Theo Epstein is the former wunderkind who led the Boston Red Sox out of the desert into the promised land in 2004 — Curse of the Bambino be damned. Just 30 when he worked his sabermetrics magic on the Red Sox roster and the Fenway faithful, Epstein took Billy Beane‘s unlikely Oakland A’s success — as seen in the movie Moneyball — to new heights. If Beane showed you could win, Epstein showed you could win it all. Sprinkling water on droughts — and doubts — is Epstein’s specialty. Sometimes he can even get the water from a stone.
Now Epstein is trying to recast another famous also-ran, the perennially futile Chicago Cubs, into a World Series champion. He’s two steps from success, needing to topple the New York Mets in the NLCS to have a shot at the crown. It’s an unlikely position for the Cubs, who dwelt in the basement of their division only last season. But unlikely is the way Epstein seems to like it. Or maybe he just likes when a team seems due. Or could be Epstein just loves old ballparks like Fenway and Wrigley. (The kind that John Updike, a Massachusetts novelist like Epstein’s father, called a “lyric little bandbox.“) Team president Epstein doesn’t perform his magic alone. Out of his sleeve he pulled pitching ace Jon Lester to Wrigley from Fenway. Manager Joe Maddon has made a difference, too — another Epstein coup. And all the young bats that pervade the ferocious Chicago lineup — that’s the meat, which in Chicago is king. It’s been 107 years for the Cubs, while it had only been 86 in Boston. But as Harry Houdini would tell you, when you’re a great magician you have to keep trying bigger and bigger tricks.