Theo Epstein has family roots in fiction.
His grandfather Philip and grand uncle Julius J. Epstein won Academy Awards in 1944 for writing the screenplay of “Casablanca” along with Howard E. Koch.
For so long, it seemed that the Boston Red Sox or Chicago Cubs ever winning a World Series would also be but an act of fiction.
When the Red Sox won the Fall Classic in 2004, it ended and 86-year drought that stretched to 1918. The Cubs went even longer without a title, 108 years, before beating the Cleveland Indians in a thrilling Game 7 on Wednesday night for their first World Series crown since 1908.
However, Theo Epstein helped orchestrate the end to both droughts. He was a rookie general manager with the Red Sox in 2004 and is now the Cubs’ president of baseball operations.
While Epstein was too busy celebrating to put the dual achievements into context Wednesday night, Cubs catcher David Ross made a rather simple pronouncement.
“Theo is a Hall of Famer now if he wasn’t before,” Ross said. “He reversed two curses. He won in two cities where they said a World Series could never been won. What more could he possibly do?”
Breaking the Curse of The Bambino was special for Epstein because he was born and raised in Boston and grew up a Red Sox fan. However, he seemed much more emotional following the Cubs’ victory than he did on the night the Red Sox swept the St. Louis Cardinals 12 years ago.
Part of it may have been that it was a longer process in Chicago than Boston.
With the Red Sox, he inherited a team that came within one game of reaching the World Series in 2003 under GM Mike Port. Boston lost to the New York Yankees in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series on Aaron Boone’s walk-off home run.
However, Epstein basically started from scratched when he took over the Cubs prior to the 2012 season. They lost 101, 96 and 85 games before breaking through last year by reaching the National League Championship Series before being swept by the New York Mets in four games.
Catcher Willson Contreras and second baseman Javier Baez are the only players on the roster who were in the organization before Epstein replaced GM Jim Hendry.
“Our fans just deserve this so much, and all the former Cubs — everyone,” Epstein said. “It’s been a century in the making.”
Right fielder Jason Heyward was the player who gathered the Cubs together during the brief rain delay at the end of the ninth inning of Game 7 for a pep talk. They then went on to score twice in the top of the 10th and held on in the bottom of the inning for an 8-7 victory.
That helped ease the sting of the fact that Heyward was pretty much a bust in the first season of the eight-year, $184 million contract he signed as a free agent last offseason.
He hit just .230 with seven home runs and 11 stolen bases in 142 games in his first season with the Cubs, though advanced metrics gave him high marks for his defense and baserunning.
“The Cubs picked a good year to win it all,” a scout from an NL team said. “Otherwise, everyone would have been talking about what a horrible signing Heyward was. I just don’t get all the hype about him. Except for the first two months of his rookie season with the Braves (in 2010) what has he done that’s so special? For me, he’s just a notch above average.”
Indians manager Terry Francona continually talked about the family atmosphere throughout the postseason and it showed in the aftermath of his team’s gut-wrenching Game 7 loss.
No one was more emotional in the clubhouse than president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti, who had tears in his eyes as he walked around the room and hugged his players. It was a nice moment in an era when front offices have become detached from players, often referring to them as “pieces.”
“We all want to hoist that World Series trophy, so it hurts to lose,” said Antonetti, mindful that the Indians haven’t won a World Series since 1948.
The Indians were also quick to exercise the two options years in Francona’s contract for 2019 and 2020.
“Tito did one of the best managing jobs ever in a postseason this year,” said an executive from an AL team. “He basically took a four-man pitching staff with all the injuries they had and got within one win of winning it all. Nothing against (Cubs manager) Joe Maddon but Tito is the best in the business.”
Bench coach Brad Mills is one of two members of the Indians’ staff who have interviewed for the Colorado Rockies’ manager’s job. First base coach Sandy Alomar Jr. was the other and many in the Indians’ organization believe he would be a fine manager.
In fact, Alomar was the only other candidate considered when Francona was hired by the Indians following the 2012 season.
“I think Sandy would make a great manager,” Indians catcher Roberto Perez said. “He was a great player, he’s a great communicator and he really knows the game.”
The Rockies may announce a replacement for Walt Weiss as soon as Monday.
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