It is a punch to the gut.
Red Sox manager John Farrell has cancer. Stage 1 lymphoma.
Back from a three-city road trip, one in which he underwent hernia surgery while the team was in Detroit, Farrell opened his daily Fenway Park press conference Friday by announcing that he has cancer and will turn the team over to bench coach Torey Lovullo while he prepares for chemotherapy next week at Massachusetts General Hospital.
The cancer was discovered during Farrell’s hernia surgery.
“Any time the word ‘cancer’ comes up, it stops you in your tracks,’’ said the manager. “It certainly did me.
“It’s localized. It’s highly curable. I’m extremely fortunate to not only be with people like the Red Sox, but also associated with MGH.”
It’s a shocker on many levels.
Everyone likes John Farrell. He’s a proverbial man’s man, a stand-up guy. He steered the Sox to a world championship in his first year as the Boston manager in 2013.
Things have not gone well with the local nine since that season. The Sox are bound to finish in last place for the second straight season. But even in bad times Farrell has commanded respect and dodged the slings and arrows that traditionally puncture the man in the corner office on Yawkey Way.
In a season of chaos and disappointment, Farrell has been a pillar of class and dignity.
Now the American League East is secondary. Now it becomes about real life.
The Red Sox have been down this path many times. Next week, Fenway will be the home base of the annual WEEI/NESN Jimmy Fund Telethon, an event that raises millions in the quest to eradicate cancer. Outgoing Sox CEO/president Larry Lucchino was twice treated for cancer at Dana-Farber. Ace lefty Jon Lester was successfully treated for anaplastic large cell lymphoma in 2006-07. Popular broadcaster Jerry Remy was treated for lung cancer, and most recently, studio host Tom Caron, a 20-year veteran of NESN, had a mass removed from his chest that turned out to be a form of lymphoma.
Now the universally respected manager is stepping away for treatment.
Under normal conditions, Farrell would be joining Caron at the temporary telethon desk under the stands at Fenway Tuesday. The manager would make a pledge and a pitch. He would talk about the great work that’s done at the Jimmy Fund clinic. He would tell stories of interacting with kids when “play lady” Lisa Scherber of Dana-Farber brings teenaged patients to Fort Myers, Fla., every spring.
Farrell would remind us that there is still work to be done. We can’t stop the fund-raising until all patients are cured.
It’s different now. Farrell is one of the patients. He will be in the thoughts and prayers of everyone at Fenway throughout the rest of the season.
“We love John,’’ said Sox de facto captain Dustin Pedroia. “We go through a lot together every day.
“He’s managing 25 guys’ lives, not just baseball, so he’s important to each and every one of us. We need him to get better, and he will.’’
Farrell is a Jersey guy. He graduated from high school in 1980 and pitched parts of eight seasons in the big leagues. He was Terry Francona’s teammate with the Indians in 1988 and the two became friends for life. Their wives were friends. Their kids were friends.
Farrell joined Francona’s Red Sox staff as pitching coach in 2007 and was part of the team’s second world championship of this century. As recently as last winter, Farrell and Francona were part of a major league All-Star team that toured Japan.
Farrell managed the Toronto Blue Jays in 2011 and 2012, and the Red Sox were desperate to hire him when Francona was fired after the 2011 season. But the Blue Jays would not let him out of his contract. Farrell came on board after the Bobby Valentine disaster of 2012, and immediately won a World Series.
At 6 feet 4 inches, Farrell is an imposing presence. Sox righty Clay Buchholz once said he was “afraid” of Farrell. Some of that fear seemed to be missing this year. There were times when the Sox seemed undisciplined and played without urgency. Through the toughest of days, Farrell remained loyal to his players. Anger and discipline were saved for the privacy of the manager’s office.
Red Sox/Globe owner John Henry pledged his support to Farrell when the Sox struggled early in the summer. Publicly, that support has not wavered.
There will be plenty of support now as Farrell leaves the team for the remainder of the season.
Never one to take himself too seriously, Farrell engaged in a little dark humor while making his grim announcement. When reporters tactfully asked him about coming back to manage the team in 2016, Farrell perked up and said, “I hope I’m back.’’
A horrible Red Sox season got a lot worse Friday, but it was a reminder that there are things far more important than wins and losses. “Wait till next year’’ has never been more appropriate.
John Farrell will be back.