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Bold move will shape Epstein's legacy

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Boston Sports Forum Commentary
Del N. Jones
8-02-04
 
    It's a big part of the reason why Red Auerbach is a Boston basketball icon.
    It's a big part of the reason why Dan Duquette was exiled to perform off-broadway plays, and a big part of the reason why Danny Ainge may be doing the same if his three first round picks in June's NBA draft don't produce right away.
   Which road will Theo Epstein's general manager legacy take?
   The bold move of trading Nomar Garciaparra this past weekend will go far in determining the direction.
   So far the young Red Sox GM, both in birth certificate and front office experience, has recieved a good report card from the ever-watching New England diamond public. Shrewd moves to bring in role-playing veterans and obscure ones to obtain necessary pieces, have served Epstein well in almost two years of service that carries a combined record of 157-120 as of August 2.
   Guys like David Ortiz, Pokey Reese and Bill Mueller have made Epstein look bright and well informed. Jokers like Byung-Hyun Kim and Jeremy Giambi have hurt that image.
   But Epstein has clearly assisted the Red Sox since he took over the job as John Henry and Larry Lucchino's fantasy baseball facilitator - all with relatively safe, cost-effective dealings.
   Until now.
    With the four-team manuever that sent Garciaparra to the Chicago Cubs for Doug Mientkiewicz and Orlando Cabrera, the training wheels are off and tougher observations will be made on Epstein's performance from this point forward.
   Despite the pending free agent status of the five-time all-star shortstop, the trade significantly altered the 2004 Red Sox as well as the future. Sure, Garciaparra had his problems in what were clearly his final days at Fenway that reached back to a slumping end to the 2003 season, but this decision was no small matter. This guy was one of the most popular Sox players of all-time, a player that Ted Williams saw fit to befriend and advise. A young talent that Williams The Great predicted would some day be the best hitter in the history of the historic franchise.
   It sounds strange now considering Garciaparra's struggles with injury the past few seasons, but at one point, not too long ago, he possessed the ability to garner such a prediction from a staunch baseball purest that didn't go around making them too often.
   Now Epstein will forever be linked to Garciaparra, ironically in his absence. If Garciaparra stumbles and finishes his career as a fraction of his Pawtucket potential, Epstein will be applauded for knowing when to move a guy that was once a Boston untouchable.
   If Garciaparra refinds the form that earned him two batting titles and a lifetime .323 batting average, the grandstand grannies won't be as forgiving.
   It's the rights of passage of sorts for a big market GM, who desires to win big and is unafraid to make mistakes. It has landed men in championship parades and on unemployment lines with equal regularity. Give Epstein credit for having the plumming to make such a move. He once rooted for Garciaparra as one of Red Sox Nation.
    Then imagine telling this guy that you have decided to trade him?
   Be sure that Epstein's legacy begins here. Just like Auerbach's did when he made one of the best deals in sports history when he acquired Bill Russell for Ed Macauley and the rights to Cliff Hagan back in 1956. We all know about the title fortunes that came after what could have been viewed as a minor transaction.
  Conversely, Duquette's elevator plummetted to the front office basement in 1996 when he disguarded Roger Clemens, because he believed that the powerful right-hander was no longer a quality pitcher. Clemens is still winning games and pitching honors well into his 40s.
  The votes are still being tabulated on Ainge and the job he has done so far with the Celtics. Ainge traded a perennial all-star, alienated a good head coach until he left mid-season and traded away important vets for picks and draft prayers. This year and the next will offer a clearer picture of what kind of job Ainge has done for the C's. He certainly has made that picture blurry in a short time as the new executive director of basketball operations.
  We still don't know about Epstein's success rate either, but with his bold move at the trading deadline we will soon find out.
 
 
 
 

Commentaries by Del N. Jones are posted on Boston Sports Forum every Monday. His weekend columns can also be read in the Saturday/Sunday edition of The Patriot Ledger or at patriotledger.com.