FORT MYERS, Fla. — The blame pie is big and heavy.
There’s a giant slice for Bobby Valentine. We all know Bobby’s the reason everything went wrong with the 2012 Red Sox. Ownership gets three hefty slices. John, Tom, and Larry lost their way in the name of sellouts, bricks, and NESN ratings. Theo Epstein is a handy dartboard ornament. He gets a solid slice of blame pie. And we still love to blame Carl Crawford (“When he played against us, we hated him. When he played for us . . . we hated him”) and Adrian Gonzalez, a.k.a. “the Cooler.’’ Jon Lester and Josh Beckett are favorite punching bags. We still blame John Lackey even though he was on the disabled list all season.
Sometimes it seems that the only person who has escaped the blame is general manager Ben Cherington.
Truly amazing. Think back to the ridicule heaped on the genial and wonderful James Lou Gorman. Poor Lou was mocked from Nova Scotia to Block Island. Dan Duquette got the same treatment. We all loved it when Mo Vaughn referred to the Duke and John Harrington as “the joint chiefs of staff.’’
Now we have gentle Ben, the Teflon GM. He has been with the Red Sox longer than just about anyone. He was working for the Red Sox before Theo. He was around for the world championships, and then he became GM when Theo left. His first move was overruled; Cherington tried to hire Dale Sveum as Sox manager after the 2011 collapse. Larry Lucchino insisted on Bobby Valentine, and the rest is hardball history. The Red Sox had their worst season since 1965.
And who never gets blamed?
Ben Cherington, that’s who.
“I think I deserve to be criticized for the results on the field,’’ Cherington said. “You can’t be GM in Boston and win 69 games and be absolved of that. It is what it is, so I accept that, but I’m glad I have an opportunity this year.’’
Cherington is soft-spoken. When you hear him on the radio, he sounds remarkably like Theo. Ben is also a tad dull. He’s methodical. But he’s knows he’s going to be accountable in 2013. If the Sox tank again this year, they are not going to fire another manager. This time, Ben’s going to be the target.
“When you have a year like we had — 69 wins — and there was some stuff off the field that didn’t live up to our standards, we deserved to be criticized,’’ he said. “There was a lot of focus, internally and externally, on what was going wrong. That’s fair. When you start to slice things up, occasionally I think there’s some things that are off base, but that’s in the details. In the bigger picture, we’ve earned the criticism that we’ve gotten and as has happened before, and I expect will happen again. But we’ll earn our way back.’’
He is haunted by bad deals, none worse than the trade that sent Josh Reddick to Oakland for Andrew Bailey and Ryan Sweeney.
“Any decision that doesn’t work out in the short term haunts me, haunts us,’’ he said. “And I take responsibility for those decisions last winter. That’s part of looking back and looking at why you did things and trying to learn from it . . . for every day I’ve worked in baseball, the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do is be part of something special, and we’ve had that here in Boston at times. More recently it hasn’t been that way. I want to be a part of something special again.’’
Does he feel like he has a bull’s-eye on his back this year?
“No different,’’ said Cherington. “Whether there is or not, I don’t feel it.’’
He disputes the notion that John Farrell is his manager.
“He’s not my guy,’’ said the GM. “He’s the Red Sox manager. In each offseason when we’ve gone through a managerial search, that search has been done in cooperation with ownership. I’ve known John Farrell for a long time and I believe he’s the right guy for the team, but he’s not my manager. He’s the manager for the 25 guys in the clubhouse. He’s their manager.’’
And what about the idea that the Sox would have served themselves better by signing one Josh Hamilton for the same money they bundled to acquire Shane Victorino, Ryan Dempster, Stephen Drew, and Jonny Gomes? Cherington this winter signed seven free agents for $100 million. No player got more than three years.
“Every offseason, we look at what are the obvious needs,’’ said Cherington. “This offseason we just didn’t see a single acquisition or two or three that was the right fit. People make those arguments and we’ll see over time if it was the right decision.’’
Some of us (me) think Cherington is a little slow-moving for the combustible Lucchino.
“I think we all complement each other,’’ Cherington said “We don’t all have the same style. I can remember sometimes when I was probably quicker to make a decision and made a mistake because of it. I can remember some times where you have to be quick. I think I’m capable of doing both. I think I’m naturally more measured. Ultimately, all that matters is the decisions that you make — if you get more of them right than you get wrong.’’
Do you want a scoop of vanilla with that slice of pie?