How Theo Epstein broke another curse and built the World Series champion Cubs

How Theo Epstein broke another curse and built the World Series champion Cubs

On the night the Chicago Cubs won the World Series, Theo Epstein, the man who rescued them from organizational rubble and molded them into a champion, and Tom Ricketts, the man who hired him, embraced for almost a minute amid flying Champagne corks popped by the 25 men who did what 108 years of Cubs teams couldn’t. Game 7 of the 112th World Series, one of the finest displays of pulse-thumping baseball ever offered, was over, and it belonged to the Cubs, now and forever.

“We did it,” said Epstein, the Cubs’ president of baseball operations, as he hugged Ricketts, the team’s owner who had hired him five years earlier to do what he’d done for the Boston Red Sox: play rainmaker for an interminable title drought. “Got through the tough times,” Epstein said, and he started talking about when, in his first year, the Cubs took out a full-page ad in a newspaper trying to sell individual-game tickets, accidentally transposed two digits in the 1-800 number listed and ended up sending prospective customers to a phone-sex line. Ricketts laughed. Those were the old Cubs. Today they could call themselves champions.

Imagine that. The Chicago Cubs, America’s saddest-sack sporting franchise, the one that had carved its identity in a mountain of failure, had beaten the Cleveland Indians, 8-7, in a 10-inning, four-hour and 28-minute display of sporting beauty that frayed the nerves and palpitated the hearts not just of the two cities that lived and died with every run scored but a country reminded why baseball is the national pastime. It may have been the greatest game ever played in what may have been the best World Series there ever was. Even if others care to stake their claims, the Cubs and Indians brute-forced their way into history. This was the most anticipated series in ages, and it exceeded each and every one of its expectations, most of all the game that started Wednesday and bled into the early hours of Thursday.

Game 7 brought out the best and worst in the Cubs and Indians and everyone whose emotional attachment to the organizations coursed through Progressive Field, where 38,104 people packed themselves, including Epstein, his wife, Marie, and their son, Jack. They sat in the stands, ready to witness the Cubs claw back from a three-games-to-one deficit. Passions ran deep for the Indians, too, with their 68-year championship famine and the prospect of blowing what felt like an insurmountable advantage after Game 4 palpable. Early in the game, two fans sitting near Epstein were harassing him and his family. He asked them to stop. They refused. He summoned security. Before being escorted out, a woman doused Epstein and his son with a cup of beer.

“The rest of the night,” Epstein told Yahoo Sports in a private moment after the Cubs’ celebration in Cleveland started to abate, even as the one in Chicago still raged, “was pretty amazing.”

All of it felt too fresh to process, this game between two teams whose gas tanks hovered well below E calling upon every last morsel of energy to guarantee themselves a parade, a ring-fitting and a legacy. These Cubs, like the 2004 Red Sox that won a championship after 86 years of disappointment, were built with the deft hand of the now 42-year-old Epstein, baseball’s own Gaudi, an architect nonpareil with an inimitable style. This was his team, his doing, all the way down to the final out, with third baseman Kris Bryant, drafted by Epstein, smiling as he fielded a groundball and rifling it to first baseman Anthony Rizzo, a trade acquisition of Epstein’s.

And just like that, a tale of frustration passed generation to generation, of habitual regret, of an identity fostered around something so antithetical to sports – losing – vanished. All month, when he was home, Epstein would drive around the city of Chicago, around the Wrigleyville neighborhood where he lives, and see the white flags with blue Ws that hung every time the Cubs won. He would start to choke up. He grew up in the shadow of Fenway Park and understood what breaking one curse meant. The prospect of abolishing another spoke to him.

Especially with what it would take.

“October’s crazy, in a great way,” Epstein said, “and this may have been the craziest.”

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