I couldn’t believe my luck when the Red Sox said they wanted me to act as a stand-in while they rehearsed for their upcoming managerial interviews. I felt like Senator John Kerry helping President Barack Obama prepare for the first presidential debate.
After firing two managers in two years and missing the playoffs the last three, general manager Ben Cherington and president/CEO Larry Lucchino know that applicants for the post — such as Dodgers third base coach Tim Wallach and former major league catcher and current Padres special assistant Brad Ausmus — will be quizzing them about the organization as much as the Sox brass will be grilling managerial candidates.
“Who asks tougher questions than our cynical, jaded media?” said Lucchino, as I sunk into a chair that already felt a little warm.
“Would you like a cup of coffee? That’s what our last manager had here,” said Cherington.
“How about an ice cold beer? We just found Beckett’s training room stash a week ago.”
Getting down to business, eager to play my part in the resurrection of the Red Sox, I asked Lucchino and Cherington if I would be able to hold players more accountable publicly than past Sox managers.
“Sure,” said Cherington. “We want a strong manager who can run the clubhouse. If you say or do anything that upsets a player, they’ll tell us, and we can always have you apologize later. In baseball ops, we have an apology generator, Apollo, right next to Carmine. Bobby Valentine found it easier than formulating his own.”
Next I asked how much input I would have in setting the lineup every day and personnel decisions. I tell them I’m a big believer in sabermetrics. There are broad smiles.
“You will have just as much say as Bill James,” said Cherington. “It’s all a collaborative process. We’re thinking of going to a Google+ hangout this year.”
I tell them, as someone unfamiliar with the organization, I’ve heard that the Sox have some chain-of-command issues, that it’s a bit unclear who is making the baseball decisions on Yawkey Way.
“I’m the man that runs the Red Sox,” said Lucchino. “But this is Ben’s search, just like last year, when he hired Bobby. He’s one of the bright young minds in baseball.”
Cherington managed a grimace.
“Baseball operations is spearheading the evaluative process of vetting managerial aspirants,” he said.
“Bobby was their . . . my, my choice. It just didn’t work out. It was a learning experience for all involved that will make the organization more attuned moving forward. Did I mention we have a bike rack outside the clubhouse still?”
Now, Lucchino and Cherington wanted to practice asking a question.
“Do you have a problem with the solicitation of player feedback?” asked Cherington.
Communication between a manager and his players is vital, especially in a media market such as Boston, I replied. They nodded their heads.
“Good,” said Cherington. “We hold these round-table meetings with the players a couple of times a year. We’ve found the players are most honest when the manager isn’t present.”
You mean mutinous, I think, but I don’t want to say anything because the Sox promised to validate my parking.
I mention that one of the issues Valentine had with the Red Sox was that he was forced to inherit some coaches. I ask if I’ll be able to hire my own coaching staff this time.
“Absolutely,” said Cherington. “Tuckster, Mags, and Bogey will mesh with any staff we help you put together. We’re interviewing a pitching coach later today. We know you’ll like him.”
Uh . . .
I ask about the medical staff. The Sox could have set up a triage unit in the Triangle; they had 27 players combine for 34 disabled list stints, the most by any team since at least 1987, according to STATS Inc.
“We didn’t have our ‘varsity’ for much of the year,” said Lucchino. “It was difficult. Injuries were probably the biggest reason that Bobby wasn’t able to succeed here. It must have been carryover from Dave Page’s time here as strength and conditioning coach.”
The Sox created a tremendous amount of financial flexibility with the shipping of their three highest-paid players, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Josh Beckett, along with utility infielder Nick Punto to the Dodgers on Aug. 25. The deal saved the Sox about $263 million in salary.
I asked how the team planned to allocate that money, given that last year they had to trade starting shortstop Marco Scutaro just to clear the money to sign Cody Ross (who was a bargain at $3 million per year) and missed out on pitchers Hiroki Kuroda and Edwin Jackson.
“We’re committed to re-signing David Ortiz and Cody Ross,” said Lucchino. “But we’re going to be fiscally responsible. We don’t want to get saddled with undesirable long-term contracts.
“I mean, Theo was handing those things out like Halloween candy before he left for Chicago. He really left us in a bad spot. How come no one ever talks about that? It’s a good thing I was able to orchestrate that deal with the Dodgers and remedy Theo’s myriad errors in judgment.”
I throw a softball, asking at what point in the process I would meet principal owner John W. Henry.
“John is always accessible via e-mail,” said Lucchino. “But the fastest way to get a hold of him is usually to go on the Liverpool fan message boards.”
We’re done. Exhausted and exasperated, I asked Lucchino if I was any help.
“Sure, but we’re just going to send compensation for Farrell,” he said. “The interviews are to generate offseason buzz.”
Lucchino then offered me a commemorative plaque, like a lollipop at the doctor’s office.
“Here, take one for the road,” he said. “We have plenty of them.”