Red Sox games aren't over yet

BOSTON -- So, now that principal owner John W. Henry and CEO Larry Lucchino said Friday that it's
nobody's business but their own whether the Chicago Cubs have asked for permission to interview general manager Theo Epstein, whether they intend to grant it if the Cubs do, and whether they believe Epstein will stay or go, what's the timetable for all of this to get sorted out?

Answer: There is none. But if Boston's own experience in hiring a general manager is a guide, Epstein's departure could come suddenly if and when permission is granted.

In 2002, the Red Sox spent weeks waiting for an answer from the Oakland Athletics on whether they could talk to Billy Beane, back when he was at the height of his Brad Pitt-portrayed glory. The Sox complained that Athletics owner Steve Schott wouldn't even return Henry's phone calls. Beane went to Schott "several times," according to club president Michael Crowley, and asked that he green-light the Red Sox, and got nowhere.
Finally, in early November that year, Schott relented and gave the Red Sox permission, which Crowley announced. That fact wasn't reported until Nov. 10 -- three days after Beane had had dinner with Henry and Lucchino in Henry's Boca Raton, Fla., mansion, two days after Beane had accepted the Boston job, and the same day he called Henry and informed him he had changed his mind, which was reported the next day.

So, secrecy seems to be the currency of the day when it comes to these things, which should not be objectionable to Epstein, who once donned a gorilla costume to escape scrutiny the last time he thought about ditching his job.

Henry and Lucchino could have put an end to all the speculation about Epstein when they made a joint appearance on the "Dennis and Callahan" show on flagship radio station WEEI, which was simulcast on team-owned television station NESN. They didn't, which would seem to indicate that they intend to let the process play itself out -- let Epstein talk to the Cubs, and make his own decision.

Henry alluded to the way the industry handles these matters.

"There's a certain protocol," Henry said. "If someone asks permission for a job that's not lateral, you give permission."

The presumption is that Cubs owner Tom Ricketts intends to offer Epstein a job as president and general manager, much like the one held by David Dombrowski of the Detroit Tigers. That's not a lateral move, that's a promotion.

There is considerable speculation that Henry may be attempting to craft together a plan here that would give Epstein a bigger title, more money and greater authority -- although with Lucchino ensconced as CEO, this will take some creativity on Henry's part. Epstein, as he has told confidants, doesn't have much interest in the business side of things, which wouldn't be an issue in Chicago, where he could have a chief operating officer worry about the price of hot dogs and satisfying sponsors.

Still, it's an open question whether Epstein would even be interested in an extension in Boston, having told confidants that 10 years is a long time to be in one place -- and he'll be hitting the decade mark next season. There's speculation in some circles that even if Epstein were to return to the Sox next year, it could very well be his last go-round in Boston.

Henry acknowledged that Epstein might be a short-timer.

"I think there's a certain shelf life in these jobs,'' said Henry, on WEEI. "You can only be the general manager if you're sane. You can only be the manager for a certain amount of time. It's a tremendous pressure cooker here, 162 games. It's a long season, and the pressure here is 365 days.

"So Theo is not going to be the general manager forever. Just as if Tito [Francona] had come back for the last two years, would he have gone past 10 years? I can't imagine that he would have. I think that Theo will. He's the guy now, he's been the guy, we've had tremendous success."

This last season, of course, ended in failure, which could be a determining factor in Epstein's decision should he elect to stay. He doesn't want to leave a mess. But as one baseball executive noted Friday, that really isn't the case. One bad month shouldn't obscure the bigger picture.

"The Houston Astros are a mess,'' the executive said. "The Red Sox aren't a mess. There is a good system in place, with a lot of good people.

"Who knows what thought process Theo is going through now? If he wants another challenge, he can get any job he wants. He's in a great spot."

Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.