FORT MYERS, Fla. — John Farrell had two distinct advantages working in his favor when he was named manager of the Red Sox in October: Who he was and, maybe just as importantly, who he was not.
As the Red Sox set out to remake their team following the historic mess that was the 2012 season, finding a manager who could help bind a fractured organization was critical.
When the Sox fired Terry Francona after the 2011 season, they repeated the classic mistake so many teams make by seeking a manager who was completely different than the one they had.
Francona was a good communicator who had established ties throughout the organization and had a close relationship with the players. In the end, perhaps, he was too close and the players took advantage of that relationship. Francona admitted on his way out of Fenway Park that the team needed to hear a new voice.
In Bobby Valentine, the Red Sox went with an older, more authoritarian figure with no connection to the franchise. The hope was that Valentine would bring discipline to the team and new ideas. The Sox instead got worse.
Players quickly became angry about Valentine’s methods and his intemperate comments to the media. A group of coaches with more loyalty to the front office went weeks without speaking to him. General manager Ben Cherington, who had favored other candidates, was trapped between ownership and those in uniform.
The Sox finished 69-93, losing their final eight games and 26 of the final 33. Valentine was fired a day after the season ended.
Cherington immediately identified Farrell as the right choice for the Sox. That Farrell was 16 games under .500 in two seasons managing the Toronto Blue Jays hardly mattered.
Farrell had spent four seasons with the Red Sox as pitching coach and was deeply involved with player development. He also had longstanding ties to Cherington and assistant GM Mike Hazen from their days working together for the Cleveland Indians.
Most importantly, Farrell had the respect of three key players on the roster: David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, and Jon Lester.
“Obviously there were a lot of things about John that I admire, a lot of skills that I admire,” Cherington said. “He’s a communicator; he’s got a presence; he’s got strong opinions; he’s organized; he’s a good teacher and he had a great network to build a staff.
“There’s no doubt that when you’re a baseball manager or a head coach in football or anybody in a leadership position in professional sports, if you have built-in credibility and trust in some core members of your organization, that is a head start.”
In Farrell, Cherington also had a partner in his plan to rebuild the roster with team-oriented players. Farrell knew that had to happen just from what he saw across the field.
“It wasn’t like something I was adamant about. I was never in that position, nor would I kid myself that I could do that,” he said. “But I think it’s safe to say that Ben and I share a lot of similar views on characteristics of a player and characteristics of a team.”
In Farrell, the Sox had a manager the players would respond favorably to but with the gravitas to hold them accountable.
“He’s very strong-toned,” Pedroia said. “It’s not that guys fear him, but I think they respect him so much that forces them to believe in what he wants us to do. It’s very helpful.
“We’re all on the right path now. If he sees we get off that, he’s going to handle it. What you see is what you get. It’s refreshing.”
Outfielder Jonny Gomes, one of the newcomers, watched Farrell closely in spring training. The outfielder, who has played for Joe Maddon, Dusty Baker, Davey Johnson, Lou Piniella, and Bob Melvin during his career, approved of what he saw.
“Old-school managers, new-school managers; guys who were great players, guys who weren’t. There are all kinds of managers,” Gomes said. “What’s important is your relationship with your manager. You want free range until there’s a need to be pulled back. John has that sense.
“It’s cool when you see him coming to your position in batting practice to talk to you. I think that’s pretty important. He’ll ask about your family and then have a 15-minute conversation about baseball.”
Farrell learned that working under Francona and playing for Doc Edwards when he was in the majors.
“I think every player, regardless of where they come from, wants to know they’re supported and the manager has their back,” Farrell said.
“It’s something that we’ve talked openly about, wanting to build and earn that trust along the way. Part of earning that trust is supporting that player at times when it’s not the easiest . . . You have to have that consistency. I think the biggest mistake that can be made is to think that players aren’t smart. They are. They have a great sense of feel for moods, for situations and how someone responds to those.”
Said Cherington: “Players are human beings. Human beings want to be protected and feel like your boss supports you. You want to feel you can get feedback, critical or positive. Major League Baseball players who are established and have made a lot money have earned a certain level of freedom, but they’re still trying to do a job.”
Farrell, 50, is an adherent of statistical analysis and using metrics to find an edge on the field, whether it comes by radically shifting the defense or using relief pitchers in a predetermined pattern to maximize their effectiveness.
But Farrell also knows that over a lengthy baseball season, the human element is significant.
“I don’t want to say you’re trying to create a warm and fuzzy feeling all the time. But there’s got to be known commodity, a known feel in the clubhouse,” he said. “Establishing boundaries yet making players feel as comfortable as possible for their abilities to come out is part of the job.
“If you have people with personal pride and the game is one of the three most important things in their life, those are ingredients that will allow that to take place.”
The Sox had a productive spring training, on the field and in the clubhouse. Still, the results of their team-building strategy will not be known for several months.
But Farrell, unlike Valentine, is in position to ride out any storms. The Sox have to give this manager and his methods a chance. The players also know after the events of last season that they are expendable.
“This is it,” Pedroia said. “John is the right guy for this team. Nobody asked us who we wanted, but this is the manager that we wanted and there are no excuses for anybody. We have to go out and win games now and prove this works.”
The Red Sox’ revolving door
The Red Sox have done more than remake their roster this season. Since the end of the 2011 season, they’ve also made significant changes to the cast of people who are around the team on a daily basis.
A look at the turnover in key front-office position in recent years:
|General Manager||Theo Epstein||Ben Cherington||Ben Cherington|
|Manager||Terry Francona||Bobby Valentine||John Farrell|
|Bench coach||DeMarlo Hale||Tim Bogar||Torey Lovullo|
|Third base coach||Tim Bogar||Jerry Royster||Brian Butterfield|
|First base coach||Ron Johnson||Alex Ochoa||Arnie Beyeler|
|Hitting coach||Dave Magadan||Dave Magadan||Greg Colbrunn|
|Pitching coach||Curt Young||Bob McClure||Juan Nieves|
|Bullpen coach||Gary Tuck||Gary Tuck||Dana LeVangie|
|Coaching staff assistant||Rob Leary||Randy Niemann||Victor Rodriguez|
|Medical director||Dr. Thomas Gill||Dr. Thomas Gill||Dr. Larry Ronan|
|Head trainer||Mike Reinold||Mike Reinold||Rick Jameyson|
|Assistant trainer||Greg Barajas||Greg Barajas||Brad Pearson|
|Strength and conditioning coach||David Page||David Page||Pat Sandora|
|Home clubhouse manager||Joe Cochran||Joe Cochran||Tom McLaughlin|
|Media relations director||Pam Ganley||Pam Ganley||Kevin Gregg|