Would Epstein be interested in Cubs?

BOSTON -- You noticed, didn't you, that when John W. Henry was asked about speculation from ESPN's Buster Olney that the Cubs might have some interest in hiring general manager Theo Epstein, the Red Sox owner's response fell well short of "Over my dead body."

No hint whatsoever by Henry, in fact, that Epstein was off-limits, to the Cubs or anyone else.

Here's what Henry wrote in an email, for those who need the reminder: "This kind of speculation happens from time to time on successful GMs and managers. The Cubs have one of the best presidents in baseball. I think this shows how highly regarded Theo is by the media and baseball in general."

Now, it's certainly plausible that Henry saw no reason to elaborate further. Epstein is under contract through at least the end of the 2012 season, the Sox head into October as postseason favorites again and there is no hint of any rupture in a relationship that has been likened to fawning father and son.

But if you're Cubs owner Tom Ricketts, and Epstein is exactly what you're looking for in a new GM, there is nothing in Henry's public comments that should discourage you in the least from popping the question to JWH: May we have your permission to talk to Theo?

Epstein, of course, is not the type to share his thoughts on the subject, being under contract and all, though he could certainly have put such speculation to sleep with a simple declaration that he can't imagine, at least for the foreseeable future, working anywhere but at 4 Yawkey Way.

But he didn't, when given the opportunity, mostly because he detests speculation, I suspect. But consider the alternative, for a moment: Maybe he's not about to pledge eternal troth to the Sox because he is approaching that stage in his life, especially should the Sox win their third World Series on his watch, where a new challenge may not only be welcome, but necessary.

Especially when winning in Boston, even after an 86-year drought, doesn't spare you from hearing, "Yeah, but what about -- [insert one of the following here] -- Lugo or Lackey or Daisuke or Renteria or Hanley?"

That can wear on anybody, especially when you're also a parent whose child may soon be subjected to a similar line of badgering from brats who take their cues from what they hear at home.

Theo comes from a long line of overachievers. His grandfather Philip and great-uncle Julius didn't stop writing screenplays after "Casablanca." His father Leslie didn't stop writing novels after "King of the Jews," and his sister Anya didn't stop writing scripts after "Homicide."

So while for many it would be the achievement of a lifetime to accomplish what Epstein did in his hometown -- bringing joy to generations of Sox fans who never thought they'd live to see the day -- imagine his place in history if he could do that times two.

Epstein can't break the color line or invent the farm system, like Branch Rickey, the two things that divide a discussion of baseball's greatest general managers into Rickey and everybody else.

But only Epstein has a chance at what would rank as a unique legacy in sports -- ending the two most celebrated losing streaks of all-time, 86 years for the Sox, 103 years and counting for the Cubs.

Winning in Chicago might pose an even greater challenge than winning here. The Cubs just fired a good man in Jim Hendry, the only GM to take the Cubs to the postseason in back-to-back years in more than a century. The Red Sox may not have won a World Series, but they had plenty of teams that contended. In a 28-year span from 1973 to 2001, the Cubs had only four teams with a winning record over a full season. They haven't been in a World Series since 1945.

So, there's Reason No. 1 for Theo to at least think about it, should Henry decide not to stand in his way. The Legacy Factor.

Here are four others:

2. The sheer fun of it. How would Chicago react to the Cubs winning the World Series? "Chicago will be Mardi Gras," actor and Cubs fan John Cusack once told me. "It will be 15 times Mardi Gras."

3. Most of the best-regarded GMs have been winners in more than one place. New Hall of Fame inductee Pat Gillick built four winners -- the Jays, Orioles, Mariners and Phillies. John Schuerholz built a great team in Kansas City and a better one in Atlanta. Rickey had the Cardinals and Dodgers. Harry Dalton had the Orioles, Angels and Brewers. Buzzie Bavasi had the Dodgers and Padres. Bob Howsam had the Cardinals and the Big Red Machine. It adds to your stature to show you can repeat your success.

4. Epstein's guitar-playing hero, Eddie Vedder, is a huge Cubs fan, the one who wrote the Cubs anthem, "Someday, We'll Go All the Way." How often do you get the chance to be a hero to your hero?

5. Even the Beatles broke up after a decade (with Henry's interests now including Liverpool, the Fab Four come to mind). Theo walked away once, then came back. He has earned the right to keep his job for as long as he wants, but he also has earned the privilege to walk away.

It's just a guess on my part -- and potentially a very bad one -- but maybe that's how John W. Henry sees it, too. If Theo wanted to go badly enough, Henry would not bar the door. To the Cubs or anyone else.

Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.