BOSTON (AP) – Disappointment and uncertainty are emotions Boston Red Sox fans say they’re used to – even expect – when it comes to their ball club.

But when Theo Epstein made the surprising announcement Monday that he was resigning as the team’s general manager, the news took many fans off guard. “Is this some kind of Halloween joke?” asked Jeff Chmielewski, of Charlestown.

“No way, you’re kidding,” said a stunned Elliot White, 20, a lifelong Boston fan.

Epstein, who grew up near Fenway Park in Brookline, became baseball’s youngest GM in 2002, just five weeks before he turned 29 years old. His contract with the team was set to expire Monday at midnight, but he resigned just hours before.

The now 31-year-old was reportedly offered about $1.5 million a year for a three-year extension – quadruple his previous salary. But it was still short of the $2.5 million a year the Red Sox offered Oakland’s Billy Beane in 2002 before giving the job to Epstein.

He stepped down just a year after the Red Sox won a World Series Championship, something they hadn’t done in 86 years. Chmielewski, 43, said he was shocked that contract talks between the team and Epstein had broken down.

“Let’s face it, Theo was the guy who pulled all the strings and got us who we needed to win last year,” he said as he sat in a sports bar near Fenway Park.

Ivy league-educated, Epstein was a devotee of statistical analysis and valued his scouts.

Red Sox fan Jack Gould wondered if the team’s executives believed that “stats guys” are “a dime a dozen, and Theo is easily replaceable with another Ivy Leaguer.”

Gould, 22, said Epstein’s departure is a loss for the team and fans who valued his sometimes unorthodox decisions, such as trying to trade for 2003 AL MVP Alex Rodriguez and then, without remorse, pulling the plug when the deal became too expensive. “He was the fresh face of the Red Sox after 80 years of Tom Yawkey’s hunting buddies,” Gould said.

Epstein said he didn’t have any immediate plans, but one fan said if he chooses to leave baseball and go into politics, he’d be there for him.

“I’d work on his campaign,” said Tim Hancock, 38. “I like him. He’s a local boy. … He seemed to care a lot. I mean, in his second season with us, we won the World Series.”

But ups and downs come with being a Red Sox fan, said Steve Jordan.

“I’m nervous, sure,” said Jordan, shaking his head. “But what are we in Red Sox nation if not always worried about how next they’ll break our hearts.”

AP-ES-10-31-05 2148EST


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