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JACKIE MACMULLAN

Theo needs to manage an explanation

Hey, Theo.

I hope you know what you're doing.

I'd like to make sense of what has transpired over the past four months -- aside from the Red Sox' role in clogging the major league baseball grapevine with enough gossip and innuendo to fuel at least three seasons of ''Days of Our Lives."

When you abruptly resigned on Halloween night, your reasons appeared sound, even noble, to me. You walked away from a $4.5 million contract because you could not embrace an organization that was at odds philosophically with what you believed. Although you carefully and cleverly said nothing during your departing press conference, it was easy to read between the lines that you were stung by a breach of trust between you and your onetime mentor, Larry Lucchino. Team moles confirmed the ball club felt you had gotten a little too big for your own good, and the Sox' protracted (and often insulting) negotiations were their way of reminding you who was boss.

Ultimately, you decided to tell your boss to take this job and stuff it. You resisted smearing anybody on your way out the door, departing with your dignity and integrity intact. There was even talk you would eschew baseball for a year and invest your time in some social work, the preferred vocation of your brother, Paul.

The fallout of your shocking resignation included angry public backlash that savaged Lucchino. The man who so deftly coined the Yankees the ''Evil Empire" suddenly found himself playing the role of Darth Vader. You strode off as Luke Skywalker, the young, idealistic Jedi knight protected by the power of the Force.

So now you are back, and we are left to wonder why. Was there a change of heart? A change in Red Sox philosophy? A change in your relationship with Lucchino?

The details matter. It's not good enough to dismiss the reasons for your return as irrelevant. Count me among those who believe the team is better with you, but too much has happened for us to embrace you again without explanation.

Word out of Yawkey Way was principal owner John W. Henry worked tirelessly to bring you back into the fold. It's no secret he was blindsided -- and deeply wounded -- by your hasty departure. Had he been more involved in the day-to-day operations of the team, perhaps you never would have left.

Be honest, Theo. Much of this could have been avoided. Negotiations are never pleasant and too often become personal, and your contract extension talks were no different. The mistake you and Lucchino and Henry made was adhering too closely to that Oct. 31 expiration date. Obviously, you had misgivings about the direction of the franchise, and clearly you had some issues with Lucchino that needed to be addressed. Just as in any negotiation, as the deadline approached, the pressure increased, the anxiety became heightened, and things were undoubtedly said on both sides that needed to be stricken from the record once everybody signed on the dotted line.

What you should have done, once Oct. 31 came and went, was explain no agreement had been reached, and there were issues impeding the progress of the talks, and until further notice you were a free agent.

You decided, instead, the relationship was unsalvageable, so you quit. It was a bold move, one quickly identified by your detractors as a sign of your impulsiveness and immaturity, and by your supporters as a sign of your wisdom and convictions. In retrospect, it was probably something in between.

Anyone who spent any time around you last season could have told you that you needed some time off. You often looked tired, frustrated, and harried, not the characteristics you'd expect of a Boy Wonder who had just eradicated a curse and provided his hometown with an elusive World Series championship. Clearly something had been gnawing at you for months.

Yet it didn't take long for a baseball lifer like you to realize jet-setting with rock stars just isn't as sexy as crunching numbers with Bill James. I'm not privy to the process that led to your return, but I'd be astonished if you've managed to reconcile all your differences with Lucchino. If you had, he wouldn't have been trying to ram Jim Beattie through as your successor.

It must be one heck of a master plan if it includes ways for you and Lucchino to coexist peacefully.

All I know is four months is a very long time, and the Red Sox were stuck in an embarrassing quandary while you pondered your next move.

Jed Hoyer and Ben Cherington, your friends, went through the laughable process of being named co-GMs, knowing all the while it was highly unlikely they would end up in that capacity. Their loyalty will be rewarded, I'm sure, but they were operating almost from the beginning without sufficient credibility, in part because we knew you were lurking in the shadows. They deserved better.

We suspect the Edgar Renteria deal had your fingerprints all over it. We're pretty sure you wouldn't have re-signed Johnny Damon, either, but if you were a silent partner in that decision, it was Hoyer and Cherington who were left out front to explain the unpopular move. Who ever heard of calling a press conference for a non-signing? That's what your pals were asked to do.

You appear to be back just in time for a possible Coco Crisp trade, one that would solve the team's problem in center field and undoubtedly earn you platitudes if it happens.

You will deserve those accolades. You always did. You're smart and thoughtful and dedicated and driven. You were one of the best things about the Boston Red Sox, and could be again.

Perhaps you and Lucchino will be men enough to shake hands and admit your mistakes. But what happens two months from now, when you and Larry square off again? Will it be his turn to quit in a huff? This arrangement appears as flawed as it was when you walked out.

I wonder why you are convinced this story can have a happy ending. John Henry is a passionate baseball man, but as an owner he's proven to be alarmingly passive -- particularly at a critical juncture on Halloween night. It's unrealistic to expect this man to suddenly morph into a take-charge, forceful personality. I have a hard time imagining him taking a stand on Theo vs. Larry.

I imagine you have learned from this strange journey you have taken. You left the Red Sox in a gorilla suit; you are far too bright to return in a clown suit.

But please tell us why it will all be OK now. Please explain why it's perfectly fine that the past four months have taken us right back to where we started.

Jackie MacMullan is a Globe columnist. Her e-mail address is macmullan@globe.com.

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