This time Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington didn’t have to swallow his pride along with his food.
The Chinese Food Chat at Larry Lucchino’s abode Saturday night that sealed John Farrell’s hiring must have gone much better than last year’s meal in Milwaukee with Dale Sveum. That lunch left Cherington in the lurch, overruled and undermined by club president/CEO Lucchino and ownership. It set the table for the team’s worst season since 1965.
The 50-year-old Farrell’s introduction on Tuesday at Fenway Park as the 46th manager in Red Sox history came with Cherington by his side and Lucchino off to the side. It represented the beginning of a second act for both baseball men — Farrell freed from managing in the muddling mediocrity of Toronto and Cherington freed from the leash ownership and upper management had him on last season. It’s a do-over for everyone and a sign the Red Sox have restored sanity to the baseball decision-making process.
The Sox hired Farrell, extricated from Toronto and the final year of his contract by Lucchino, just 16 days after canning Bobby Valentine. It took 61 to replace Terry Francona last year.
The press guide will tell you this is Cherington’s second year as Red Sox general manager, but this will really be Cherington’s first year in charge. Last year’s 69-93 debacle goes on his résumé, but it’s not fair to judge him on that season. It will be much more appropriate to judge him on this one with his man in the manager’s office.
Last season Genteel Ben was neutered from the get-go by the decision to bring in the self-aggrandizing Valentine.
The shotgun marriage of new general manager and manager was doomed to fail. It did spectacularly. The Sox finished in last place for the first time in 20 years and endured a season full of controversy, ignominy, mutiny, and enmity from a fed-up fan base.
“It’s important that I have a relationship with the manager that’s strong to the point that you can disagree and be candid with one and other and walk away knowing that that relationship is still intact,” said Cherington. “I have a better chance of making good decisions if that relationship allows for that type of candid discussion and disagreement at times. I feel confident about that with John based on my existing relationship with him.”
Translation: I’d rather chain myself to a bike rack for 24 hours than work with a manager like Valentine again.
The first public words Farrell uttered as Red Sox manager, following a long encomium by Cherington for the new skipper, spoke to both the opportunity and the jeopardy of Cherington’s newfound power.
“Ben, you said an awful lot of nice things, but we know it’s going to come down to the quality of players and the roster,” said Farrell.
There are no more excuses for Cherington. Valentine, Lucchino, and the crippling contracts of Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, and Josh Beckett left by his predecessor are all out of the way. If Cherington stumbles now building what he habitually refers to as the “next great Red Sox team” it’s his own multifactorial fault.
“Ultimately, it’s on me and us in the organization to build the roster that then leads to wins,” said Cherington. “The manager’s job is to get the most out of the roster that’s given to him. Clearly, based on our performance this year we need to do a better job of building a roster, so that not just John, but the entire organization benefits, and our fans get what they deserve.”
Cherington has a lot of work to do. His starting rotation had the fourth-worst earned run average in baseball last year. His staff had the worst ERA in baseball (5.27) after the All-Star break. He has to find a first baseman and an outfielder. The closer he acquired in exchange for Joltin’ Josh Reddick from the A’s, Andrew Bailey, didn’t exactly make Jonathan Papelbon a distant memory.
Hopefully, Farrell is walking into this job with his eyes wide open and without a sense of nostalgia for his stint as Red Sox pitching coach from 2007 to 2010. A lot has changed since you were last here, John. You’re coming to a rebuilding team, one that needs a culture change, as much as any personnel one.
Whether you believe the charges of too much leniency levied by Omar Vizquel or not, Farrell was less than stellar guiding a young team in Toronto. In two seasons north of the border, Farrell was 154-170. He is no sure thing.
The hope is that Farrell, who looks and sounds like he belongs in a John Wayne movie, can lay down the law when needed.
“My expectations of how you go about your work is ultimately important to me,” he said. “If a guy is not going about it in a way that he has personal pride, he is self-motivated, and he cares then we’re wasting our time. By no means will that take place with my interactions with players here because I do care about that.
“I care about what we present on the field, and I care about the way we go about playing the game. That trickles down to everybody that works in that clubhouse, to everybody that travels with us, to everyone that works in this organization.”
The idea that Farrell is going to be a pitching panacea is flawed. The Blue Jays were 26th in the majors last year in team ERA (4.64), one spot ahead of the Red Sox (4.70).
But his mere presence represents progress.
Last year, if Cherington said he wanted Chinese food, the Sox would have ordered Italian and then claimed that was what Cherington wanted to eat all along.
This year he got a manager suited to his taste. Now, he has to show he can give him the ingredients for success.