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BOB RYAN

Long on titles, short on logic

The new title is ''executive vice president/general manager." Who cares? A title says nothing.

Power is all that matters. That fellow in Libya has never given himself a promotion. All these years running the country, and it's still plain ol' ''Colonel" Khadafy. But everyone over there seems to know who's in charge, all right.

When Lou Gorman had the power, he was the ''senior vice president" of the Red Sox. The word ''executive" has a nice ring to it. Danny Ainge is ''executive director, basketball operations" of the Celtics. No slash. But a slash may not be such a big deal.

Last year at this time, Theo Epstein had a slash. When he exited Fenway Park in his gorilla suit in October, he was the outgoing ''senior vice president/general manager." Now other people who will clearly be answering to him have a slash. In fact, the longest title in the organization now belongs to Craig Shipley. He is the ''vice president/international scouting and special assistant to the general manager." Try that one with your mouth full.

Whatever the title, Theo Epstein is back. Let the spin begin.

There was no press conference to announce this development, merely statements issued from the Krem-, er, ballpark offices. Weary of the public scrutiny concerning their peculiar actions of the past few months, the Red Sox Inc. instead welcomed the sort of prodigal son back to the organization via canned quotes. The principals plan to meet with selected approved media in ''one-on-one sessions and small groups" today, supposedly to clear up the lingering mystery surrounding Theo's departure and return. Henceforth, says CEO (a weighty title, for sure) Larry Lucchino, ''We shall not address this internal office matter publicly."

Some would say the Red Sox have no obligation to anyway. In other words, why Epstein left in the first place -- and he did leave -- is none of our business.

That's fine, maybe it isn't. The Red Sox are not a public corporation officially, although we should point out that any company that wishes to impose its will on the city to the degree the Red Sox are proposing via their grandiose real estate designs for Kenmore Square and the Back Bay couldn't be more public. Like so many large corporations, the Red Sox wish to control the news. Hey, it works for the Patriots.

It was heartening to see that they still can't get their story straight. Try this laugher from ''principal owner" John Henry on the subject of the front office discord that led to Theo's departure: ''The media has been in much more turmoil over the Red Sox than has been the case internally." We could consider taking his word for that if he hadn't already said a few paragraphs earlier, ''This is not the same organization that Theo left. There was enough discord then to give Theo legitimate reasons to move on."

Supply your own punch line.

Elsewhere in the multilayered explanation, we hear from both Theo and Lucchino that indeed there certainly was discord. ''Theo returns as General Manager to an organization that is different from the one he left on October 31," Lucchino confirms. ''Walls have crumbled, perceptions of one another have changed, and appreciation of one another has grown."

And this from Epstein himself: ''There were fundamental disagreements among members of upper management with respect to organizational philosophy, approaches, and priorities. This lack of a shared vision, plus the stress of a far-too-public negotiation, strained some relationships, including mine with Larry Lucchino. Regretfully, we all made mistakes, and, despite our best efforts, we were not able to get on the same page."

Perhaps Mr. Henry has a unique conception of the word ''turmoil."

They don't plan on telling us just what those ''disagreements among members of upper management with respect to organizational philosophy, approaches, and priorities" were. There can only be two areas possible. One would be player development vs. win now. The other would be baseball vs. business. I cannot bring myself to believe that Theo is interested in real estate development, marketing in general, and all the attendant nonsense that characterizes modern professional sport. He's about the baseball. Somehow, some way, he could have bumped heads with the CEO in this matter.

He did leave, by the way. He talked with the Dodgers about their GM job (not that any thinking adult would want to work for Frank McCourt). And the Red Sox talked to candidates for the vacant GM job. Either that, or they owe Jim Beattie an apology for wasting about a month of his time. So there was a serious rift between Theo and, yup, Larry Lucchino, a rift that apparently has been healed, although pardon us if we adopt a wait-and-see attitude. Only if Lucchino is still here a year hence can we be sure that the rapprochement is legit.

John Henry has said something to make Theo happy. What is it? Will Theo now answer directly to him, and not Lucchino? If so, can Lucchino handle it? Has Theo been assured that he'll handle baseball and the CEO will handle everything else? Really, now. Nothing else makes sense.

The principal owner has been shaken by this whole episode. ''I have certainly made mistakes in the past by not being more assertive when bumps in the road appeared," he acknowledged. On the Understatement Scale, that's about an 11. John Henry revealed himself to be an essentially clueless leader.

He still doesn't get it. Both Lucchino and Epstein admit they had to mend fences, but the principal owner gives us this: ''Despite the attempts of some to portray Theo's return as a win for someone and a loss for someone else, this is a win-win situation . . . There never was a power struggle between Larry and Theo. It was simply mythology. No general manager in baseball could ask for more autonomy than Theo has. This has never been an issue for us -- only in the media."

Have it your way, Mr. Henry. You can play verbal games with us, but I'm sure Theo Epstein put whatever you told him down in writing. We won't find out the truth today, but we'll find out, all right. Their actions will give them away. Bumbler that you are, you're lucky either one of them will have you.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is ryan@globe.com.

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