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A trail of missteps in Epstein talks

Process spurred second thoughts

A pained and regretful John W. Henry sat before a gathering of local and national media at Fenway Park yesterday and accepted complete responsibility for general manager Theo Epstein's stunning exit from the Red Sox, going so far as to question his own ability to operate as principal owner of the franchise.

''I hold myself wholly responsible," Henry said in a congested conference room. ''This is a great, great loss, to lose Theo. What could I have done? There's plenty I could have done. I have to ask myself, maybe I'm not fit to be principal owner of the Boston Red Sox."

Several camera shutters snapped, sensing that the focused facade on the quiet man's face might crumble, to reveal a tear or two. But, after pausing, Henry said, ''There's no crying in baseball."

Despite high hopes that clarity would replace days of confusion, neither Epstein nor Henry revealed to the assembled media horde the core reasons for the breakdown in talks and the GM's decision to leave. Still, some additional details about the negotiations and their collapse began to emerge.

Henry, according to a team source close to the negotiations, faults himself because he never directly involved himself in negotiations aimed at extending Epstein's contract, negotiations that ultimately failed. Instead, Henry, as far back as spring training, empowered president/CEO Larry Lucchino to handle all facets of Epstein's renegotiation, viewing it as important that the club be represented by only one voice in negotiations.

Epstein, the team source said, reached out to the club during the last spring training, asking that his contract be addressed to avoid a public renegotiation this fall. The club, according to the team source, didn't make an offer until the All-Star break in mid-July, when Lucchino presented Epstein with an offer that the former GM viewed as well below market value.

The sides had only two or three conversations the rest of the season, according to the source, as Epstein and the club focused instead on a challenging second half. About 2-4 days after the season ended, Epstein and Lucchino resumed face-to-face negotiations on a near daily basis, the team source said. Epstein, negotiating for himself at the insistence of the club, rejected offers of $850,000 per year and $1.2 million per year before finally arriving at his desired salary: $1.5 million per season.

That salary issue, according to the team source, was effectively resolved with about one week to go before Epstein's deal expired at the end of the day Monday. Still, Epstein did not agree at that point. He'd simply set one of his concerns -- money -- to the side. There were other issues, and that appears to be what Epstein referred to yesterday when he talked about turning a focused eye inward, on the organization.

''There was a process leading up to the decision during which we really turned the microscope on ourselves and the organization and relationships," he said during his press conference. ''There were a lot of difficult discussions that probably should have been had a long time ago.

''To do this job you have to believe in every aspect of the job. You have to believe in yourself. You have to believe in the people you work with. You have to believe in the whole organization. You have to believe this is the right place, and really go all in, put your faith and your trust in the organization.

''You asked what changed? The process revealed that I could not put my whole heart and soul into the job at this time."

Over the week before his contract expired there were, according to the team source, several issues that Epstein examined, foremost among them whether his trust in Lucchino was well placed. As Epstein went through this process of internal evaluation, the source said, internal politics and what Epstein perceived to be media leaks led him to believe in the end that he couldn't accept the $4.5 million offer.

''We were excruciatingly honest with each other, and it became apparent over the last week or two that it was probably going to come right down to [the] Monday [deadline]," Epstein said in his press conference. ''Whenever you have an internal negotiation, management negotiating with one of its employees, there is the possibility for it to get contentious, the possibility for it to get public. We took steps during the process to protect against that. It worked for a long time. There were some breakdowns in the end, and that was unfortunate."

That kind of sentiment allowed Epstein to say, convincingly, during his press conference that ''if there were reports of a power struggle or meddling on behalf of Larry, that really wasn't the case. Essentially, I felt like I had pretty much a free hand to run the baseball operation the way I saw fit.

''What we did was common practice around baseball. I would run deals and moves by the CEO, by ownership, via e-mail or telephone call. That's common practice around baseball. That's the way it should be. You should justify your moves. Having to go through that process makes you better and makes you better prepared. There wasn't really a power struggle with respect to baseball decisions."

Henry, during his press conference yesterday, expressed deep regret at not taking a more active role in negotiations.

''I was never not involved," he said.

