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Epstein to rejoin Red Sox

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."