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updated: 10/25/2011 10:52 PM

This was move that really sent Epstein to Cubs

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  • Theo Epstein, the new Cubs president of baseball operations, said he might not be in Chicago if Terry Francona remained as manager of the Boston Red Sox.

       Theo Epstein, the new Cubs president of baseball operations, said he might not be in Chicago if Terry Francona remained as manager of the Boston Red Sox.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer


Cubs fans are always searching for the miraculous.

Well, if Theo Epstein is the savior, understand that he never would have walked across Lake Michigan's waters and into Cubs fans' hearts without the Red Sox' monumental collapse in September.

Thus, your miracle, courtesy of the Rays, Red Sox ownership, front-office egos and more than anything else the firing of Terry Francona.

After Tuesday's news conference at Wrigley Field, I asked Epstein about his departure.

"(Niners legend) Bill Walsh used to say that coaches and executives should seek change after 10 years with the same team because at that point the organization and the executive probably need a change to stay fresh," Epstein said.

"I've thought about it for a while and I concluded that both the Red Sox and I would benefit from a change sometime in the near future.

"I had planned for it to be after the 2012 season, and Ben Cherington and I talked a lot over the last few months about that transition. One of the big parts was having Ben ready to take over as GM, and he is much more prepared for that than I was nine years ago."

But that was for the end of 2012. What changed was the managerial situation.

"I thought about the process of hiring a new manager and the implications of that, and building that trust between GM and manager, which is such a huge part of a winning formula," Epstein said. "When it came down to it, I just couldn't reconcile that part of it.

"I didn't think it would be right for me to hire the manager now and then hand it over to Ben next year at this time. That was probably the turning point."

And then the Cubs called at the most fortuitous of moments, giving him something else to consider while he worried about saddling Cherington with a manager of Epstein's choosing.

"It would have been awkward at best," Epstein said. "It made me uncomfortable."

So would this have happened if the Red Sox had retained Francona?

"No, probably not," Epstein said. "If Terry had stayed on, I'd still be there."

And the Cubs would have moved on to the rest of the names on their list. Instead, they never had to look past No. 1.

"I really had no idea if this could happen at the end of the season," Tom Ricketts said. "I just knew he was the guy we needed here."

Ricketts got his man, a result of sheer luck and certain perseverance, and so begins a brilliant new chapter in Cubs history, starting with a sparkling news conference Tuesday that showed off a polished and well-spoken 37-year-old who graduated from Yale and later San Diego Law School.

He spoke nothing in his address of idiotic curses or goats, used words like "promulgate" and "paradigm," and made a reference to showing up for work in Boston the last two weeks because no one told him he didn't work there anymore, a la Milton in "Office Space."

But for all his youth, class, polish and intellect, what matters is how he builds an organization.

In that regard, he said all the right things about not sacrificing the future for the present and putting together an infrastructure that produces consistent success and therefore a chance, ultimately, to win it all.

Perhaps most telling was when he spoke of free-agent spending, saying, "The key is to pay for future performance, not past performance."

He talked of playing the game the right way and of teammates having each other's backs, while giving fans a team for which they can be proud.

He mentioned terms like "controlling the strike zone" and "grinding" at-bats, a tip of the cap to on-base percentage and new-age stats, while insisting there is still nothing better than watching a player and getting to know his style on and off the field.

Yes, a new day dawns at Wrigley Field, thoroughly warm and fuzzy, replete with hopes and dreams.

But as Tom Ricketts worked overtime Tuesday trying to make it clear that Epstein is in charge of all baseball operations, Crane Kenney lurks and aches to be involved.

Meanwhile, it's entirely fair to note that the Cubs won 71 games last year and still need a manager.

No, it will not happen overnight.

But after wandering in the dark for so long, Cubs fans have every right to think the sun might really shine on them one day.

Perhaps, that day is not as far away as they once believed.

•Hear Barry Rozner on WSCR 670-AM and follow him on Twitter @BarryRozner.

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