His usually commanding voice cracking with emotion, Red Sox manager John Farrell revealed Friday that he has been diagnosed with lymphoma and will
step down for the remainder of the season.
The 53-year-old Farrell described the cancer as being localized and highly curable. The Stage 1 lymphoma was discovered Monday when he had surgery in Detroit to correct a hernia.
“It’s been a shocker,” said Farrell, who broke down when he described telling his players what had happened.
Farrell said a mass was removed at the time of the surgery. No additional surgery should be needed, and he will begin at least nine weeks of chemotherapy starting Tuesday at Massachusetts General Hospital.
“Thankfully it was detected in the hernia surgery,” he said. “So I can honestly say I’m extremely fortunate it was found. There’s going to be a good outcome to this.”
Bench coach Torey Lovullo will manage the last-place Red Sox over the final seven weeks of the season. Farrell said he expects to return to manage the team next season.
Center fielder Mookie Betts described everybody in the room drawing a deep breath when Farrell broke the news to the team. David Ortiz said the players were stunned.
“I think it’s time for us to give him back that support and that much love that he gives to all of us,” said Ortiz. “We’re going to ride through this with him. We’re going to ask God for blessings.”
Farrell suffered the hernia while tossing his equipment bag to the side following a game against the Yankees in New York on Aug. 6. Within four days, that led to the discovery of cancer by Dr. Gary B. Talpos, a general surgeon at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.
“It’s been a surreal four or five days,” said Farrell. “I never had one symptom before the notification of it. I take a step back and I’m extremely, extremely fortunate to be able to have caught this at this stage.”
Lymphoma, a cancer of the immune system, is a common and often treatable form of cancer.
Dr. Jeremy Abramson, the clinical director of MGH’s Center for Lymphoma, will oversee Farrell’s care.
“Looking forward to getting it started,” Farrell said.
Farrell said he has every intention of rejoining the team in time for spring training next season.
“I hope I’m back,” he said, a joking reference to the team’s poor record this season.
Farrell managed the team Wednesday in Miami knowing of his diagnosis. He did not share the news with the organization until Thursday after receiving the results of a biopsy.
General manager Ben Cherington was en route to see a minor league game in South Carolina and immediately returned to Boston.
“I let him know I’m with him and that he’ll get through this and we’ll get through it together,” Cherington said.
Team chairman Tom Werner told NESN that Farrell had the full support of the organization. Principal owner John Henry, who also owns the Globe, did not respond to e-mails seeking comment.
Farrell told the players for the first time Friday afternoon. Recounting that meeting had him pausing to collect his thoughts.
“You give back to the players that are going at it now,” said Farrell. “In a way, you live vicariously through their careers. Yours is over. You try to help when you can with them. When they show that support, it’s meaningful.”
Said Dustin Pedroia: “He’s the manager, the leader of our team. We’re a family; we’re together so much. When he starts out by telling us that, your heart just stops. Obviously anybody in that room would do anything for John. We’ll get through it together.”
Square-jawed and stoic in the dugout, Farrell projects a no-nonsense demeanor to the public. But Pedroia described a man who behind the scenes asks the players about their children and cares about their lives off the field.
“It’s tough,” said Pedroia. “Everything else doesn’t matter. Health is the most important thing, especially if it’s somebody that you’re around every day. It’s your family. First reaction is you’re in shock. The next reaction is how do we get him better?”
Former Red Sox manager Terry Francona, now the manager of the Cleveland Indians, was among the many in baseball who reached out to Farrell directly or indirectly. The two have been close friends for years.
“I have no doubt that he will beat the [expletive] out of this, probably with one hand tied behind his back,” Francona told reporters in Minnesota. “He’s so upbeat and he’s such a tough guy and he has so many people that care about him.”
The Yankees, Blue Jays, and other teams expressed good wishes via Twitter.
For the Red Sox, such news has become sadly familiar. Lefthander Jon Lester, now with the Chicago Cubs, was diagnosed with anaplastic large cell lymphoma in late August 2006 and returned to pitch the following season.
First base prospect Anthony Rizzo was found to have Hodgkin lymphoma in 2008 while playing in the minor leagues and made a full recovery. He now plays with Lester in Chicago.
The youngest of Farrell’s three sons, Luke, twice had benign tumors removed from his neck and underwent radiation treatments in Boston. He is now pitching in the Kansas City Royals minor league system.
Lovullo, 50, has been the bench coach for three seasons and has the respect of the players. His challenge will be to hold a last-place team together. Cherington said the Red Sox could look to supplement the coaching staff in Farrell’s absence.
“Torey is certainly very capable of taking over,” Farrell said.