This afternoon at Fenway Park, in the shadow of many adorning plaques and Larry Lucchinos ego, John Farrell was introduced as the 46th manager of the Boston Red Sox. In honor of the event, here are a few more fun facts on the hire:
(Note: Actual fun may vary.)
This is the first time since 1934 that the Sox have replaced a manager after only (and exactly) one season. The last guy to take over under these conditions was Hall of Famer Joe Cronin, who went on to manage the Sox for 13 years. (Cronin was actually the playermanager during this time, but that might be asking too much of Farrell. Then again, who would you rather have in the rotation: him or John Lackey?)
Believe it or not, this is only the third time since 1966 that the Sox have changed managers after a losing season. Most recently, in 1995, Kevin Kennedy took over for Butch Hobson and led Boston to the AL East crown. In 1967, Dick Williams took over for Pete Runnels and kick started the Impossible Dream. (Amazingly, there have been only eight losing seasons total over this time. Hobson accounts for three of them.)
Farrell will become only the third John to manage the Sox, joining John McNamara and Johnny Pesky in the exclusive club.
And OK. Ive gone too far.
The truth is that Ive been stuck for a while trying to find an interesting way to start this column, and in turn, usher in this new era of Red Sox baseball: The John Farrell Era.
What you can say?
What does this even mean?
Where do they go from here?
You know, its funny. I feel like most of us spent the last 13 months praying that the Sox would snatch Farrell back from Toronto, as if his presence was the only way this franchise could ever turn things around. Come on, they need Farrell! Oh man, if they could only get Farrell!! For the love of God, do whatever it takes to get Farrell!!! Now that hes here? Eh. Its OK. But that overwhelming sense of comfort and optimism just isn't quite there. Instead, at least personally, its more a matter of indifference. The idea of Farrell was perfect, but the reality leaves me slightly lost.
A lot of that stems from the fact that the Red Sox problems go so far beyond the manager's perch. (That's easily my favorite kind of perch.) In the same way Bobby Valentine wasnt solely responsible for last season's toilet bowl, we know that Farrells can't single-handedly save the Sox. If weve learned anything from these last two years, its that unless the players are producing and the front office is in order, it doesnt matter what the manager does. Its not about just one guy doing his job, its about everyone working together. On the same page; with the same motives and intentions.
Of course, Farrell can help unify the Sox on that front. From everything weve heard, the push to bring him on board was a group effort on Yawkey Way. Finally, Larry and Ben wanted the same thing. As a result, this should improve their relationship (notice, I didnt say fix) and more importantly, create an atmosphere where Cherington doesnt feel the urge to take a deep breathe and a shot of tequila every time he needs to talk to his manager. On the other side, Farrells already garnered more respect from his players than Valentine ever did. And not only from the guys he previously coached in Boston, but also from members of the team's younger, more impressionable core. Under Farrell, at the very least, the Sox will start next season with a more positive mindset and greater sense of solidarity than they've had since August of 2011. Probably even earlier.
While we're on the positives, let's not underestimate the stabilizing effect that Farrell's arrival will have on the media. It's a shame that we even have to look at it in that way, but that's the reality of life in Boston. Even though it remains to be seen whether Farrell is the right hire, there's no question that he was the safest hire. As a result, the writers and TVRadio personalities who were so weirdly obsessed with extending the narrative of September 2011 and eviscerating Valentine before he even got started have been silenced. Naturally, once the season starts, there will be plenty of stories to embellish and reasons to overreact, but for now, Farrell has brought a certain level of calm to the media circus. It's left the psychos gagged and hand-cuffed to their keyboards and microphones. I hate that this is important, but it is.
As is Farrell's familiarity with Boston. In the end, the fact that he spent four years here as the pitching coach won't make or break his tenure. But there's no question that, at the onset, Farrell will benefit from his history with the Sox. And not just on the field and in the clubhouse, where he can build on previous relationships with his old players and use that to better connect with the new ones, but also in life. There's a big difference between Bobby Valentine arriving in a new city and having to spend those first few weeks bopping around town on his 10-speed, trying to figure out where the hell he is, and Farrell returning to a place that he once called home. Where he already knows the ins-and-outs of the facility. Where he already knows the best place to get coffee on his way to the park or grab a quick dinner after the game. Where he's already familiar with the traffic patterns, in on all the best shortcuts and generally accustomed to the city.
Still, I'm finding it hard to go all in on Farrell. And sadly, I think some of that is a result of a lingering distrust in ownership. In a weird way, the fact that Larry Lucchino was so aggressive and is so excited about bringing Farrell back makes the manager slightly less appealing in the eyes of the general public. Over the years, especially recently, we've been conditioned to believe that whatever Lucchino wants is wrong, that he's never entirely working in the best interest of the organization and its pre-2004 fan base. So, to know that Lucchino's enthralled by Farrell is to inherently question the motives and somehow assume the worst. Cherington's enthusiasm certainly eases some of that tension, but it's still there.
And then there's Farrell's less than stellar stint with the Blue Jays. Two seasons and a record of 154-170 (.475). Perhaps more concerning than his record (after all, it's been 20 years since any manager found success in Toronto, and we can't discount the effect that Jose Bautista's injury had on last year's unraveling), was the performance of the Blue Jays pitchers. Pitching is supposed to be Farrell's specialty, yet in 2011, Toronto ranked 11th (out of 14 teams) in the American League with a 4.32 team ERA. Last year, that number bulked up to 4.64, and once again ranked 11th in the AL.
On top of that, Farrell who has a reputation in Boston as an old school disciplinarian who demands order in his clubhouse also received a fair amount of criticism for the way he handled the personalities on the Blue Jays roster.
