined both of them.

Epstein changed the culture of the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs. He led the Red Sox to not just one, but two World Series championships after Boston fans walked the earth for 86 years convinced their devotion to baseball was cursed because their team sold Babe Ruth in 1919.

And now Epstein has done the same for the Chicago Cubs, who captured their first World Series championship since 1908 Wednesday night in a dramatic Game 7 win over the Cleveland Indians — burying another curse, the Curse of the Billy Goat, started in 1945 when William Sianis, proprietor of the Billy Goat Tavern, was kicked out of Wrigley Field along with his pet goat.

Epstein is like the Van Helsing of sports, traveling the country with a stake to drive through the heart of demons holding the joy of a fan base hostage.

Either that, or he is simply one of the smartest man ever to work in the game of baseball.

“He has an extraordinary gifted intellect, one of the most brilliant minds I have ever come across,” former Red Sox executive vice president Charles Steinberg told me in our conversation recently on my podcast, “Cigars & Curveballs.”

Steinberg, who worked for Lucchino in Baltimore and San Diego, said he recalls first meeting Epstein when he was a 20-year-old intern with the Orioles. “When he joined us in 1992, I asked him what his career ambitions were. He said, ‘I want to be the general manager of the Boston Red Sox.’

“I am happy for him that he has had these dreams come true, but I’m not surprised,” Steinberg said. “I saw it coming.”

I never quite bought in. Epstein was surrounded by a number of former baseball general managers in Boston when he took the job — a job that people forget was first offered to Oakland general manager Billy Beane, who took it and then changed his mind. It was hard to determine who got credit for what in Boston. It was complicated.

There’s nothing complicated about what happened in Chicago. Epstein took the job as president of baseball operations of the Chicago Cubs five years ago and built an organization that did what nobody else had been able to do with the franchise in over a century. And they’re not done.

“I’m truly like just honored to be part of major league baseball,” Epstein told reporters after the win Wednesday night. “I grew up a fan of the game, loving the game. Not good enough to play and so to be a part of major league baseball is incredible. To have the privilege of working for two organizations like this, something I never thought I’d have, and then to be a part of you know winning a World Series in both places, it’s something I’ll always treasure and never take for granted. It means the world to me.”

It’s a world that I never quite believed existed. Wednesday night, Epstein finally convinced me. It’s his world, and it’s the biggest planet in baseball’s solar system.

Thom Loverro hosts his weekly podcast “Cigars & Curveballs” Wednesdays available on iTunes and Google Play.

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