FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Red Sox tried something creative last season when they installed Bobby Valentine as manager. The hope was that he would catch the attention of a talented team that had lost its way.
“It was pretty obvious what they wanted to do,” reliever Andrew Miller said. “There was, on a lot of people’s parts, an effort to change the style. They wanted a different kind of personality.”
From the first day of spring training, that personality was pervasive. Valentine energetically marched from field to field, his distinctive voice shouting instructions along the way. Fans trailed behind, seeking autographs.
Valentine was unorthodox, having the pitchers work on bunting the first day. Then he installed a new way of relaying the ball from the outfield to home plate. Further changes followed as Valentine took it upon himself to instruct almost every aspect of the game.
It was the baseball equivalent of betting big on a long shot. The Red Sox would either strike it rich behind Valentine or lose big. You know the result: 93 losses and a last-place finish.
“We had hoped it would work out better last year with Bobby,” team chairman Tom Werner said. “There were a lot of things that went wrong last season.”
In new manager John Farrell, the Red Sox are placing a safer bet. On Friday, as the team went through its first full-squad workout, the difference in style was hard to miss.
When third base coach Brian Butterfield gathered a group of players around him to explain a base-running drill, Farrell stood 5 feet away, listening. In the bullpen, Farrell only occasionally interjected his opinion to a pitcher. He left it to pitching coach Juan Nieves to say the most.
Unlike last season, you had to look around to find the manager, not listen.
“It’s fair to say it’s a little different, just the tone. If you stand out there, you don’t hear the manager. With Bobby, he had a certain presence and we knew where he was,” Miller said.
Miller was quick to add that the players, not Valentine, bear the responsibility for last season’s failures. But it’s clear the players as a group appreciate Farrell’s methods.
“The way he goes about his business is great. He comes in here with confidence and ready to work,” third baseman Will Middlebrooks said. “But it’s not his way or the highway. It’s what we need to better ourselves as a team.
“He knows we’re professionals, he knows we know how to work. If he sees something, he won’t say something in front of the whole group. He’ll take you off to the side. He makes it an individual thing.”
Farrell was the Red Sox’ pitching coach from 2007-10. His familiarity with the organization and close relationship with general manager Ben Cherington and the baseball operations staff are two advantages Valentine lacked.
Owner John Henry and team president Larry Lucchino have acknowledged they underestimated the importance of a manager sharing the same values as the general manager.
“That’s huge,” Middlebrooks said. “[Farrell] knows how to handle the city, he knows how to handle the media, he knows how to handle the characters and the personalities that are here. He’s a perfect fit for us.”
Only 10 players remain on the roster from when Farrell was last with the Red Sox. But that group has helped his message get heard.
Valentine had to earn the trust of his new team, and that never happened. With Farrell, it is already there.
“John comes in with a certain level of established respect. Some of the most important guys in this room — Dustin [Pedroia], David [Ortiz], and Jon [Lester] — have a personal connection to him and they respect him,” Miller said. “That’s a big difference. Those guys have been here and the rest of us look to them.
“Something was tried and it didn’t work out as planned. It’s almost a 180-degree turn, I would say. His voice is being heard, I think, and that’s good.”
Farrell also appears to have chosen his coaches wisely. Unlike last season, when Valentine had a fractious group, Farrell has all confidants who share his vision.
“You seek the best available people and give them the freedom to do their work. To look over one’s shoulder all the time and micromanage, I think that’s a de-motivator and doesn’t allow for the creativity of the individual to come out,” Farrell said. “We’ve got that in place with our staff and the individuals that comprise the staff.”
It was telling, too, that when the team held its annual meeting before the workout, the owners stepped back and let Farrell have a leading role.
But his words were concise, several players said, and focused on how much work there is to do to right a franchise that has fallen on hard times.
“New staff, number of new players; we’ve got a lot of ground to cover,” Farrell said. “That was outlined [and] somewhat the outline of how we intend to get that message across and the mind-set that we’re trying to create here.”Peter Abraham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter@PeteAbe.