Ron Roenicke, thrust unexpectedly in February into the role of guiding the Red Sox through an unprecedented season of disruption that concluded with a last-place finish, won’t be back as the team’s manager next year. The team will commence a search for a new manager immediately.
In an emotional conversation on Sunday morning in Atlanta, chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom informed the 64-year-old Roenicke prior to the season finale that the manager (whose contract was solely for the 2020 season) would not be asked back next year. Roenicke informed players and staff of the decision, then managed the team to a season-ending 9-1 victory over the Braves to close out a 24-36 season, good for a .400 winning percentage — the worst by any Red Sox team since 1965.
After the game, at the conclusion of a 60-game schedule that was compressed yet at times felt interminable, Roenicke again talked to Red Sox coaches and players. Team members praised Roenicke, their bench coach in the championship season of 2018 and 2019 before becoming manager this year, for all he did to create an atmosphere where the team could play its best baseball in the final weeks of the challenging 2020 campaign.
“I know how hard I worked, I know how the players appreciated it, but in the end, I’m just not the guy that they want to move forward with,” said Roenicke. “Pridefully, it hurts because I think I know what I’m doing, I think I get the most out of players, and I think I know how to get them to win.”
That knowledge, however, didn’t translate to victories in 2020. Still, while the team’s record — and inability to qualify for the postseason in an expanded 16-team playoff pool — represented a disappointment, Bloom acknowledged that the performance reflected several factors beyond Roenicke’s control, and praised how the manager navigated an incredibly difficult year.
When he was hired as an interim manager in February, Roenicke was given responsibility for a group reeling from seismic organizational changes. He became interim manager as a result of the mutual decision by Alex Cora and the team to part ways in January in the wake of MLB’s investigation into the sign-stealing practices of the 2017 Astros — a scandal for which Cora was eventually suspended for the 2020 season.
When an MLB investigation into sign-sequence stealing by the Red Sox in 2018 was concluded without implicating Roenicke, he was named permanent manager — but without any extension of his contract beyond the end of 2020.
On top of that leadership change, Roenicke’s promotion occurred one day after the trade of Mookie Betts and David Price to the Dodgers became official. While Roenicke spoke at his introduction of playoff ambitions for a team with something to prove after a disappointing 2019 season, those quickly became unrealistic.
Roughly one month into Roenicke’s managerial tenure, the sport shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. By the time teams reconvened for a season in the start of July, the Sox had lost Chris Sale for the season to Tommy John surgery, and would soon lose Eduardo Rodriguez for 2020 as a result of a COVID-19 infection that resulted in myocarditis. In retrospect, success against that backdrop was improbable.
Roenicke’s job was made even more challenging by the unprecedented efforts and protocols to conduct a season during a pandemic — something that limited the contact and conversations between the manager and his coaches as well as players. All the same, the Sox maintained that Roenicke — who’d previously managed in Milwaukee from 2011-15 — proved a skilled leader against an unsettling backdrop.
“I feel like he was just the perfect guy for the situation with this tough year,” said Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts. “It was tough coming to the ballpark, especially losing a lot, and he just found a good way to communicate with us and try to make you feel good and important to come to the ballpark every day to show up and play. He’s definitely someone that we will miss.”
Of course, that raises the question of why the Sox made the move. Bloom said he couldn’t identify a specific area where he felt Roenicke fell short. Nonetheless, Roenicke accepted that it made sense for Bloom — who’d inherited Cora when he was hired last October — to choose a manager with whom to lead the organization moving forward.
“Whether it’s fair or not, I think when a new GM comes in, I think that he should have some time to get people that he knows and a manager in place that he wants. It’s not just for this year,” said Roenicke. “We know we had to get through this year, but I think it’s for the future. And I wasn’t his guy for the future.”
So who is? Bloom declined to give insight into potential candidates, suggesting that the team had yet to amass its list of candidates to interview. As has been the case all season, immediate speculation centered on the possibility of Cora returning to a role he performed brilliantly in 2018.
“Alex should be managing,” said Roenicke. “He knows what he did [in Houston] he shouldn’t have done, but Alex is a good manager. He’s a good person. He cares about the players. He cares about people. And he did a really good job . . . I’m hoping he does this again, whether it’s here or somewhere else. He should be managing.”
Yet it’s unclear whether a door to Boston will reopen. Bloom deflected questions about whether he or the team viewed Cora as a candidate to return to the job in which he led the club to a championship in 2018.
As much as Cora is seen by many as a natural fit to return based on his talent and demonstrated ability to elicit excellence from members of the Red Sox, Bloom and the Sox front office may decide to pursue a different path.
When the Red Sox conducted interviews to replace Cora in January, they talked with Roenicke, third base coach Carlos Febles, Athletics quality control coach Mark Kotsay, Diamondbacks bench coach Luis Urueta, and former Blue Jays manager John Gibbons.
At the time, Roenicke was the clear front-runner given his familiarity with the Red Sox, the value of managerial experience at a time of organizational tumult, and the difficulty of introducing an organizational outsider at the start of spring training.
This time, the Sox won’t face any such constraints, resulting in the likelihood of a more open-ended search process as the Sox seek a new dugout leader for 2021 and the years to follow.
“Our responsibility is to do the right thing for the Boston Red Sox over the long term, deciding that a new voice, different energy is something that would serve us well over the long-haul,” said Bloom. “As highly as we continue to think of the job Ron did, it’s really about looking forward.”