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BOB RYAN

Power in lineup rests with Lucchino

We now know one area in which John Henry can economize.

I mean, who needs a general manager? He has Larry Lucchino.

What other conclusion can we draw from the stunning announcement that Theo Epstein has left his position as general manager of the Boston Red Sox? Theo lost a power struggle with Lucchino. Lucchino is the president and CEO, a position we had been led to believe gave him authority on such matters as general business, marketing, PR, and schmoozing with ''Dennis and Callahan." But that doesn't seem to be enough. He also has to have the final say on personnel matters, too.

Now, if that happens not to be the case, let Mr. Lucchino speak now or forever hold his peace. We can draw no other conclusion.

This is what happens when your owner is a man like John Henry, who is nonconfrontational and isn't all that big in dealing with people, to be honest. Henry communicates in the abstract. He's an e-mail guy, not a phone guy or a face-to-face guy. He's much more comfortable with computers.

So in order to make sure he doesn't have to deal with people, he hires Larry Lucchino.

Larry Lucchino. Let's put it this way: He doesn't exactly lack self-confidence. He's smart, he's aggressive, and he likes a good argument. He is very facile with the mother tongue and he knows he enjoys the complete backing of his boss. That is rather obvious.

Theo Epstein is not irreplaceable, at least in theory. He did far more good things than bad things, and he will be able to dine out in this town forever, based on the happenings of Oct. 17-27, 2004. This year things didn't work out so well. So no, he is far from perfect. Of course, the same can be said for every other general manager out there. There are many GMs, or would-be GMs, who, at least in theory, could have matched the job Epstein did for the Red Sox. No one can state categorically that Henry and Lucchino never again will find someone who can take Theo's job and do it as well. They could.

But why should it be necessary? Theo Epstein did do a great job overall, and he was prepared to do it for many more years. This should have been the no-brainer of no-brainers. He should have been reupped with a handsome raise that reflects gratitude for being the man who dotted the i's and crossed the t's as the Red Sox finally ended all the nonsense and did what no Red Sox team had been able to do since 1918. It was an ideal partnership. Or so we thought.

You can bet this story was watched very closely throughout the world of baseball. No doubt every other baseball executive assumed that the Red Sox would work it out with Theo, because, well, because if any GM seemed to be the perfect fit for a particular team, it would be Theo Epstein. Then again, there might be a few people nodding their heads and collecting office bets and saying, ''I told you so," because there are undoubtedly a lot of people in baseball who have formed strong opinions about Larry Lucchino.

That brings up the obvious question. What person of quality, watching how this all came down, will want the job? Larry Lucchino isn't going anywhere. He is in a stronger position than ever. Oh, sure, there will be no end to the list of wannabes and first-timers lusting for the job. But people of substance, people in possession of personal pride, people who believe that in a well-run baseball organization the personnel buck stops with the general manager, all will give pause before accepting the job as general manager of the Boston Red Sox as long as it is understood that there is no apparent limit to the power and influence of the president and CEO?

Theo? Theo will be fine. He is 31, and he has one of the great resume items of all-time to present to any future employer. He succeeded where many, many had failed. He can point to Curt Schilling, Keith Foulke, and Orlando Cabrera, none of whom ended the 2003 season as members of the Red Sox, as examples of the sort of key personnel he brought to the team. He can point to the Nomar Garciaparra trade as an example of both wisdom and guts. There is no reason that his insight won't be easily transferrable to another organization.

There are jobs available. Los Angeles needs a GM. Philadelphia needs a GM. Washington will be looking for one as soon as the team is sold. LA might not be a logical landing place, given that owner Frank McCourt has just dumped 32-year-old Paul DePodesta, a former Billy Beane assistant and Moneyball devotee. Theo, though not a strict Moneyballer, is very much a Beane pup, and he is 31. He might not be an easy sell out there, even with the championship to brag about. But he would sure make sense in Philly or Washington.

Brace yourself for some possible Theo trashing on the part of the Red Sox, and pay no attention to any of it. You didn't see or hear Theo on radio or TV. He was as far from a self-promoter as you could get. I can testify personally that he refused repeated requests to appear on a national TV show of my acquaintance, even when promised that the inquiry would be team-oriented, not Theo-oriented.

He never wanted it to be about him, just the team. But when the time came to cash in on his major contributions to the Red Sox, he demanded his just reward. The Red Sox, who started out lowballing him, came around when their cheap approach was exposed to the world.

In the end, Theo walked away from nearly five times the amount he'd been making. He's not a fool. There had to be a very good reason. The reason was Larry Lucchino, who, I would imagine, will be a busy man in the next few days. After all, the general manager meetings are just around the corner, aren't they?

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is ryan@globe.com.

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