BOSTON – At 31, boy wonder Theo Epstein (search) was ready to step out on his own. The Red Sox general manager walked away from his hometown team on Monday, stunning Boston and the baseball world just one year after helping the franchise win its first World Series (search) championship since 1918.
"I gave my entire heart and soul to the organization," Epstein said in a statement. "During the process leading up to today's decision, I came to the conclusion that I can no longer do so. In the end, my choice is the right one not only for me but for the Red Sox."
Epstein will continue working for a few days to assist in the transition and prepare for the offseason. The Boston Herald (search), which first reported the news on its Web site, said the Yale graduate has told associates that he might leave baseball, or at least take a year off.
The Dodgers, Phillies and Devil Rays have GM openings, but none has a $120 million payroll to match the one Epstein was given in Boston.
Once the youngest GM in baseball history and still the youngest to assemble a World Series champion, Epstein was reportedly offered about $1.5 million a year for a three-year extension. That was quadruple his previous salary but still short of the $2.5 million the Red Sox offered Oakland's Billy Beane (search) in 2002 before hiring Epstein.
But even after the money was settled, the negotiations turned into a fierce and Freudian standoff between the boy GM and the mentor who nurtured him from an intern to a World Series champion. By leaving, Epstein breaks a longtime link with Red Sox president Larry Lucchino, who hired him as a Baltimore Orioles intern and brought him to San Diego and then Boston.
The Herald said Epstein went through "agonizing soul-searching" over office politics and his relationship with his boss. Published reports that contained inside information about their relationship, "slanted too much in Lucchino's favor," helped convince Epstein there had been a breach of trust, the Herald said.
Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling told The Associated Press he was disappointed in the news but had seen indications that it might be coming.
"You don't get better losing a guy like Theo," said Schilling, who joined the Red Sox after Epstein ate Thanksgiving dinner with him and convinced him to accept a trade from the Arizona Diamondbacks.
"It's obviously going to be an incredibly unpopular decision with the players. But we'll show up in spring training and get ready for the season and try to win another World Series. It's not like we're going to have a sit-down."
A lifelong Red Sox fan who grew up in nearby Brookline, Epstein came to Boston when Lucchino made him the assistant GM. Epstein was promoted to his dream job in 2002, about five weeks before his 29th birthday.
"Growing up in the shadow of Fenway Park, I never dreamed of having the chance to work for my hometown team during such an historic period," Epstein said, thanking owners John Henry and Tom Werner — and Lucchino — for the opportunity.
"My affection for the Red Sox did not begin four years ago when I started working here, and it does not end today," he said. "My passion for and dedication to the game of baseball remain strong. Although I have no immediate plans, I will embrace this change in my life and look forward with excitement to the future."
A devotee of statistical analysis who values his scouts as well, Epstein's tenure has been marked by bold adventures that often conflicted with baseball orthodoxy:
_He signed first baseman Kevin Millar, despite an unspoken agreement not to poach from Japanese clubs.
_He went without a traditional closer in his first year, with horrendous results.
_He tried to trade for 2003 AL MVP Alex Rodriguez — a deal that would have meant shipping out Manny Ramirez and Nomar Garciaparra — and then, without remorse, pulled the plug when the deal became too expensive.
_He ate Thanksgiving dinner with Schilling in a college football-style recruiting trip that lured the right-handed ace to Boston.
_He traded Garciaparra, the face of the franchise, for the parts he needed to complete the World Series puzzle.
But the efforts paid off.
The Red Sox reached the AL championship series in 2003 before the lack of a closer doomed Grady Little in Game 7 at Yankee Stadium. The next year, with a new manager and the closer it had been missing, the ballclub won its first World Series in 86 years.
Boston reached the postseason for a third consecutive year this season before getting swept by the Chicago White Sox in the first round.