John Farrell wanted the challenge.
Having seen the scrutiny that can fall upon the Red Sox manager even during good times, the new Boston field boss did not blink when presented with an opportunity to take over a 69-win team that finished last in the American League East, its worst season since 1965.
“I think that’s one of the drawing cards to this position,” Farrell said as he was introduced by the Red Sox at Fenway Park as the 46th manager in team history Tuesday.
Farrell made three things clear in his introductory news conference: he pined for this job, even a year ago when he was hemmed in as manager of the Blue Jays; he will run a team that is aggressive in all corners of the field; and he will make clear to players that he is in charge and that they will be accountable to him.
The memories of Bobby Valentine’s failed one-year term in Boston hung over Farrell’s introduction, with the new manager having to address how he would improve morale in what some referred to as a toxic Red Sox clubhouse at times the past season. The new manager said he will use the relationships he built in his tenure as Red Sox pitching coach from 2007-10 only as a springboard, not a laurel. He intends to build and share trust and respect with his players, even if that is sometimes uncomfortable.
“There will be tough conversations to have with individual players,” Farrell said. But he expects his willingness to have those conversations will help him earn players’ trust.
Having a harmonious and hard-working clubhouse is important to Farrell.
“It’s got to be a positive place that they want to come to every day,” he said.
General manager Ben Cherington, making his second managerial hire in less than a year, heaped praise upon Farrell, and impressed that the working relationship they share is one that can lead to a winning franchise.
“You have a better chance of making good decisions if that relationship allows for candid discussion and disagreement at times,” Cherington said.
His relationship with Farrell — who, Cherington said, should be better prepared to succeed now because of his experience managing in Toronto — is one that can absorb that type of dialogue, he said.
Cherington welcomed Farrell to the podium with a chuckle as he handed him a new Red Sox hat.
“Put this on your big melon,” Cherington told Farrell as the cameras clicked.
And it’s from that melon that the Red Sox’ new on-field mantra will emanate: “be relentless.”
It’s a simple plan to be aggressive, Farrell said, but one that can be harder to execute in reality. What’s the plan? “First pitch strike, first out of an inning, score first,” he said.
The good feelings of the introductory news conference can evaporate quickly if the team doesn’t win, Farrell acknowledged. Both he and Cherington spoke of plans to rebuild the roster for next season, and Farrell sounded optimistic about what he’s being left.
“I still think there’s a very good core group of players here,” he said.
Specifically, he was impressed by the Red Sox bullpen last season.
“The capability is here,” he said. “There needs to be some reinforcements in the rotation, and then we need to get guys healthy.”
Other nuggets from Farrell’s introduction:
■ The Red Sox are not yet ready to announce members of Farrell’s coaching staff. The process of hiring them is “ongoing,” Cherington said.
■ Farrell said he will not allow the pitchers who formerly reported to him when he was the Red Sox pitching coach to bypass the new pitching coach and take issues directly to him as manager. He said there will be clear lines of reporting structure.
■ Farrell said he appreciated the anger of some in Toronto who believe he is abandoning the Blue Jays with a year left on his contract. But he took exception to the idea that there was malice on his part, and said he wanted to come back to Boston because of his history here and how much the organization means to him.
■ Cherington and Farrell were the only speakers at the news conference. None of the Red Sox ownership trio, John Henry, Tom Werner, and Larry Lucchino, were on the dais.
■ In a statement, Henry and Werner expressed confidence in the working relationship their general manager and new manager share. Said Henry, “Ben Cherington and John will form a very strong partnership in leading this club back to where it needs to be. John knows our club and division well.”
He added that Farrell “is an articulate leader who has always had the respect of everyone who dealt with him at the Boston Red Sox.”
Said Werner, “We have someone with a great track record in our organization, someone who has great relationships in our organization.”