It’s one day before the season opener, 2009.
High above the streets of Boston, in a dimly lit office late at night, Theo Epstein sits alone at his desk. The door is locked, the curtains behind him are drawn, and before him on the desk there lies a single sheet of paper: folded once, dog-eared, and faintly yellowed from five years in a locked drawer.
It worked in 2004—worked beyond all expectation—but he hasn't used it since. It's a tool too powerful to use every year, and he's been keeping it safe, waiting for the right moment. Now, that moment is here again. It is time for...The Secret Weapon.
In the silence, Theo unfolds the sheet of paper.
He smiles slightly as he reads.
“How to Win a World Series in Five Easy Steps: A Top Secret, Fail-Proof Strategy.”
“Step One: Lose painfully and traumatically the year before, just when hopes are highest. For best results, this loss should come after blowing an early lead in game seven of the ALCS.”
(Check, thinks Theo. He reads on.)
“Step Two: In the offseason, while fans and players alike are recovering from October heartbreak, begin negotiations for a big name, big-money slugger. Both local and national media will need to portray this contract as virtually a done deal, and moreover, should present it as the critical ingredient in the completing of a World Series team.
Then, at the last moment, just as everyone is expecting the deal to be announced, this player must instead sign with the Yankees. Note: For full effect, the player should be a Scott Boras client.”
(Check, thinks Theo. And he grins more broadly now, remembering how helpful the Yankees were in pulling this step off, just like last time. It's nice, being able to count on people.)
“Step Three: In the offseason, sign a veteran 'big game' pitcher. This must be a player with roughly two decades of experience, including multiple trips to the World Series, and at least one win. Note: This player's primary job will be heroic October performances. Potential Hall of Famers are preferred.”
Theo nods. Smoltz will be just the man for the job, and with luck, he won't even need a limb stitched back together to get it done. Check. He keeps reading.
“Step Four: One team icon and fan favorite will need to go, leaving midseason and on unpleasant terms, moving to the National League and eventually playing for the Dodgers.”
(Here, Theo pauses, and frowns. Manny's exit meets all criteria, but it was a full year early compared to Nomar's, and that might be an issue...But no, the instructions only say, “midseason.” They don't say which season. And besides, with media, fans, and Papelbon all still going on about it, the effect should stay fresh for a while yet. No problems there, then. Check.)
“Step Five: Following the All-Star break, the team must take part in a large-scale motivational brawl against the rival of your choice, preferably the Yankees.
"This should be initiated by a player in a leadership position, and should rapidly escalate to include as much of the roster as possible in one major central brawl and its satellite brawls. The fight will effectively serve as the team mission statement for the remainder of the season.”
(Only one piece left, then, Theo thinks. And there's plenty of time for step five. Maybe he can even get 'Tek to help the younger guys hone their Mitt Facial skills on the side, just to be sure.)
Theo reads this last passage again, and then replaces the sheet in its drawer, and turns the key.
He leans back in his chair and smiles.
Boston, this is the year.