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BRIAN MCGRORY

Diminishing returns

I stood hopelessly on Yawkey Way one recent morning, drawn there like a witness to a train wreck. The green doors to Fenway were drawn shut. Heavy equipment could be heard rumbling inside.

One thought kept coming to mind: Has the whole world gone stark raving mad?

Well, maybe not the world, but certainly every member of the Red Sox front office. It was one year ago last week when Boston won the World Series, one year ago when 86 seasons of fatalism were wiped away by one postseason of joy, one year ago when the champagne-soaked owner proclaimed that his team would barely need a plane to fly back to Boston.

And now where are we? I'll tell you exactly where we are: Nowhere near the team we used to be. The Red Sox, ladies and gentlemen, are undergoing the nearly wholesale dismantling of their magical, championship club. By next Opening Day, there's barely going to be anything left.

To wit, Theo Epstein couldn't come to terms with the team and yesterday announced his departure.

If you believe the chatter, Bill Mueller won't be re-signed. Kevin Millar will be tossed out the door. That alone means that the entire starting infield for the 2006 team will be different from the one that won the 2004 World Series.

Add to that the fact that Manny Ramirez is yet again demanding a trade. With the team looking askance at long-term contracts, Johnny Damon probably won't get what he needs. That leaves the distinct possibility that only three of nine starters from October 2004 -- Trot Nixon, Jason Varitek, and David Ortiz -- will be back for April 2006.

Even the poor trainer was unceremoniously shown the door.

Thus I repeat the question: Has everyone gone mad?

I asked this last week of principal owner John Henry. I'll state upfront that I'm an unabashed fan of the guy. He moved to Boston. He regularly walks through the stands chatting with spectators. He rushes to the clubhouse to visit injured players. He calls or writes to fans hurt by foul balls.

I asked Henry why this dissolution is occurring, why take a great thing and make it worse.

''Theo has a saying, 'Change is opportunity,' " Henry replied in an e-mail. He wrote this, ironically, last week, before the Epstein negotiations failed. ''You cannot stand still. The 2004 team was not a young team, and when you couple that with free agency it is impossible to stand pat.

''Winning a championship isn't easy. Maintaining a playoff-caliber team every single year isn't easy either. When you have a rival who can significantly outspend you every year, it is imperative to try to expand your resources and then allocate them wisely."

He said the team has been successful in expanding revenues, but hinted that even a fatter wallet may not be enough this winter.

''There is quite a shortage of talent available this year in the free agent market," he wrote. ''At the same time there are a lot of clubs who have significantly increased dollars to spend, some of that due to the expiration of expensive and often bad contracts and some of it due to the increased attendance in 2005. This is not a favorable combination when you are trying to fill holes.

''We have had very exciting teams over the last three years. We have great memories. I don't see that changing. But, [as] with almost everything else, we must embrace change and adapt to it, in order to be successful."

OK, so maybe he's not nuts. Maybe what he says actually makes sense.

But it hurts to think of the chemistry that the 2004 team had, how they propped each other up in bad times, mocked each other in good times, won as a team, lost as a team, even appeared in TV ads as a team. It hurts to think this city may never see anything like it again.

These owners will always be appreciated for bringing home a championship. Now they'll be appreciated far more for the power of reinvention.

Brian McGrory is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at mcgrory@globe.com.

recap the theo saga
Photo Gallery the theo files:  2005  |  2004  |  2003
Archives A trail of missteps in Epstein talks (Boston Globe, 11/3/05)
Archives ON BASEBALL: World of opportunity awaits upon his exit (Boston Globe, 11/3/05)
Archives JACKIE MACMULLAN: Sox must be answerable for this
Archives ANDREW ZIMBALIST: How much is Theo worth?
Message Board DISCUSS: Blame game Poll What now?
 BRIAN MCGRORY: Diminishing returns
Web Log BOSTON SPORTS BLOG: Theo's trick on Sox
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