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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

Let's iron out some of this dirty laundry

The news conference should be at Fenway tomorrow afternoon. Halloween. No tricks. No boos. Look for the traditional handshake and jack-o-lantern smiles from Theo Epstein and Larry Lucchino. They'll say they look forward to many more years working together to bring championship baseball to Boston.

It's too bad it went this far. Too bad it took this long. Theo's old contract expires at midnight tomorrow, and there were a few hours last week when it felt like he might actually leave the Sox.

Now it looks as though Theo's new deal will be announced tomorrow and life will return to normal on Yawkey Way. Theo can get back to business, trying to trade Manny Ramirez and figuring out what to do about center field, first base, third base, and the pitching staff for 2006.

The unfortunate part of the entire episode is that a lot of inside stuff went public. The father-son dynamic of Lucchino and Epstein has been unveiled before all of Red Sox Nation. The family linen was aired publicly and now every move will be examined for fingerprints: Theo or Larry? Did they agree? Did Theo have to talk Larry into it? Or was this some bigfoot move by Lucchino?

Theo Epstein is a truly remarkable young man from a truly remarkable family. He would be a success in any field of his choice and Boston is fortunate that he set out to have a career in baseball. He got to the mountaintop faster than anyone in the history of the game and deserves to be paid accordingly. But he did not get there alone. And that's why he's not signed yet. That's why this has taken so long.

The Theo-Larry story is as old as the Bible. Mentor meets protege. Mentor teaches young person all he knows. Eventually, the prodigy is ready to make it on his own and no longer feels he needs the old man. That's what we've seen unfold on Yawkey Way, and that's why the Theo deal is not done yet.

Larry taught Theo too well and now he is looking in the mirror as he tries to hammer out a deal with the GM he made in his own image. Both are merely doing what they are trained to do. In Theo's case, he's doing what Larry trained him to do.

What is alarming -- for the future of the Sox franchise -- is Theo's sudden need to distance himself from those who helped him rise to his position of power. Lucchino and Dr. Charles Steinberg are a pair of Red Sox executives who ''discovered" Theo when he was a student at Yale. They picked him out of thousands of wannabe interns. They hired him in Baltimore and then took him to San Diego with them. They held his hand and drove him places during his Wonder Years. They urged him to get his law degree. And when they set up stakes at Fenway Park, they fought vigorously to bring him home. A year later, when Billy Beane got cold feet, Lucchino turned to 28-year-old Theo and made him the (then) youngest GM in the history of baseball.

And now Theo ''bristles at the notion of Steinberg and Lucchino taking credit for his success."

The above sentence appeared in a book I wrote on the 2004 Red Sox championship season and it was the only line Theo objected to. He thought it would get him in trouble with Lucchino. But it didn't. Lucchino laughed when he read it, and seemed genuinely amused that Theo would worry about any publicity regarding their relationship.

That was in March. And now we are in October. And a considerable amount of misinformation has been spilled.

Let's start with Theo being a ''baseball guy" while Larry is a lawyer with a lofty title (CEO). Granted, Epstein is a student of the game, but it's a mistake to say he knows more about baseball than Lucchino or anyone else in the Red Sox baseball operation. Theo is 31 years old and did not play baseball past high school. He spent four years at Yale and three years at law school. That hardly leaves time for much more than rotisserie league scouting. He can read the data and has a horde of trusty, like-minded minions, but we're not talking about a lifetime of beating the bushes and scouting prospects. Lucchino was a good high school baseball player and made it to the NCAA Final Four with Princeton's basketball team. He came to baseball as an executive in 1979, when Theo was 5 years old. That doesn't make him George Digby or Ray Boone, but he's not Les Otten, either.

Lucchino-bashers, and they are legion, maintain that he repeatedly has undermined Theo and on occasion killed deals made by Epstein and the minions. There was one, for sure. When Theo's assistant Josh Byrnes (hired by Arizona as GM Friday) made a deal with Colorado, Epstein thought he had a better deal with another club and requested that Lucchino fall on the sword and invoke the ownership approval clause to kill the Rockies deal. Accustomed to people hating him, Lucchino took the fall, killing the deal and saving Epstein.

It was charged last week that Sox management conducted a ''smear campaign" against Epstein. How? Where's the campaign? It was correctly reported that Theo turned down a three-year deal at $1.2 million per year. That's a smear campaign? There have been no quotes from Sox management on the negotiations. Lucchino and Epstein called me together at home Friday night but said they could say nothing about Theo's contract talks because they had not spoken with other outlets. So much for the Globe's ''home-court advantage" (the Globe's parent company, The New York Times Company, owns 17 percent of the Red Sox). So much for the cartel. In fact, Epstein's minions probably have done more talking about Theo's situation than anyone in Sox management. When postseason baseball visited Chicago, at least one nationally known Lucchino-hating Epstein source was trashing the Sox CEO to anyone who'd listen.

It was downright hilarious to read agent Scott Boras and Johnny Damon claiming the Sox weren't communicating with them because of Theo's own contract status. This from an agent who likes to make his deals on the eve of spring training. If there's silence from the Sox regarding Damon, maybe it's because the Sox are waiting for Johnny and Scott to get off their ridiculous five-year contract demand.

It would be a mistake for Epstein to think he can separate Lucchino from John Henry. Henry is a quiet man, but he is not a dolt. He believes in and trusts Lucchino. He admires his young GM, but it would be a mistake for Epstein to force Henry to choose.

This is how life works. People disagree. It doesn't mean they hate one another or can't work together. Lucchino and Epstein are mature enough to move forward from this regrettable past week.

Publicly, Theo always has talked about ''mutual respect" regarding his relationship with dad Larry. They know that their silence produced considerable speculation and acrimony. Fans and media members have taken shots and taken sides. The Sox tomorrow will present a united front. It still can work. The only unfortunate aspect is that the embers will smolder for years to come. We know too much now.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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