Theo Epstein’s Move to Chicago Recreates Historic Link Between Red Sox and Cubs


October 25, 2011

Theo Epstein's Move to Chicago Recreates Historic Link Between Red Sox and CubsThe Red Sox and Cubs were long linked by their playoff futility. Until 2004.

Now, with one of the biggest architects of that World Series-winning team, Theo Epstein, taking his talents to the north side of Chicago, the link has been recreated.

When Keith Foulke fielded Edgar Renteria's comebacker and underhanded it to Doug Mientkiewicz for the final out of that '04 World Series, it was as if the Sox had ditched their glory-less brethren. The victory emphatically ended what had become the age-old debate of which team would break its respective curse first, the Red Sox or the Cubs.

The Sox, of course, hadn't won a World Series title since 1918 before that 2004 triumph. The Cubs, meanwhile, were stuck in a 96-year drought — which has since climbed to 103. So when the Sox finally reeled in that elusive title, it was like they were leaving the Cubs behind to cross into a new environment — one where success was not only prayed for annually, but it was expected annually. Suddenly, it wasn't so outlandish for Red Sox Nation to have World Series aspirations because the club had broken down that oh-so-sturdy barrier that once separated it from a title.

Seven years and another Red Sox World Series later, the Cubs remain stuck behind that barrier — alone.

Sure, the Cleveland Indians haven't won a World Series since 1948, and a number of other franchises that were formed in the 1960's have yet to taste victory. But there just isn't that same kind of "lovable loser" bond that once existed between the Sox and Cubs. I'm sure there's plenty of Sox fans who will tell you they've silently rooted for the Cubs in the NL over the years, mostly because the two fan bases can relate to each other in so many ways.

A lot of Cubs fans probably once felt that same connection with the Sox, but it's understandable if it's since dwindled to the point of jealousy because of the postseason success the Sox have finally enjoyed — under one Theo Epstein.

The two clubs became so intertwined over the years that it's only fitting that the man who helped bring the Red Sox to new heights is seeking to do the same with the NL's version of a seemingly cursed team.

Before Bill Buckner's infamous error for Boston in 1986, there was Leo Durham's miscue for Chicago in 1984. Ironically enough, it was that season that the Cubs shipped Buckner to Boston in exchange for Dennis Eckersley and Mike Brumley.

The Cubs reached the postseason for the first time since 1945 that year and seemed poised for a trip to the World Series, jumping out to a 2-0 series lead in their best-of-five National League Championship Series with the Padres. But the Northsiders sputtered in Games 3 and 4 — Eckersley suffered the loss in Game 3 — and the Padres forced a decisive Game 5. The Cubs clung to a lead in the seventh inning of that game before Durham, playing the same first base that Buckner once manned in Chicago, watched as a ball traveled through his legs on a ground ball, allowing the Padres to tie the game. San Diego took the lead two batters later and never looked back.

Two years later, it was Buckner's excruciatingly painful blunder that did in the Sox. In other words, in some strange way, the two teams had guided each other down paths that would ultimately lead to their demise. Even more crazy about the Buckner incident is that a photo later revealed that he had been wearing a Chicago Cubs batting glove under his first baseman's mitt at the time of the error.

Each team then enjoyed an up-and-down ride, with that lovable loser bond very much intact, until 2003, when their two paths were on the brink of intersecting at the Fall Classic. Enter Steve Bartman and Aaron Boone, two more extras in what had become an almost painfully amusing century at that point.

After Bartman's non-fan-interference call in Game 6 of the NLCS and a Red Sox victory in the Bronx in Game 6 of the ALCS, the two teams suffered Game 7 defeats that were separated by just over 24 hours. It was supposed to be "curse versus curse," the unthinkable World Series, but instead it was a less-than-intriguing Marlins-Yankees matchup.

Interestingly, it was Josh Beckett who kicked off the Marlins' NLCS comeback in '03 with a two-hit, complete-game shutout in Game 5. The game-winning hit? A two-run homer by Mike Lowell. Ugeth Urbina, a former Red Sox closer (who eventually became part of a trade involving Adrian Gonzalez, as well), put the nail in the Cubs' 2003 coffin by picking up the save in Game 7.

The '04 campaign was different. But, in many ways, the Cubs still front row seats for Boston's magic despite missing out on the postseason altogether.

After all, the Cubbies were involved in the Red Sox' massive, four-team trade at the deadline, receiving beloved shortstop Nomar Garciaparra, while Boston landed Orlando Cabrera and Mientkiewicz — two key components of its postseason success that season. It was also fitting that Mark Bellhorn and Bill Mueller, who had two of the biggest hits of the '04 playoff run, spent time in Chicago shortly before joining the Sox.

That year was when the two teams diverged, generating their own identity rather than remaining intertwined by crushing defeats and some bizarro game of "Six Degrees of Separation."

But, now, here we are, with both teams back together in turmoil. Former Cubs GM Jim Hendry, who was promoted to his former position just months before Theo Epstein was hired in Boston, was relieved of his duties in August, paving the way for the Cubs to eventually pursue Epstein.

With Mr. Epstein in their corner, the Cubs are hoping they're the ones catapulted down the more illustrious path. Whatever ensues, though, it's clear the game of "Six Degrees of Separation" is back on.

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