With speculation about a return to the Red Sox reaching a low boil, Theo Epstein decided to put the whispers to rest on Wednesday by declaring his allegiance to the Cubs.
And so naturally the first question for many of us was: Do you believe him?
Having lived through 2011, when rumors about Epstein joining Chicago dogged him for most of the season, it's worth noting that this feels different.
Back then, Epstein let a couple of stories from plugged-in reporters Peter Gammons and Buster Olney hang in the air for two months. At the start of September, before the epic collapse that no one saw coming, Epstein finally addressed the rumors. It's worth comparing what he said back then to what came out of his mouth on Wednesday.
Here's what he said in 2011:
"I try to avoid commenting on things that are so speculative," Epstein said. "I know there are a couple of articles which have appeared, but I'm completely focused on the Red Sox of 2011, first and foremost, and what potentially lies ahead for this club.
"We're trying to get to the postseason and win the World Series and I spend all my time working with my staff to make this the organization we want it to be for now and in the future. That's where my exclusive focus is."
That didn't sound like a denial, so we pushed for a more concrete answer, and this was the best he could offer.
"Something like that I can't even contemplate it long enough to comment on it," he said. "I'm all Red Sox, all the time. I'm really happy to be with the Red Sox."
You could drive the equipment truck through the opening he left in that non-denial, and a month later he took it, cruising to Chicago for $15 million and a chance to end an even more hopeless curse than the one he exorcised in Boston. By 2016, he had made the Cubs champions, too.
Now compare those words with what he told reporters in Pittsburgh on Wednesday.
"There's nothing to that story," he said. "I'm here. We have a lot we need to work on to get back to the level we're accustomed to. I'm invested in that. That's what I'm focused on, so yeah, there's nothing to that. I will say, I have really good relationships with a lot of people there (in Boston). I certainly wish them the best. It's just, there's nothing to the story."
Whatever misgivings he felt about addressing speculation in 2011, they didn't bother him on Wednesday. And unlike his inability even to formulate a thought on leaving for Chicago — who could contemplate such a thing! — this time around he did not mince words, twice saying there was nothing to the story.
For Epstein's many achievements, we shouldn't forget this one: he's a law school graduate who passed the California bar exam. He retains a lawyerly precision with language, and if he wanted to leave himself an out for returning to Boston, he could've done so.
Instead he slammed the door. If he leaves now, after a collapse with echoes of 2011, he'd have a lot of explaining to do and not a lot of wiggle room to do it.
So as much as I thought momentum for a reunion would continue building, Wednesday's comments suggest otherwise, and I'm left with an unexpected (and frankly disappointing) answer to the question that kicked this all off.
Yeah, I believe him.
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