This past Monday was one of those watershed days for the Red Sox. GM Theo Epstein had completed the conditional trade for Curt Schilling. He also had DeMarlo Hale in for an interview for the vacant managerial job, as a reward for the great work Hale had previously done as a Red Sox minor league instructor. Problem was, the Schilling news got out, people knew Terry Francona was going to get the managerial job, Keith Foulke was in town ...
After conducting the Hale press conference, Epstein drove to Boston's Logan Airport with his high school classmate and friend and Red Sox V.P. Sam Kennedy, insisting he should meet Foulke, all the while regretting the scene for Hale, whom he considers a surefire major league manager. When they then got to the Celtics game at the FleetCenter, club officials called Kennedy on his cell phone asking if they minded if Foulke and Epstein were put on the arena's Jumbotron.
"Keith yes, me no," Epstein told Kennedy. "The Red Sox are not about me."
Four days later, "Mr. Epstein," as Schilling, seven years older, calls him, completed the deal with Schilling, the most significant deal of this offseason. "I'm very happy for us, the Red Sox," Epstein said, less than an hour after finishing the contractural agreement along with Boston CEO Larry Lucchino.
Two things can be unequivocally stated about Epstein after he completed the deal for Schilling:
He refuses to say no. For three weeks, he was told he could never get Schilling. When I suggested in a recent column that he could do so, I got bombarded with laughingstock comments. He was right. "We all like Miguel Batista, but this is Curt Schilling. Eye on the prize."
Players like him, and trust him. Obviously, Epstein is very smart, but the trust factor comes from being raised in a family steeped in values, integrity and honesty, beyond intellect.
That said, here are eight points about this trade:
1. Some people asked, "How will Pedro react?" Come on. Pedro Martinez wants to win. Ever since he has been with the Red Sox, every start has been the Battle of the Bulge. Now, he has Schilling with Derek Lowe and Tim Wakefield; in 2002, that foursome was a combined 76-24. Now Pedro can take the extra day off with no sweat. Schill is a 250-inning horse.
2. When Epstein took over the GM job, all everyone cared about was offense, which is part of the reason they haven't won since 1918. Epstein is clearly a pitching-first guy, and now with Byung-Hyun Kim, Foulke or Tom Gordon as closer, Scott Williamson, Mike Timlin, Bronson Arroyo and Alan Embree to set up, this is potentially one of the best 1-11 Red Sox pitching staffs of all time.
3. Don't ever underestimate the "Evil Empire" Factor. Jose Contreras ... Schilling.
4. The Red Sox and Yankees are each going for it in 2004. Toronto's future, meanwhile, is looking better all the time.
5. By the way, Jorge de la Rosa -- the minor-leaguer the Red Sox sent to the Diamondbacks -- can pitch, and will become a member of the Brewers once Richie Sexson is traded to Arizona. Craig Counsell will also get shipped to the Brewhahas.
6. Now the Sox will try to figure out their economics and try to get the Manny Ramirez-A-Rod deal done. They may also deal Johnny Damon, if possible. He's, however, a better player than some think.
7. Terry Francona is the club's new manager.
8. We all give thanks in this holiday season to not be dining with George Steinbrenner. Someone will get rich from George's money because of this deal.
The Red Sox understand the basis of Baseball 101: that position players are fungible, great pitchers are not. Schilling could have played this out, but he did not, and the Red Sox know they have a rock on whose back everyone can climb.
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