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Thursday, January 19, 2006
Updated: January 20, 8:55 AM ET
Epstein to rejoin Red Sox

Associated Press

BOSTON -- The Boston Red Sox still need a shortstop and a center fielder. They brought back the guy who can find them.

Theo Epstein will return to the team he built into a World Series winner, he and the team said Thursday night in a joint statement that did not say what his role would be. His long-rumored return comes 2½ months after he turned down a contract extension and fled Fenway Park in a gorilla suit to avoid the encamped media.

"As you know, we have spoken frequently during the last 10 weeks," the statement said. "We have engaged in healthy, spirited debates about what it will take over the long term for the Red Sox to remain a great organization and, in fact, become a more effective organization in philosophy, approaches and ideals.

"Ironically, Theo's departure has brought us closer together in many respects, and, thanks to these conversations, we now enjoy the bonds of a shared vision for the organization's future that did not exist on Oct. 31. With this vision in place, Theo will return to the Red Sox in a full-time baseball operations capacity, details of which will be announced next week."

Epstein declined to elaborate on the statement, which also came from principal owner John Henry, chairman Tom Werner and president Larry Lucchino. The team would not comment on how Epstein will fit into the organization's hierarchy, but Henry denied that Lucchino's role was diminished to lure Epstein back.

"Larry's role does not change," Henry said. "Details next week."

Lucchino didn't immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

The Red Sox have been operating with co-GMs, former Epstein lieutenants Jed Hoyer and Ben Cherington. But their Dec. 12 promotions were overshadowed by persistent rumors that they would soon be working for Epstein again.

"Certainly Theo is a good friend of all of us, and he's worked very closely with these guys in the past," Lucchino said then. "The door has been really ajar for some time, and until Theo goes to work for another baseball organization we'll keep the light on in the window with the possibility of him coming back and helping us."

Epstein's return concludes an almost Shakespearean saga that led him to walk away from the team, reportedly because of a falling out with Lucchino, his longtime mentor. The Red Sox president and chief executive officer first hired Epstein, then a Yale student, to work as an intern with the Baltimore Orioles; Epstein followed Lucchino to the San Diego Padres and rose to assistant GM there.

The Red Sox made Epstein the youngest GM in baseball history in 2002, and his first team came within a Pedro Martinez pitch count of reaching the World Series. The next year, Boston won it all for the first time since 1918.

The Red Sox also reached the postseason in 2005, a three-year playoff run that was a first in franchise history. But what should have been easy negotiations over a contract extension turned fierce and Freudian.

On Oct. 31, the day his old deal was set to expire, Epstein belied a newspaper report that he had agreed to stay and walked away from the team's three-year, $4.5 million offer.

Explaining his move two days later, Epstein said, "You have to be all-in. You have to believe in every aspect of the job and the organization and your ability to stay and do the job the right way, with your whole heart and your whole soul. And in the end, it just wasn't the right fit. It wasn't right."