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Theo the world’s greatest leader? Is the pope Catholic – and 3rd?

MESA, Ariz. — Four heads of state, a governor, a senator, the mayor of London, the chief justice of the United States, a former vice president and the pope all earned prominent places on Fortune magazine’s annual list of the world’s 50 greatest leaders.

But the greatest leader on the planet was Theo Epstein, of course.

Break one baseball curse, and you might get in the Hall of Fame. Break two? Get out of the way, Pope Francis.

The Cubs president makes his Fortune list debut in the top spot of the magazine’s fourth annual list, just ahead of Chinese business -mogul Jack Ma and the head of the Roman Catholic Church.

The greatest leader on the planet (right) hanging with Bill Murray (left).


“That’s a little skewed there,” third baseman Kris Bryant said. “I think the pope should be a little higher. I mean, you’re talking about the pope. I guess it just shows the influence that we had over the last year.”

In explaining its methodology, the magazine notes that the hundreds of candidates for the list were evaluated for leadership “within his or her own field of endeavor.”

Still, the pope two spots back?

“That’s OK,” manager Joe Maddon said. “The pope didn’t have as good of a year. Has the pope broken any 108-year-old curses?”

Baseball miracles aside, Epstein kept a low profile on the matter Thursday, avoiding public dialogue about the list and issuing only a statement to media via text:

“I can’t even get my dog to stop peeing in the house. The whole thing is patently ridiculous,” he texted. “It’s baseball — a pastime involving a lot of chance. If [Ben] Zobrist’s ball [in Game 7 of the World Series] is three inches farther off the line, I’m on the hot seat for a failed five-year plan.

“And I’m not even the best leader in our organization; the players are.”

First baseman Anthony Rizzo seemed to think Epstein deserved the lofty ranking.

“He built an organization from the ground up and he won a championship,” said Rizzo, who had less to say about how the pope might have finished two spots behind baseball’s top executive.

“I’m just a baseball player,” he said. “Who’s No. 2?”

He had even less to say about Ma. And when told Melinda Gates was fourth, he said, “Who’s that?”

That would be Bill Gates’ wife and the co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

“Where’s Bill?” Rizzo said.

Bill Gates didn’t make the list.

“Where am I?”

Uh, let’s just call Rizzo No. 51.

Epstein helped break the 86-year Curse of the Bambino as the general manager in Boston in 2004, won another ring there in 2007 before starting a bottom-to-top rebuild of the Cubs’ baseball operation in the fall of 2011 — culminating with last fall’s dramatic end of the Billy Goat Curse.

Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci described Epstein’s leadership style as “evolving” since Boston, including more focus on the more human qualities of the players and chemistry within the team.

“What he’s built for himself and for the city of Boston and the city of Chicago,” pitcher Jake Arrieta said, “it’s hard to overestimate what he means to the organization and to the entire state of Illinois.”

But two spots ahead of the pope?

“Maybe his head might get a little too big,” Bryant said. “I think he’ll be OK though. He seems motivated to keep winning.

“Hopefully, he stays up there,” Bryant added, “because whatever he’s doing it’s working. It’s impressive.”

Follow me on Twitter @GDubCub.

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com