However, according to the team source, Henry's involvement extended only so far as remaining in close contact with Lucchino. Henry, according to the team source, made no real effort to involve himself in the negotiations until after Epstein's Monday afternoon resignation.

Henry could not be reached by e-mail last night to further address his lack of direct involvement. But, during the press conference, he was asked why he didn't do more over the last month to avoid this surprise ending.

''Because," he said, ''never in my wildest dreams did I think this would ever happen. I had this romantic notion that Theo's going to be our general manager for the rest of my life. We have the best relationship imaginable. We still have the best relationship. I can't imagine having a better relationship with a human being than I have with Theo."

Epstein never appeared close to losing emotional control during his segment of the press conference, and yet, standing off to the side, he looked pained, too, suggesting that indeed his relationship with Henry remains strong.

''I am much more responsible for this than Larry Lucchino is," Henry said. ''Did I blow it? Yeah, I feel that way.

''You may notice Larry Lucchino is not here [at this press conference] today. He's been maligned and blamed for this situation over the last couple of days. I think that's wrong. I think that's inaccurate."

Epstein, of course, received his first job in baseball in 1992, as a PR intern with the Orioles, whose CEO at the time was Lucchino. When Lucchino shifted to the San Diego Padres in that capacity in 1995, Epstein, right out of Yale University, followed, ultimately climbing to director of baseball operations, before joining Henry and Lucchino in Boston in 2002.

''My relationship with Larry is one that happened about 14 years ago," Epstein said in his press conference. ''We've had a very successful working relationship. I think Larry and I like each other. As with any long-term relationship there are complexities, there are ups and downs, there are times when you have philosophical differences.

''When I look back he's done a lot for me. I owe him quite a bit. And I take that to heart. In the end, 30 years from now, when I look back on my relationship with Larry Lucchino, I'm going to see it as a positive influence in my life."

Henry appeared to be reeling and still in shock yesterday, to the point that he acknowledged the process of hiring a new GM has yet to begin, even though the general managers' meetings begin Monday in Palm Springs, Calif.

''We haven't started the process because we were so immersed in trying to convince Theo he should stay," Henry said. ''I'm sure we would have talked to Josh [Byrnes]."

Byrnes left last week to accept the GM job in Arizona, though Byrnes is known to have felt considerable loyalty to Epstein, making it unclear whether he would have been comfortable to step into the void left by Epstein under the circumstances.

Since Epstein opted to leave, ''We've been just as upset as any of the fans about this loss," Henry said. ''But we are going to put this together and move forward. And this franchise is going to be fine. Larry Lucchino is not the root of the problem here. He's going to do what he did before, and build a baseball organization."

Epstein, meanwhile, acknowledged being contacted by one team in the previous 24 hours, and said that contact occurred through an intermediary. That team is strongly believed to be the Los Angeles Dodgers, who recently let go of GM Paul DePodesta.

''I told the intermediary to please tell the team that right now I'm focused on helping to get the Red Sox to the general managers' meetings and helping with the transition," Epstein said in his press conference. ''If we get to next week, that'd be a more appropriate time for me to listen to what other teams have to say."

As of now, only the LA and Tampa Bay jobs are open, though Tampa Bay has scheduled a press conference for noon today, when the club is expected to announce the hiring of Gerry Hunsicker. The only other general manager opening on the horizon would be in Washington. Nationals GM Jim Bowden recently signed a brief extension (that runs through April), as Major League Baseball searches for an ownership group for the club.

Epstein appeared willing and ready to work elsewhere, saying during his press conference, ''I am not burned out."

He also said that the issues he had with being a celebrity in Boston, though troublesome to him for a long time, did not really influence his decision.

''It did cause me to ask some questions about what I wanted," he told the assembled media, but ''in the end I was able to reconcile that."

What he clearly couldn't reconcile were perceived issues of trust. And for that, Henry was truly devastated. He was asked what Epstein meant to the club, which he stewarded to three seasons of 95 or more wins, three postseason appearances, and a World Series victory.

''This is a great loss," Henry said. ''It's a great personal loss."

''We had a lot of success together," Epstein said during his press conference, turning to Henry as he said this. ''That doesn't disappear at all with me leaving."

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