CLEVELAND -- So how old does an executive have to be to be in the Hall of Fame? Is 42 too young?
Theo Epstein may no longer be viewed as a boy genius, as he was when the Red Sox won the 2004 World Series less than two years after he'd taken over as their general manager, but his work in Chicago suggests he is exactly what Tom Ricketts felt he was when the owner hired Epstein five years ago -- a difference-maker of the highest order.
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Epstein added the latest item on his list of bonafides for Cooperstown with the Cubs' roller-coaster 8-7, 10-inning victory in Game 7 of the World Series. The same guy who oversaw the end of the Red Sox's 86-year drought has done himself one better, building a team that ended the Cubs' 108-year wait.
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"He's always had a plan in place," said Ryan Dempster, the former Cubs pitcher who now serves as a special advisor. "He set it up for success and it happened. It's amazing. He's going to the Hall of Fame. He can do whatever he wants. What he's done in two different cities, turned around two curses, is something legendary."
Epstein was drawn to the Cubs in part because of the chance to restore glory to a franchise that hadn't won a World Series since 1908. His teams have now won three championships, and Dempster is right about Cooperstown.
There's no denying Epstein's place in history. The only question is how long will it take before his plaque is being designed. But that was the last thing on Epstein's mind at about 2 a.m. on Thursday morning. He stood on the pitcher's mound at Progressive Field, flanked by his two main men, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod, and posed for photos as rain fell on them.
Once they were done, the Cubs' brass had a group hug. They swaddled themselves in one of the hundreds -- maybe even thousands -- of W flags that made the trip from Chicago for the deciding games of a World Series in which the Cubs won the last three to erase a 3-1 deficit that had spread depression across the North Side.
As highly as he is regarded, Epstein still has moments when he can't believe that a guy who fought for playing time on the Brookline (Mass.) High baseball team is a part of history like this back-and-forth Game 7.
"I'm truly just honored to be part of Major League Baseball," Epstein said after the hug broke up. "I grew up a fan, loving the game, and not being good enough to play, so to be part of a Major League Baseball is incredible. To have the privilege of working with two organizations like this is something I never thought I'd have, and to be a part of winning World Series in both places is something I will always treasure and won't take for granted. It means the world to me."
Baseball seasons can swing quickly, which Epstein learned in his first year as the Red Sox's general manager. Boston led the Yankees, 5-2, in the eighth inning of Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series, but wound up losing, 6-5, on Aaron Boone's home run in the 11th inning.
Epstein may have looked relaxed when television cameras showed him in the eighth inning Wednesday night, his son Jack wrapping his arms around his neck, but inside he was churning. He hated that some of his friends felt the Cubs had the World Series locked up because they were leading 6-3, with Aroldis Chapman on the mound.
"People were texting me congrats," Epstein said. "I'm like, '[Bleep] you, this is baseball, anything can happen.'"
In the end, Rajai Davis' game-tying home run and a 17-minute rain delay after the ninth only made the outcome a little more hard-earned for the Cubs. Epstein will never forget the scene he saw in the team's clubhouse when he left his seat to meet with Major League Baseball officials during the rain delay.
"I went downstairs and walked past our weight room," he said. "I saw all our players. I got a little concerned about what was going on. I popped the door open a little bit and they were all saying, 'This is only going to make it sweeter. Let's grind, boys. Let's go.'"
This was exactly the cohesiveness and determination that Epstein, Joe Maddon and other executives and coaches have tried to build.
"Sure enough, they went out and scored two runs," Epstein said. "That was so appropriate for that group of guys, the year we had, the organization we have. ... To bounce back after that -- with intent, with connectedness, the way they were meeting in the weight room -- I knew we were going to win as soon as I saw that."
Epstein is known for long days and short weekends. He sets the tone for a front office that prides itself on never being outworked.
"What makes a great organization is a thousand little sacrifices that you make when no one's looking," Epstein said. "That's been happening here for five years and probably longer. I got the privilege to see it for five years, and that's what makes it so rewarding to see this happen tonight."
Epstein grew up rooting for the Red Sox, but he has made himself a part of the Cubs' community, past and present. He was beaming about the happiness that he helped create for people in Chicago and a long list of those who have given their heart to the franchise.
"The effect on so many people and generations, bringing families together ... I'm thinking of people who didn't make it," Epstein said. "I'm thinking of Ernie [Banks]; thinking of Ronnie [Santo]; thinking of Billy Williams, who will be celebrating with us; the '69 team, the '84 team, [and] the 2003 team -- all these teams that were great and could have gotten it done, but just didn't have the bounces on their side. Now we got it done, and everyone's going to sleep happy tonight."
Including the architect of it all.