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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

Opening, and no closure

Atlanta's Dayton Moore took himself out of the running for Red Sox general manager Tuesday, joining Kevin Towers, Doug Melvin, J.P. Ricciardi, Brian Sabean, Terry Ryan, Chris Antonetti, and Tony LaCava in the long list of those who've said ''not interested" to Larry Lucchino.

Among others also believed to have turned down the once-prestigious Sox job are Peter Gammons, Dan Duquette, Lou Gorman, Bill James, Bob Lobel, Jack Welch, Jerry Remy, Stephen Stills, Joseph Abboud, Sean McDonough, Sargent Shriver, Wendi Nix, Stevie Nicks, Alice Cook, Cookie Gilchrist, and Jerry Mathers as the Beaver.

Oh, and in case you missed it, Theo Epstein also told Lucchino he did not want to be general manager of the Red Sox.

Reached at the owners' meetings in Milwaukee yesterday (cartel rules don't require Larry to return our calls, but he generally makes himself available), Lucchino addressed the GM search -- and a few other issues that have made him a New England dartboard on par with Haywood Sullivan after Sully forgot to mail Carlton Fisk's contract.

Lucchino started by saying, ''We're not going to have any further comments on Theo," which reminded me a little of Mark McGwire sitting in front of Congress and telling us he didn't want to talk about the past. Pushing the point, I asked if someone representing ownership could categorically state the book is closed on Theo and the Sox.

''I'm not going to have any further comment," he said. ''I'm sorry. I think the statement we released speaks for itself . . . I believe Tom [Werner] said it's time to turn the page on that."

An e-mail asking the same question of John Henry, who stayed behind at his Florida home during the meetings, was returned with a polite ''no comment."

So the Sox aren't saying yes or no on the Theo rumor that won't go away.

Meanwhile, there is the ball club's public relations nightmare of the last two weeks and the perception of chaos at the top during a critical time in the calendar. The Red Sox are the only team in the majors without a general manager. They obviously waited too long to negotiate with Theo and now they look like George McGovern trying to find a running mate in 1972.

This is the first time the current ownership group has been blasted in Boston. Now they know a little about how Bob Kraft felt after he alienated Bill Parcells, got too involved, and suffered through the Pete Carroll era. At least Kraft had a large faction of the fandom on his side. Lucchino is an alliance of one. Everyone in Sox Nation wanted Theo to stay. On this topic there was no ''other side."

On being the target of the most criticism, Lucchino said, ''Sometimes that's part of my job description. I don't think the facts warrant that kind of treatment, but I do know it comes with the job from time to time and I hope I'm experienced enough to deal with it. Some folks have said that there was a kind of belated baptism to the Boston media, but we've had four very positive years and we hope that that will continue."

Werner, in Milwaukee with Lucchino, said: ''We've certainly had a wonderful, charmed run and I don't think you go into baseball expecting that it'll always be smooth because you have to make some tough decisions. We regretted that we couldn't conclude a deal with Theo, but my feeling is that this will pass and in the end we're going to field a competitive team and this will be in the rearview mirror. We'd have preferred if this issue hadn't come up but it came up, obviously, and we're not happy that it has played the way it has played, but I think you don't go into it thinking that every day is going to be a win."

But mistakes were made. They waited too long. They got caught with the bat on their shoulder.

''Until the last day, I was hopeful that Theo would accept our offer," said Werner. ''Maybe if you look back and wound the clock back, perhaps we could have accelerated the deliberations, but you can always look back on things and say, 'Gee, I wish we had done something slightly different.' "

Lucchino assured fans the Sox will have a general manager before the winter meetings commence in Dallas Dec. 5. He also disputed the notion that the Sox are falling behind because of their situation.

''The business of our baseball operations department is going along. Bill Lajoie is functioning as kind of an acting general manager down there. If you go back to 2002, when we conducted the search, we started it right at the end of the season and we hired someone -- Theo Epstein -- at the end of November. That was a much longer process than this one will be, but it is more important for us to find the right person than to do a rush job on the search."

Reached at his office in Boston, the 71-year-old Lajoie said, ''We have meetings every day and we're getting all the material ready for a GM to come in -- what agents we've talked to and those types of things. I would say we're up to speed at this point. We've been working on the roster and will turn that in Sunday. From my experience on the job, we're up to speed and doing fine."

Regarding potential GM candidates from the in-house Gang of Four (Ben Cherington, Craig Shipley, Peter Woodfork, and Jed Hoyer), Lucchino said, ''We haven't commented on any internal candidates. We're focusing initially on external candidates."

The Sox CEO said there are candidates under consideration whose names have not been made public at the individuals' requests. He said others have rejected the Sox because they either got new deals from their current employers (Moore has been told he'll succeed John Schuerholz in Atlanta), or were reluctant to relocate for personal reasons.

Reached at home in Pittsburgh yesterday, LaCava, Toronto's director of player personnel, said, ''It was really hard to turn down. I couldn't be more honored to be considered for a job with one of the best brands in sports. The fans are great and there's plenty of resources. It would have been a great challenge and I would have looked forward to working with Larry Lucchino. I think he's a good scout himself. He found Kevin Towers and Theo Epstein. I have teenagers in high school and my wife and I always said it will be family first. At this time in our lives, we've got a couple of years to go to finish our obligations to our children."

Though he points to Lajoie as acting GM, in the eyes of many, Lucchino is de facto general manager until another one is hired. When he was asked about the prospect of trading Manny Ramírez, Lucchino said, ''We are exploring the possibility. We're open for business on that issue, but that doesn't mean he will certainly be traded and I think a deal of that magnitude is going to take a considerable amount of time and would never happen before the winter meetings."

So there. The Sox CEO says the Sox are in good shape in their GM search. He says it's an exaggeration to claim there is chaos at the top. He says the Sox will hire a general manager before the winter meetings. He says his desk is flooded with applicants.

Sox fans aren't buying and Lucchino knows he has the image of the guy with the mustache who ties the girl to the railroad tracks. He thinks he can handle the post-Theo fury. Larry being Larry.

They can put all the positive spin on it they want, but this represents the first crisis for this ownership group. It has, indeed, been a sorry episode. And it's not over yet. Not even close.

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

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