Epstein: "It's been exaggerated"

Theo Epstein has a daunting task to rebuild the Chicago Cubs' franchise. Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

This story appears in the Dec. 12, 2011, "Interview Issue" of ESPN The Magazine.

OLNEY: What do you think happened to the Red Sox down the stretch?

EPSTEIN: How do you describe a death spiral? When you have a collapse like this, it's always a number of things happening at once. We lost a few key guys to injury, a few guys had significant downturns in performance and a few guys we were hoping could come up from the minors regressed at that level. All of a sudden we didn't have enough pitching. That affected the attitude of some players, which has been well-documented. It's been exaggerated. But we didn't respond well to adversity, and we got what we deserved, in very dramatic fashion.

OLNEY: The reports that were exaggerated were the ones about players drinking in the clubhouse during games?

EPSTEIN: There weren't players getting drunk during games. It wasn't widespread. There might have been one or two or three guys who made some decisions they'd like back. But if you compare what happened in 2011 with what happened in 2004, that team would have thought we were a bunch of choirboys. The difference is we won our last game in 2004. If that had been the case this year, you wouldn't have heard anything.

OLNEY: Now that you've taken over the Cubs, how will you instill a winning attitude?

EPSTEIN: When you have long-term contracts, there's only so much you can do to influence players' behavior. But you can have a significant impact on the young players you draft or sign -- what they stand for as players and in their lives. It's important to have a farm system everyone in the organization cares about. Producing talented players year in and year out is not a luxury -- it's a necessity.

Buster Olney is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. He interviewed Epstein on Nov. 12, 2011.