Spinning at the top
Henry: Long-term view positive
General manager Theo Epstein (right) said he and Larry Lucchino have been able to put aside their "personal conflict". (Globe Staff Photo / Barry Chin)
Sunday night, at the Brookline home of Larry Lucchino, in the presence of principal owner John Henry and chairman Tom Werner, Lucchino and Theo Epstein agreed that Epstein would reclaim his rightful role as general manager. And then they did something that photographers throughout New England would have paid a hefty sum to have captured for posterity.
''At one point," Henry said, speaking by phone late last night, ''we started to celebrate. Then we said, 'Let's execute, as opposed to celebrating.' Though I did see those two hug. Maybe that was my imagination. But I'm sticking to it."
Henry was not in attendance yesterday, the day on which the 32-year-old Epstein and Lucchino sat side by side, along with former co-GMs Jed Hoyer and Ben Cherington, to once and for all answer media inquiries about the last 12 tumultuous weeks.
He had an important business deal to attend to at home in Boca Raton, Fla., and was not present to hear Epstein offer explanations of a since-bridged ''fundamental disconnect" in how to build and sustain a baseball team. He wasn't there to listen to Epstein and Lucchino touch upon personal issues since resolved. He didn't hear Epstein discuss how baseball, at times overshadowed as the Sox evolved into a business colossus, has reclaimed what Epstein called its ''centrality in the operation."
Still, despite being 1,500 miles away, Henry sounded as in-tune with his organization as he has been since Epstein departed Oct. 31. Henry, on Nov. 2, said he had to ask himself if he was fit to be the Sox' principal owner. Asked yesterday if the past three months have lessened his interest in owning this team in this city, he convincingly said, ''No. I feel incredibly lucky, incredibly fortunate to be in this position. Not everyone is going to agree with the things I do or we do. But I can't wait for the first day of spring training. I'm ready for it."
He called 2005 ''the best year I've ever had in sports" despite the turmoil, citing the long-lasting glow of the World Series, the home opener, and the team overcoming injuries and underperformance to reach the postseason. However, it has been undeniably difficult, losing his general manager and much of the public goodwill he had generated, especially among a media contingent that has largely buried him for being evasive and impersonal.
Last night he did convey a bit of regret in using the phraseology ''simply mythology" in his released statements Tuesday night, when addressing perceived issues between Epstein and Lucchino. ''The mythology I was referring to was the power struggle, this reporting of a power struggle," he said. ''When we made the announcement last week that Theo was coming back, the first question from everyone was, 'What is Larry's role going to be?' There's probably a little frustration coming out."
Furthermore, this offseason, the investment company that made him a billionaire, John W. Henry and Co., recently completed a year of significant negative performance. Did that affect his inability to mediate Epstein's contract negotiation in October? ''No," Henry said. ''I've been at that for 25 years. We've had our ups and downs and volatility for 25 years. Did it distract me? It always distracts me. There's never been a year over the last 25 years when I haven't been focused on what goes on."
Instead, Henry's lack of in-person mediation was a result of the trust he placed in Lucchino and Epstein and the relationship between the two men that goes back 14 years. Still, he feels, as Epstein said yesterday, that short-term harm figures to give way to the long-term betterment of his organization. Yet, he said, in a light-hearted but honest moment, ''I doubt that I'll be different. I'll still be my bumbling old self. I don't think I'll change much. I'm an old guy."
But things have changed at the corner of Brookline Avenue and Yawkey Way, and it seems, by Epstein's measure, that he indeed had to leave the organization to accomplish what he, and the club, have. ''That's something I've given a lot of thought to, if we could have reached this day without having to go through Oct. 31," Epstein said during a 30-minute session with beat reporters. ''My conclusion is that Oct. 31 helped get us get here. It was an imperfect but necessary catalyst to get us to this point."
Epstein indicated that the team is now operating with a clear basis of beliefs centered upon balancing immediate and long-term goals, with an emphasis on player development, pitching, defense, and avoiding cumbersome contracts. Epstein said he wanted this balance clearly established, ''rather than reach that conclusion with every specific transaction."
Lucchino identified the Johnny Damon negotiation as an example of this shared vision, ''with respect to drawing a line as to how high we would go, how long we would go."
Whatever happened between the two convinced Epstein that he could return to an organization where Lucchino's role in baseball decisions is unchanged. ''The best baseball operations decisions are made with a lot of debate, discussion," Lucchino said. ''I will remain a participant at the table."
Epstein echoed that sentiment, saying, ''On specific transactions we'll have the same healthy process we had before. Who has final say, that is not an issue. I think I have as much autonomy as any GM in baseball. And Larry's a part of the process in helping us reach a final conclusion."
Epstein also said, rather proudly, that ''organically, out of the process, grew a greater appreciation for baseball's centrality in the operation."
Henry provided a clear-cut example of how this will occur: Before, baseball operations was situated in the basement. Now, it will move upstairs and join the rest of the business operation.
''One of the things we talked about was trying to address what's called 'factionalism,' when you have two campuses in a company," Henry said. ''There wasn't enough communication between different departments, especially baseball operations and other parts of the company."
Henry, too, said he wants the baseball operations department to sense his own greater attention paid to their work. ''I'm committed to being more involved and spending more time in baseball operations," he said. ''They had the feeling I didn't appreciate what they were doing because I wasn't in there much. I did all my communication with and through Theo."
And, furthermore, an organizational commitment has been made to sound internal and external communications, which is expected to manifest itself in the team employing a more Belichickian approach.
''I think the Patriots," Epstein said, in explaining that last organizational permutation, ''have had a lot of success in this market, the way they run things. I'm not saying we're adopting all of their practices, but it's hard to quibble with their approach."
The Sox did not announce the duration of Epstein's contract, let alone how much he will be paid, and this, Epstein said, should be viewed as the initial step toward the organization releasing less information.
''If there's no [publicly known] end date [to my contract] we can't have an all-too-public negotiation ever again," Epstein said. ''That's part of the point. Through our words and actions, we're demonstrating a long-term commitment to making this work. That's the important thing."
Henry said that not releasing Epstein's contract length ''is really up to Theo. If he doesn't want to discuss it or have it out there, I will abide by that. I expect him to be here for a very, very long time."
Epstein yesterday also touched upon his admiration for Hoyer and Cherington. ''I think they did a fantastic job, especially implementing at the time what was a developing philosophy and what now is one we clearly adhere to," said Epstein who endorsed setting a dollar value on Damon and dealing Edgar Renteria.
Would he have made the same moves? ''I think so, yeah," he said. ''It's hard to say. You never know when someone's personality or one phone call might make a difference."
Now, he's back to again make that difference. ''We certainly built momentum as we turned discord into accord," Epstein said. ''I've never been more enthusiastic about the process and the understanding than I am now as we start to put these words into actions."