Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Theo Incredible

Pedro Martinez had a private, sit-down meeting with Georgy Fats yesterday, and you know how the Nation reacted? They didn't. Nobody cared. Jason Varitek is getting closer and closer to catching for Mike Scioscia in Anaheim and Sox fans just yawn and wonder where they left the TV Guide. Amazing stuff. This is a city that was apoplectic when Lawyer Milloy was released. A group of folks that had serious problems with the trade of Antoine Walker. Heck, people still argue for Drew Bledsoe, and he died in August. Boston's loyalty is borderline obscene. They just don't like seeing their own depart, no matter how far their skills have declined. So how do we explain this change it attitude? Easy, Nomar.

If, as Verbal Kint tells us, the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was making the world believe he didn't exist, then the greatest trick Theo ever pulled was making us believe that stars don't exist. At the trade deadline, with his team comfortably in reach of the Wild Card lead, Theo Epstein traded the most popular Red Sox of the last 20 years. And people trusted him. I wouldn't say there was a groundswell of support for the notion, but fans gave Theo his room. Those who understood the numbers accepted that Nomar's best days might be behind him, and endorsed the move. But the real fire of Red Sox Nation -- the creepy guys you see constantly at Dunkin Donuts wearing a Patriots cap from 1983, saying how they finally learned to plow their own driveway using an old garbage can and their son's Huffy -- those guys were concerned. They didn't freak out, but they loved Nomah (second favorite player, to Trot Nixon of course), a lot more than they love a 29 year old GM who went to Yale. You could just hear them telling themselves "if this doesn't work, that little prick is going to pay." (The Ninth would never use such language). But very quickly, it did. After a 10 day malaise, Boston got red hot, and Theo was safe. Even if the Sox hadn't pulled out the games with New York and won, you know, the World Series, it would've been ok. It was clear that the trade had worked. Boston was better without Nomar. A lifetime Red Sox who had won batting titles and been on the cover of Sports Illustrated. A friend of Teddy Ballgame's and an enemy of the media. A guy who's name sounded cooler with Boston accent. I mean, this is powerful stuff. The Nation loves this sort of thing. But Epstein proved that it didn't matter. That's some pretty fine currency.

Now he's able to play real hardball. It would have been unimaginable 5 years ago for a General Manager to let big time free agents like Pedro and Varitek dangle. Imagine if Dan Duquette let Martinez take a meeting with the Yankees? There would've been a whole lot of crying in baseball. But Epstein has convinced the fans somehow that Damian Miller and Carl Pavano will be adequate substitutes. Sounds crazy, but he's proven that he knows what he's doing. It hasn't quite reached Belichick level, who could put a drunken kitty cat in the secondary and not be questioned, but Theo has a lot of blind trust right now. He made the gutsiest of trades in July and it's given him the power to do what he wants in December and January. It's not enough in baseball to make the moves that are right, you have to also make the ones your fans think are right. So Theo's in pole position, and can offer the Red Sox free agents only what he believes they're worth. And it'll work. Agents can't pressure him. Some players will go, others will stay, and good ones will come in. Through it all, Red Sox fans will rest easy. If it can work with Nomar, it'll work with anyone. In Theo, We Trust.