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Red Sox pin hopes on new 'kid' to restore team to glory

On a club dominated by talk of legends, like Babe Ruth and Ted Williams, the hiring of Red Sox GM Theo Epstein, just 28, generated a lot of buzz.

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By HUBERT MIZELL, Times Sports Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published December 8, 2002


Good-old-boy leadership of Boston baseball has failed for 84 excruciating seasons -- since Babe Ruth was peddled to the Yankees -- to make World Series champions of the Red Sox.

So, hurrah for Beantown. With creative courage, the Sox are shoveling away from the graybeard graveyard. Fenway Park, an aging darling, now becomes a crib. Theo Epstein, at 28, is Boston's new general manager.

Talk about Babe!

New Englanders have cheered Celtics, Bruins and Patriots to the ultimate trophies in other sports. Hopes of the Red Sox ruling for the first time since 1918 ride with a kid who might seem greener than the Monster itself.

Don't leap to say it's dumb, fellow codgers. Many hot businesses are dominated by youth. Dozens of major CEOs and COOs were born in the 1970s. Tender wizards who consider Bill Gates middle-aged and Donald Trump really old.

What we know about Theo is ... he's extraordinarily smart, artistically gifted, historically motivated. He works with old-school dedication. By his early teens, Epstein was absorbing baseball operations.

I'm quickly biased because Theo can write. Not just fat paychecks for Red Sox players, but he can crank smooth prose. Rick Vaughn, Devil Rays vice president of public relations, was with Baltimore's franchise in 1992 and quickly noticed Epstein as an 18-year-old intern.

"Theo said he could write, so I gave him a project involving the Negro Leagues," Vaughn said. "His work was terrific. Deep research. Wonderful perspective. We didn't have to change a word. Right there, I knew Theo Epstein was special."

To a degree, it's in the genes. Theo's grandfather, Philip, and twin brother, Julius, wrote the screenplay for the Humphrey Bogart classic Casablanca.

Play it again, Theo.

His dad, Leslie, was a Rhodes Scholar and heads the creative writing program at Boston College. Epstein grew up in the spiffy close-in suburb of Brookline, where golf's Ryder Cup was played in 1999.

Epstein went to Yale, becoming sports editor of the school newspaper. He had the savvy to write football great Calvin Hill, a former Yalie, about working with the Orioles. Hill was on the club's board. Once in Baltimore, the kid became a favorite of O's president Larry Lucchino.

After moving to San Diego to run the Padres, Lucchino summoned Epstein, who was encouraged to get a law degree. He did. Lucchino since has become president of the Red Sox and, as something of a hardball godfather to the phenom, is putting his ever-mushrooming faith in Epstein. All this in a unique baseball town where Ted Williams so long ago was nicknamed "The Kid."

* * *

LINE DRIVES: As his Redskins struggle I wonder if the Ball Coach heard a Washington talk-show caller say, "Notre Dame had its Gerry Faust, now we have our Steve Spurrier." ... Marvin Jacobson, a Times reader from Clermont, thinks, "By far the worst announcer on any sport is John Madden. Talk about a bore, with the same lines for 25 years. Now he has ruined Monday night games." ... By my count, in 32 or 35 chunks of Joe Theismann commentary on ESPN's telecast of Bucs-Saints, the self-absorbed old QB used "I." By my count, cameras did 38 solo shots of Warren Sapp, during a period when he made zero tackles.

* * *

BYGONE BUC: I get informative "whatever happened?" reactions, but seldom do subjects appear with updates. After a recent mention, Sean Farrell got in touch.

An offensive guard from Penn State, he was Tampa Bay's first-round draft pick in 1982. Same year the Bucs made an infamous second-round pick of the useless Booker Reese. After five seasons (1982-86), Farrell went on to play for New England and Denver in an 11-year career.

"Those were obviously tough times with the Bucs," he said, "but, like so many Tampa Bay players, I knew the area was where I'd like to settle after football. I left but came back, and now it's a happy situation."

The son of a Long Island surgeon is in the securities business and lives at Avila Country Club north of Tampa. "I'm married, have a daughter who'll soon turn 11 and like playing golf," said Farrell, an 8-handicapper who shoots in the low 80s.

"As long as the old (Bucs) regime was around, I wasn't too motivated to attend games. I did get invited to a gathering of former players, but that became kind of unpleasant when they (Bucs officials) began lining up fans to pay for autographs.

"Things have clearly changed. You sense a far better atmosphere, and the Bucs certainly are winning more games. Going to the stadium seems a much better idea now. I'm going to have to try it."

* * *

Whatever happened to Neil Lomax?

-- To contact Hubert Mizell, e-mail mmizell02@earthlink.net or mail to P.O. Box 726, Nellysford, VA 22958.

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