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Sox closing book on discord

At far right, Theo Epstein, Red Sox Executive Vice President/General Manager, listens to Red Sox President/CEO Larry Lucchino, at left, discuss details of his return during a press conference at Fenway Park.
At far right, Theo Epstein, Red Sox Executive Vice President/General Manager, listens to Red Sox President/CEO Larry Lucchino, at left, discuss details of his return during a press conference at Fenway Park. (Globe Staff Photo / Barry Chin)

The phone rang just after 1 p.m. Theo Epstein calling. Still making the rounds on damage-control day. (Not sure precisely when the new ownership group morphed into the Nixon White House, but expect managed news from Yawkey Way from this point forward.)

It was agreed by both parties this would be the last time we'd ever talk about any of this, and so here we were. One last time.

OK, Theo, going back to Oct. 31, the day you resigned -- how much of it was about leaks?

''The way we were communicating externally and the breakdowns in trust with respect to the negotiations, that was meaningful, but more than anything else it underscored the discord we [Epstein and CEO Larry Lucchino] had with respect to philosophy, approaches, values, ideals, priorities, etc. In and of itself, a leak would never be enough to dictate a decision like that, but it was a sensitive time. We were trying to piece something together and the leaks and the way we were relating to the media at the time certainly didn't help the matter."

Did he believe information was being leaked at his expense to make others (read: Lucchino) look good?

''It certainly hurt, but because so much of the philosophy that we're now all embracing revolves around long term vs. short term, valuing substance and reality over perception and appearances -- it would be hypocritical to get too bent out of shape over something that's written or said about you. We all try to have as thick skin as possible. I can say that some of the things written about me have hurt, but I won't let them dictate my decisions."

Was your decision to resign dictated by emotion? ''No," he said in his typically measured tone. ''It was not an emotional decision as much as it was a decision based on, 'How can I make a decision to stay here for three years if I don't believe in the direction?' And Larry and I were also in the midst of a time of personal conflict . . . We had discord."

Any of that related to the disclosure of the way the Larry Bigbie deal imploded? ''No. That whole affair, like a lot of our internal transactions, is best kept private. That was one example of something that went public, that from this point going forward, we'll keep more private."

Step back for a second there and listen to what the man is saying -- or not saying. The Bigbie deal -- in which the Rockies obtained Bigbie from the Orioles, with the intention of sending him to the Sox for Adam Stern and Kelly Shoppach -- involved territorial rights between Epstein and Lucchino. The early, popular version was that Lucchino killed Theo's deal. It was later reported that ownership volunteered to take the hit on a deal Theo no longer wanted to make. The best spin on this would be that the killing of the deal demonstrated Epstein and Lucchino's ability to work together. Instead, it became a point of contention, with each accusing the other of self-promotion at the expense of organization harmony.

Is Theo embarrassed by events of the last 85 days? ''It would be hypocritical if I embraced the philosophy that placed value on long term over short term and placed value on what really is happening vs. the perception of what is happening. It would be hypocritical to say that this is tremendously embarrassing because of short-term criticism. It's never fun to read those things, to be called duplicitous. It's never fun to have that said. And certainly to have my family have to read that stuff. But that's part of the job."

Duplicitous? Shots have been hurled from several corners. Last week, this column held that Epstein's behavior since Oct. 31 was ''at best, immature, and at worst, duplicitous." Yesterday's Herald cover featured a giant headshot of Theo next to the headline, ''Tantrum's Over!" The early morning talking heads at the Sox' flagship station maintained that Epstein had ''lost his halo" as a result of his departure and return.

''This is not perception," said Theo. ''This whole thing is not about trying to make things look good. It's about trying to build something real. And if we're right in the long run, we'll get to a terrific place . . . Certainly the decision to come back was not made for my image. It was not made for perception. It was made because it's the right thing to do given the agreements that we've come to. In the short term it's important to have a thick skin and put the interests of the organization first.

''I shouldn't have a halo in the first place. How the team does on the field and the long-term future of the organization is what is important. I'm proud of our track record . . . It doesn't mean I need a halo because I don't."

And from the managed media session earlier in the afternoon (when I asked publicist Glenn Geffner to place my tape recorder between Epstein and Lucchino he said, ''Nothing comes between Theo and Larry!"): Any regrets, Theo? Was all this really necessary to get to where things are today?

''I can say that's something I've given a lot of thought to -- if we could have reached this point today without having gone through Oct. 31. Not only would we all have been better off individually, but most importantly, the organization would have been better off because the last 10 weeks were difficult. My conclusion is that Oct. 31 helped get us here. It was an imperfect, but necessary catalyst to get us to this point. Because it's hard to do the things we've done the last 10 weeks. Very difficult. We've had really honest conversations that are difficult, but necessary and constructive in the end.

''Would it have been possible to simply accept the contract, uneasy about the direction of the organization and some of these core concepts and then try and work on them later? Yes. In the short term it was painful, but in the long run we're better off for what we've all been through together."

It's hard to say what to make of all this. We know the fans want us to move on, pretend none of this ever happened. Get to the bottom of the cereal bowl and find out what's going on with Coco Crisp.

But it happened. The boy wonder general manager of the Red Sox -- the prodigy who delivered a World Series championship in his second season, the JFK of the Red Sox, resigned . . . then came back.

It was a story. It is a story. It will always be a story. There's no reason Theo and Larry have to become our baseball version of Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin -- successful partners who split and never successfully worked together again. This can become a once-and-future success story. A bump in the road.

The bottom line is that Theo is back and it's business as usual on Yawkey Way. No changes, no retreats, no surrenders.

Long may they run.

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