Quiet and barely noticed, off to the right of the table at which Theo Epstein spoke his piece nearly six weeks ago, stood the answer to the search for the next general manager of the Red Sox. Team ownership went on to canvass the national baseball landscape and ponder the merits of external candidates for 40 days and 40 nights, but yesterday at Fenway Park, the search ended back where it began.
It ended in a most unusual manner, not with one solution but two, and for an unspecified duration. Jed Hoyer and Ben Cherington, both of whom were raised in New Hampshire and grew up in baseball under Epstein, were named co-general managers for the 2006 season, making them the 12th and 13th general managers in this 105-year Boston baseball drama.
Even Cherington labeled this development ''a little bit atypical."
Most atypical of all: Team president/CEO Larry Lucchino refused to address the duration of their contracts and left open the possibility that Epstein would return to the club, in a capacity to be determined.
While Lucchino dubbed it ''fair to say there have been some general discussions about Theo coming back," he also called it ''premature to discuss what role, if any, Theo could have.
''All we're saying is we'll keep the light on in the window, the door ajar, and if there's a fit, we'd like to see it happen."
Hoyer, who began working for the club as an intern the day the current ownership assumed control, was Epstein's closest confidant in his former role as assistant to the GM. He turned 32 last week, and as Hoyer pointed out yesterday, is ''22 days older than Theo."
He will handle major league issues, including player contracts, negotiations, and trades. Cherington, the 31-year-old former director of player development, will be charged with his area of expertise, minor league issues. Incidentally, it was Cherington, an eight-year veteran of the organization, who gave Hoyer his start in baseball, hiring him to that intern post.
They become the third- and fourth-youngest GMs in the game, behind Texas's Jon Daniels and Tampa Bay's Andrew Friedman, both 28.
''I think our view is, the areas are distinct enough, the responsibilities demanding enough, the particular circumstances challenging enough, that it made some sense to try to divide the job at this time," said Lucchino, who spoke for owner John W. Henry and chairman Tom Werner, neither of whom was present for yesterday's announcement at Fenway Park. ''It came down to the final decision, that there were people in-house the last four years who knew how we wanted to do it, what the philosophy was.
''We don't have to worry about radical changes. This is the arrangement we're going with for 2006. Will there be other changes or other additions? I think that's always possible."
And that, it appears, is what this decision came down to. Rather than hire Jim Beattie, Jim Bowden, Dave Wilder, or Dan Evans -- the known external candidates Lucchino spoke with -- ownership went for consistency and control.
''We ultimately sought continuity of the direction we had been going in over the last four years and the last four weeks," Henry said in an e-mail. ''The committee has done a fine job. They have worked as hard as humanly possible to pave the way for a successful offseason.
''Ben and Jed have the long-term interests of the Red Sox in the forefront of their minds, and they complement each other very, very well."
Cherington downplayed the difficulties that could rise out of two people sharing power vs. a single GM.
''It's a little overplayed that that person makes all the decisions in a vacuum," he said.
Perhaps more difficult than working together is not knowing how long they will work together in this capacity. Nonetheless, both Cherington and Hoyer denied feeling at all compromised by the shared title or unspecified duration of the arrangement.
''That's something Jed and I talked about together," said Cherington, who began working in pro baseball with the Indians, joined the Sox under Dan Duquette in November 1998, and has since worked as mid-Atlantic scout, baseball operations assistant, advance scout, coordinator of Latin American scouting, assistant director of player development, and director of player development, working in his most recent role for the last three seasons. ''And I don't think either of us would take this position if we didn't think we could succeed, both in the short and the long term.
''The most important factor in this decision together was an opportunity to help sustain what we've tried to build in baseball operations and build on, the baseball and the people, the structure of people that are working not just in the office but scouts, player development, international scouts, people that we believe in. We were in the best position to keep doing that. That's what drove this for me.
''The only hesitation was making sure we had a good conversation with each other, that we have the same idea, same vision. The reason this is going to work with Jed and me is not only do we complement each other but we have an incredible relationship built on trust."
And that relationship, they and Lucchino believe, will make this a successful partnership. A two-headed GM arrangement failed badly in Baltimore, where Beattie was dismissed after this season and his former partner, Mike Flanagan, was given consolidated control.
''The Beattie situation with Flanagan was quite different," Lucchino said. ''They had never worked together before. They didn't really know each other."
And, most important, Lucchino added, their job descriptions led to ''complete overlap. We don't have that. These guys know each other and have worked together."
Hoyer, speaking to that issue, said this is nothing like a ''prearranged marriage." The two know each other well, and say they won't impede each other's progress.
''I think actually it's a pretty natural division," Hoyer said. ''I've worked on mostly major league transactions, contracts, pro scouting. Ben has been working mostly on player development, amateur scouting."
Hoyer and Cherington will now be charged with reshaping the baseball operations department. Before Epstein departed, assistant GM Josh Byrnes, 35, left to become GM in Arizona.
Recently, director of baseball operations and assistant director of player development Peter Woodfork left to become Byrnes's assistant GM with the Diamondbacks.
Hoyer said the club is likely to hire a new farm director. Cherington, standing across the room, later said that probably would not be necessary. That will be one of the first discussions they'll have and decisions they'll make together.
Surely, they'll disagree, but they have always said they invite internal debate. The key will be coming to a consensus.
''I think if we need a tiebreaker," Hoyer said, ''we're in trouble."
Epstein, of course, is the shadow that lurks somewhere in the distance, possibly to reenter as the tiebreaking voice, possibly as more than that.
What if Epstein returned and wanted to reclaim his job? Or if an external candidate were to emerge who met ownership's liking, either in the coming year or sometime thereafter?
''Hypothetically, it's hard to answer a question like that," Cherington said. ''I think, as I said, if at some point in the future ownership wanted me to step into a different role, I would listen."