The Exorcist: How Theo Epstein can banish Cubs' demons

Those poor goats.

To date, at least three of them have been butchered by fans trying to break the Billy Goat Curse they believe has blocked the Cubs from winning a World Series for more than 100 years. The dugouts have been sprayed with holy water and pieces of sacrificial goats have been mailed to the Cubs’ executive office in various bids to break the curse. One goat was even turned into 30 pounds of tacos for a competitive eating contest. Nothing’s worked.

In fairness to the infamous goat, which was supposedly banished from Wrigley Field in 1945 after fans complained of the smell, the Cubs were already 30 years into the longest championship drought in sports when the animal’s outraged owner, Billy Goat Tavern owner Billy Sianis, cast a curse on the franchise and wished the Cubs would never win again.

The Cubs haven’t been to a World Series since, and they haven’t won one since 1908.

Harper: If Theo leads Cubs to Series win, he’ll be best exec ever

So proven curse-breaker Theo Epstein was hired as president of baseball operations five years ago and, according to plan, he has the Cubs 11 wins from exorcising some serious demons.

** ADVANCE FOR WEEKEND EDITIONS DEC. 7-8 ** A Nov. 25, 2002 file photo

Theo Epstein takes over as GM of the Red Sox at just 28-years-old.

(CHARLES KRUPA/AP)

Epstein, of course, helped snapped Red Sox’s 86-year Curse of the Bambino in 2004 when he delivered Boston’s first World Series win since 1918. Now championship-starved Cubs fans are praying he can provide some of that same sabermetric magic for their lovable losers, too.

Banishing the billy goat curse is “the ultimate challenge,” Epstein has said, and his Cubs may be poised to finally do just that. Chicago opens the NLDS against San Francisco Friday and according to the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, the Cubs are 7-4 favorites to win it all.

“For one GM and one front office staff having a role in a championship in Boston and possibly winning another championship in Chicago, that would be an incredible story, the likes of which baseball has never seen,” Jacob Pomrenke, the director of editorial content for the Society for American Baseball Research, told the Daily News.

Theo Epstein wears fake mustache, sits in bleachers at Cubs game

SABR published a list of the 25 best general managers in baseball history last year compiled by the authors of “In Pursuit of Pennants: Baseball Operations from Deadball to Moneyball.” Mark Armour and Daniel Levitt placed Epstein No. 16 on the list topped by Brooklyn Dodgers’ Branch Rickey, who signed Jackie Robinson, Pat Gillick and Babe Ruth-era Yankees GM Ed Barrow, based only on what he accomplished in Boston.

“That aura puts him in the top tier of general managers of all time,” Pomrenke said. “That’s something a lot of people before him tried to do and failed to do. Just the fact that he was able to do that for one storied franchise in baseball is enough to secure a very good legacy.

“If he were to do this twice and break the Cubs’ century-old curse,” he said, “it’s something that would be unprecedented.”

What a story it would be, and Epstein, fittingly, comes from a line of fine storytellers. His grandfather and great-uncle won an Academy Award as co-writers of “Casablanca” and his father, Leslie, was a novelist.

Cubs’ Joe Maddon, Theo Epstein join Eddie Vedder on stage

Snapping the Cubs’ curse would be another award-winning tale that would elevate Epstein to mythic status in not one, but two major American baseball cities.

Epstein was hired by the Red Sox in 2002 as a 28-year-old, the youngest GM in baseball history. He inherited a team mostly built by Dan Duquette that already had stars like Pedro Martinez. Epstein traded for Curt Schilling and signed David Ortiz and two years after he was hired, the Red Sox were world champs. Epstein never has to buy a meal in Boston again after delivering that historic title, plus one more in 2007. He’s a legend there.

Breaking Chicago’s 108-year-old curse would be seen as an even bigger accomplishment. The Cubs’ deep roster rebuild, coupled with the enormity of the hex hanging over Chicago, would make snapping another historic curse even sweeter.

No more than 7 images from any single MLB game, workout, activity or event may be used (including online and on apps) while that game, activity or event is in progress.

A deal with the Yankees for Aroldis Chapman near the deadline shows how Theo Epstein and the Cubs are in win-now mode.

(Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

The Cubs team Epstein inherited has been completely torn apart and rebuilt. Under he and GM Jed Hoyer, 20 players on the 25-man roster were acquired through trades or free agency, carefully targeted for their stats and character. Reigning NL Rookie of the Year Kris Bryant, possibly the best of the bunch, is a homegrown draft pick, selected No. 2 in 2013 by Epstein’s guys.

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Bryant finished the season fourth in the majors with 121 runs and seventh with a .554 slugging percentage. He was also one of four Cubs who finished in the top 15 in the league in on-base percentage, a staple stat Epstein’s analysts target.

Since he took the job in 2011, Epstein’s overseen 12 trades and eight free-agent signings worth almost $500 million to transform the Cubs into contenders.

Dexter Fowler, acquired in a 2015 trade with Houston, leads the team with a .393 OBP. First baseman Anthony Rizzo – who Epstein drafted with Boston in 2007, sent to Hoyer’s Padres in 2011 for Adrian Gonzalez then re-acquired in a 2012 trade with San Diego – knocked in a team-high 109 runs this season. Epstein also traded for starters like 2015 Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta in 2013 and Kyle Hendricks, who led the majors with a 2.13 ERA this year.

Second baseman Ben Zobrist, signed for four years and $56 million as a free agent last year, has been a key contributor. The Cubs pitching staff is bolstered by free agent pickups Jon Lester, who was second in the league with a 2.44 ERA, John Lackey and Jason Hammel.

The final piece of the puzzle may be former Yankee reliever Aroldis Chapman, whom Epstein, now 42, traded for this summer.

Were the Cubs to meet the Red Sox in the World Series, as many baseball pundits predict, you’d have two teams essentially constructed by Epstein, as he’s responsible for the majority of Boston’s lineup, drafting stars Mookie Betts (2011), Jackie Bradley Jr. (2011), Dustin Pedroia (2004) and signing Xander Boagaerts, Travis Shaw, reliever Koji Uehara and starter Clay Buchholz and, of course, Ortiz. Epstein even signed first baseman Hanley Ramirez, before he was later traded to Miami and then reacquired by former Boston GM Ben Cherrington. Even the manager, John Farrell, was brought to Boston by Epstein as pitching coach in 2007; after a detour through Toronto, he came back to replace Bobby Valentine in 2013 and promptly won a World Series.

Theo Epstein signed Hanley Ramirez and was reluctant to give him up in a trade for Mike Lowell and Josh Beckett, a move that ultimately led to another Boston World Series on Epstein’s resume. Ramirez ultimately found his way back to Fenway Park, but not until after Epstein was long gone.

(CJ GUNTHER/EPA)

But now, he’s a spectator, watching and waiting and hoping like generations of Cubs fans. When he was introduced as the team’s president of baseball operations in 2011, owner Tom Ricketts called Epstein “a major step toward to achieving the goal of winning a World Series.”

The task is not lost on Epstein, who has been known to eat his lunches in the empty bleachers at Wrigley Field. He recently donned a fake mustache and enjoyed a game in the seats among the fans as a reminder of what baseball is all about.

In Chicago, it hasn’t been about winning for a long time. But now that’s changed; the Cubs are legit contenders and Epstein may be on the verge of snapping another baseball curse.

Without harming any goats in the process.

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theo epstein
chicago cubs
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