First of all, I know he took a lot of heat for the Yunel Escobar incident, but I'll give him a pass on that one. I'm not sure there's a manager in this league who would be prepared to deal with one of his players randomly taking the field with a homophobic slur written on his eye black. They don't teach that one in managerial school. If anything, it's an experience that Farrell will learn from, and in turn, become better suited to handle any future PR disaster. I don't think it's an indictment on his ability to run a team.
However, the words of super-veteran Omar Vizquel have to give you a little pause.
"It's part of the inexperience," the 45-year-old Vizquel recently said, in reference to issues surrounding some of Toronto's younger talent. "If you make mistakes and nobody says anything about it they just let it go we're going to keep making the same mistakes over and over again. We have to stand up and say something right after that mistake happened. We have to talk about it at meetings. We have to address it in a big way in the clubhouse."
He added: "I think the coaching staff has a big responsibility to kind of get in there and tie things up a little, have a bit more communication with their players and try to make this thing happen the right way."
Now, it's probably worth taking Vizquel's words with a grain of Venezuelan salt. He's an aging (or in this case, already well-aged), former All-Star who had been reduced to a non-existent role with the Jays. He's a prime candidate for bitterness, and to have skewed andor exaggerated view of what's "wrong" with today's younger players. But shortly after Vizquel's comments, Greg Zaun the former major leaguerRed Sox killer turned TV analyst joined in on the criticism.
"The atmosphere in this clubhouse and in this organization is consequence-free," Zaun said.
OK, so there's that. But at the same time, here in Boston we're well aware that just because a coach or manager struggles in one place, doesn't mean that he can't succeed somewhere else. In fact, it sometimes takes that initial failure for a coach or manager to realize his full potential.
Doc Rivers was fired in Orlando. Terry Francona was fired in Philly.
Bill Belichick went through hell in Cleveland. These days, he's a legend, but there were times during that first stint as coach when Belichick was one of the most hated men in that city. Sort of the same way people in Toronto currently feel about John Farrell.
And that's not the only thing Farrell and Belichick have in common.
Both were hired when their respective franchises were in flux, not so far removed from an era of relative success and at a time when ownership was being questioned for the way it handled business. Farrell and Belichick are both assistants from previous regimes, who failed as head coaches, but were always revered by the organization. Both were older, more traditional candidates who were chosen over sexier, "up-and-coming" coaches. (Remember when the Pats interviewed Marvin Lewis? It's OK, I didn't either.) Both approach the game with a front-office mentality, and can't be bothered by media BS.
And I'll stop right there, because the comparison's already dangerous. No one's expecting Farrell to reach the heights of Belichick. After all, it's pretty much impossible to reasonably project the kind of success that any new coach will have. There are just so many random factors and unpredictable twists and turns that ultimately play into their legacy.
How would we remember Bill Belichick if Adam Vinatieri never made that almost-entirely impossible field goal in the snow, or even more, if BB never stumbled on Tom Brady in the sixth round?
How would we remember Terry Francona if not for one stolen base?
Today, Doc Rivers is one of the most successful and respected coaches in the NBA. Depending on how long he wants to work, he could be headed to the Hall of Fame. But what if Kevin McHale had backed out of that ridiculous KG deal? What if the Big 3 doesn't exist? In that case, Doc's already well-settled into his TV career or tearing his hair out on the bench in a place like Washington or Golden State. You just never know.
So, is John Farrell going to be a good fit in Boston?
Yeah, sure. He'll fit fine. He'll help make things a little happier in the front office, and obviously erase the awkward disconnect between the manager and GM. He'll have the respect of the players, and very likely restore some order to that clubhouse.
But the point is, even after making nice in the front office and salvaging team chemistry, the Sox are only at the baseline of what it takes to make it back to the playoffs. It's like: "Great! They don't hate each other anymore!" Now, they're on par with about 30 other teams. Now, they have to figure out a way to compete.
And in that respect, who knows how Farrell will fair in Boston? As we speak, the Sox are coming off their worst season in nearly 50 years, and still have a long way to before Spring Training. There are so many significant questions lingering over this franchise, and the eventual answers will drastically alter Farrell's chances of success. To complicate matters, when it comes to most of those answers, Farrell won't have the final say.
Translation: His future is currently in the hands of a front office that's spent the last five years slowly chipping away at the best team in baseball until all that was left was 69 wins and the world's most dysfunctional and depressing circus.
Unless Ben Cherington's finally able to make some sense of things, while simultaneously fighting off Lucchino with a giant cross and 20 pounds of garlic, the identity of the Red Sox skipper is about as relevant as a conversation about former managers named "John."
Farrell knows this as well as anyone.
Today's press conference began with Ben Cherington at the podium, and he wasted no time in introducing Farrell to crowd. As you can imagine, Cherington laid the praise on pretty thick. After all, this was his chance to sell the media on his hire. He spoke glowingly about everything that Farrell brings to the table and why "he's the right man for the job." By the end, the Red Sox had hired the greatest manager in baseball history.
Cherington finally wrapped things up, then walked over to hand Farrell a Red Sox hat and jersey (fortunately, he resisted trying it on.) The two smiled and posed for pictures, before Farrell broke off to address the crowd.
"Good afternoon," he started.
So, what comes next?
Maybe, "Thank you all for coming"?
Or, "It's an honor to be back in Boston"?
Nope. He eventually got there, but instead, his first words into the microphone at his introductory press conference were: "Good afternoon . . . And Ben, you just said a lot of awful nice things, but we know it's going to come down to the quality of players and the roster when it comes to wins."
Cherington responded with a genuine laugh and a sarcastic "Thank you."
It was all in good fun. But that doesn't change the truth.
That it's really hard to get your hopes up about John Farrell's time in Boston, when there's still so much riding on whether he'll even have a chance.