Forget the platitudes and verbal bouquets tossed Ben Cherington’s way by Red Sox owner John Henry (also the owner of the Globe) and team chairman Tom Werner on Wednesday at Fenway Park. Disregard their cries of disappointment about Cherington not choosing to stay as general manger and work under new baseball operations president Dave Dombrowski. This was a baseball operations bloodless coup, ushering in a new regime.
All that was missing was a throng of Sox fans dragging a statue of Cherington down Yawkey Way.
The Red Sox could have better handled the decision to remove Cherington, who was blindsided when told Saturday morning that Dombrowski was coming aboard. They indecorously deposed him and Henry had to swallow his June declaration that Cherington would be the GM here “for a very long time.” But it was the right decision.
The first step to fixing a problem is admitting you have one. The removal of Cherington from the top spot in baseball operations after four seasons is an admission that an organization that Henry declared in February had “never been better” has drifted woefully off course.
Even with a remarkable and redemptive World Series win in 2013, three last-place finishes in four seasons is not acceptable for a team with the Red Sox’ resources. The decision-making apparatus was broken.
Enter the 59-year-old Dombrowski, who worked as GM of the Marlins when Henry owned them and spent 14 seasons as the Tigers’ president and general manager, guiding them to five playoff appearances and two American League championships.
As much as the Sox’ owners claimed the organization’s analytical bent was a media creation, Dombrowski represents a reversal for the Red Sox. He’s not a new-age numbers cruncher, but an old-school baseball talent evaluator.
He is better equipped to push back against rigid philosophies on free agents and to distill the Red Sox’ highly touted farm system into major league success.
Technically, Cherington is leaving the Sox of his own accord. No one gets fired at Fenway. There is always a succession plan or a transition period or some other job-loss euphemism.
“We hoped that Ben Cherington would stay as general manager, but we knew there was a substantial risk he would not,” said Henry. “This was our decision to make. Tom and I have an obligation to do everything we possibly can to win for the city of Boston and Red Sox fans everywhere.
“As owners we’re ultimately responsible for the poor results we’ve had over the last two years and for results going forward.”
You can’t blame Cherington for not wanting to stick around after his bosses offered for him to keep his title without the authority that goes with it.
It’s a shame that the affable and intelligent Cherington’s big shot after toiling in the Red Sox organization since 1999 didn’t pan out.
But he simply swung and missed too often in the GM’s chair, undone by too many poor player evaluations and too much obstinance when it came to scrapping his team-building plan in the face of failure.
“I think one of the keys for you as a successful baseball executive is you need to be able to adjust on the run,” said Dombrowski.
That was never Cherington’s strength.
Right up until the shocking announcement of Dombrowski’s hiring Tuesday night, Cherington was trying to convince us that Hanley Ramirez would get the hang of left field. He was committed to Joe Kelly as a starter and portly Pablo Sandoval as a third baseman.
Cherington’s real undoing is that not a single team he built produced as projected.
Internal projections had the 2013 Red Sox as an 86-win team. The team won 97 games but fooled the Sox into thinking they had a sustainable model by swearing off high-end free agents.
But it wasn’t all Ben’s fault, either. In 2012, the Sox saddled him with Bobby Valentine as manager, and the decision to low-ball Jon Lester did not come from Cherington’s desk.
Genteel Ben handled his ouster with class and dignity in a news conference that followed Dombrowski’s coronation. He didn’t dodge any questions, took accountability for the team’s performance, and wished the Red Sox well.
But there was a clear difference of opinion on the process that led to Dombrowski’s arrival at 4 Yawkey Way.
Henry laid out that on Aug. 4, after Dombrowski was fired by Tigers owner Mike Ilitch, there was a conversation with Werner and Cherington about talking to Dombrowski. Henry said Cherington didn’t object.
The team talked to Dombrowski in Chicago at the owners’ meetings on Aug. 13. Two days later, Henry informed Cherington that Dombrowski would be the new baseball operations prefect.
“The first I heard of any pursuit of Dave for a role with the Red Sox was on Saturday,” said Cherington.
Cherington also said that when he spoke with the media in New York on Aug. 7 and remarked that “I assume going forward I’ll have a boss,” he was not talking about someone above him in baseball ops.
“At that time the information I had was that the president of baseball operations model was not something that they were considering,” said Cherington. “That said, to be clear, I fully understood they have a right to change their mind to pursue that at any time.”
However, Werner said Cherington was aware of a president of baseball operations position.
“Ben didn’t interview Dave. But Ben and we had talked about for a while other candidates,” said Werner. “Ben was not against working with someone who was the president of baseball operations.”
While the execution was messy and packed with palace intrigue, the final evaluation from Henry and Werner was what many of Cherington’s were not — accurate.
They realized they needed another baseball brain constructing the Next Great Red Sox Team or they could be staring at the Next Last-Place Red Sox Team.