Theo Epstein’s legacy as Chicago Cubs president was sealed with their 2016 World Series triumph, a moment that forever changed the perception of the city’s oldest sports team.

Hope became a four-letter word on the North Side, replaced by a win-or-else attitude in which nothing short of a championship was deemed acceptable.

Epstein couldn’t make lightning strike twice, but when he announced his decision to step down Tuesday and turn the job over to general manager and longtime friend Jed Hoyer, it marked the end of an era that might never be replicated.

Epstein spent nine years at the helm of the Cubs, spearheading a rebuilding effort that resulted in five postseason appearances and that remarkable 2016 World Series, the gift that keeps on giving.

“Virtually every day someone will come up to me, strangers, and share what the World Series meant to them and to their family and start sharing intimate details of relationships in their family, growing up watching the Cubs together,” Epstein said. “That is such a privilege. Where else in life can you get that?”

While most expected the 46-year-old Epstein to leave after his contract ended next October, he decided to go now and give Hoyer the opportunity to revamp the roster, which is expected to undergo many changes.

Epstein said he spoke with Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts over the summer about an earlier departure, telling Ricketts that Hoyer was ready to lead and didn’t need Epstein looking “over his shoulder” during a transitional season.

Ricketts called it a “bittersweet” day for the organization.

“We were known as the lovable losers, and everyone on the Zoom here knows we had a curse,” he said. “Theo came in nine years ago and hit the ground running ... and early on promised us sustained success. To a Cubs fan, that was a foreign concept.”

Epstein called the handoff to Hoyer a “seamless transition,” unlike the one going on in Washington.

“The peaceful transfer of power is getting rarer in the country, let alone in the sports world these days,” he cracked.

So what’s next?

Epstein said he’ll one day write another chapter in his baseball career but probably not in 2021.

“I come from the school of never ruling anything out,” he said. “But having some firm ideas in mind of what I think is best for me and best for my family, I do hope and expect to have a third chapter in baseball. But in no shape or form do I expect to do it right away.”

He hopes to stay “engaged” with the game and will listen to offers but said he is “really looking forward to the freedom to explore different things.” He’ll spend more time with his family, stay involved with his charities and enjoy his first opportunity in nearly three decades to wake up without having to worry about what he can do to make his baseball team better.

Epstein said he doesn’t plan to write a book, saying that’s something for “old people and great former presidents.” He also won’t enter politics, a career path many of his friends have suggested would be a perfect fit for the progressive-leaning Democrat with a built-in fan base.

“I’m not sure why anyone would inflict that on themselves or their family,” he said with a laugh. “Policies are interesting to me. Politics, not so much. There are ways to impact the world around us without necessarily diving into those political waters, and maybe someday I’ll be lucky enough to do that in some form or another.”

Epstein always has said he would like to be part of an ownership group, like Derek Jeter with the Miami Marlins. Longtime friend and sportswriter Peter Gammons recently told WSCR-AM 670 that he thought Epstein and Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder would make an ownership dream team if they got together to buy the Boston Red Sox. Epstein noted you need “a lot of capital” to buy a professional sports franchise, though he didn’t discount the possibility.

“Who knows?” he said. “Maybe I have plans for some of those things down the line, but a lot of things would have to go right for that to happen.”

Hoyer, meanwhile, inherits a Cubs team that has disappointed the last three years, with two postseason appearances but no playoff wins.

With financial uncertainty stemming from the possible lack of fans in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he’ll be tasked with revamping the roster and trying to trade some popular stars coming off subpar seasons in 2020.

“There are a lot of important decisions to be made that will have long-term consequences,” Epstein said. “Jed is ready, willing and able to make those decisions, along with our talented front office. That made the timing right.”

The Cubs have already made drastic personnel cuts in the business and baseball operations departments this year. Ricketts will save $10 million with Epstein walking away from the final year of his contract, though whether the Cubs will deploy that money elsewhere to avoid further layoffs is unknown.

“Ultimately those resources stay in the organization,” Ricketts said. “But it really had nothing to do with (Epstein’s departure).”

Epstein’s baseball career began in 1992 with a summer internship with the Baltimore Orioles while he was a student at Yale. Three years later the San Diego Padres hired him in their media relations department, and he became the youngest general manager in major league history in 2002, when he took over a contending Boston Red Sox team at age 28.

Only two years later, he became the toast of Boston, constructing the team that won the 2004 World Series and ended the 86-year-old “Curse of the Bambino,” a myth that originated with the Red Sox’s decision to sell Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees.

Epstein’s roller-coaster career was only beginning. He sparred with Red Sox upper management one year later and abruptly quit, giving up his dream job to follow Pearl Jam on tour and escaping the whims of his corporate-style bosses.

He eventually changed his mind and rejoined the Red Sox, who won the World Series again in 2007. But Epstein’s relationship with owner John Henry soon soured, and when Ricketts came calling after the 2011 season, the time was right for a fresh start in a new organization that posed the biggest challenge in sports.

No one had been able to win it all on the North Side since 1908.

“Why not me?” Epstein thought.

The rest is baseball history ... and the stuff of legend.

Epstein’s successful teardown and rebuild of the Cubs convinced many other teams to try the same plan. Now almost one-third of baseball is in some form of a rebuild every season, damaging the integrity of the game.

Even Epstein admitted too many teams are “making it the default mechanism” and that it’s unnecessary in many cities.

“That’s not something I’m particularly proud of,” he said, adding: “I think what we did was right for us.”

Chicago will continue to be Epstein’s home for now, he said, and potentially for the long haul. He plans to become a Cubs season ticket holder and watch games in the bleachers at Wrigley Field, perhaps enjoying a cold beverage or two like any other fan. Before the pandemic, he could be seen at his sons’ youth baseball and basketball games, like any other Chicago parent.

“We love it here,” he said. “It’s home now for our family.”

Like pitcher Jon Lester, who picked up a $47,000 bar tab last month after informing Cubs fans on Twitter the drinks were on him, Epstein promised free drinks for anyone he bumps into when it’s safe to return inside bars after the pandemic.

“Until Jed wins a World Series,” he added. “Then it’s on him.”

In the end, what Epstein said he’ll treasure most is that relationship with Cubs fans. They gave him the benefit of the doubt when he came to town as the designated savior, and after a rough start, they watched him execute his game plan to near perfection in five years — leading to that November day in 2016 they always dreamed of.

“This journey is something we’ve taken on together,” Epstein said. “That’s how it has felt. Maybe my perspective in Boston was different because I grew up a Red Sox fan and I already felt that way, so it was part of who I was.

“But getting dropped into this situation nine years ago, feeling like a stranger, Cubs fans all being foreign to me. ... And now I look, nine years later, and I feel like it’s in my blood too. I don’t think that would’ve been possible elsewhere.”

Epstein didn’t know back then he wasn’t just taking on a new job in a new town.

Once you’ve called Chicago home, you’re in for life.

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