There was some buzz in the air at Fenway Friday afternoon. Maybe buzzards, too. The Red Sox were back home after a dismal road trip and we’d had nearly 48 hours to speculate on the possible firing of manager John Farrell.
It’s a parlor game in Red Sox Nation. The Sox have been struggling, and then came Saturday’s 21-2 debacle. Farrell makes a lot of in-game moves that are open to criticism. He’s had only one season over .500 in five full major league campaigns. It’s possible he’d have gotten a pink slip last summer if he hadn’t been diagnosed with cancer (“I don’t want this job to be a handout,’’ Farrell acknowledged). He survived his brave bout with the disease, then found himself in a personal mess this spring when it was learned he had a relationship with a television reporter who covered the team every day. Then came the June Swoon of 2016.
The wolves were at the door when the Sox gathered for the pre-All Star break nine-game homestand Friday. While the players readied for their first game, the clubhouse television featured a game being played in Toronto between the Blue Jays and Indians. The Indians, managed by Terry Francona, would go on to win that game in 19 innings, Cleveland’s franchise-record 14th consecutive win.
“Wow, Tito’s getting it done,’’ noted one of the veteran clubhouse operatives. “Hard to believe he survived here for eight years. Bet nobody will ever do that again.’’
Amen. John Farrell may make it to the end of this season and maybe even come back again next year. But after everything that’s happened around here, Farrell knows he’s just one more slump away from the fate that ultimately awaits every man in the corner office at Fenway. Who knows what might have happened here this weekend if the blatant fan interference on Daniel Nava’s ninth-inning double Friday had been correctly called by the folks in New York. The random kid who grabbed Nava’s hit (“We played with 26 players tonight” — David Ortiz) might have saved Farrell’s job . . . for a few more days.
It’s odd that there’s so much talk about firing the manager when the Sox have yet to slip from their playoff perch. How many times do you see a manager/coach fired while his team is still on a path to the playoffs? (OK, it happened when LeBron and the Cavaliers dumped David Blatt last winter.)
It’s different in Boston, of course. Grady Little won 101 games (regular season and playoffs) in 2003 and was fired 11 days after the Sox lost Game 7 of the American League Championship Series to the Yankees. Grady was buried for one bad decision. Folklore holds that the Sox brass gave thought to firing Little before Game 7 ended. There was a small issue about leaving Pedro Martinez on the mound too long in the eighth inning. Perhaps you remember.
The late Don Zimmer used to say, “In Boston, I got booed bringing out the lineup card on Opening Day, the year after we won 99 games.’’
Absolutely true, of course. And Zim was fired one year later.
Then, of course, there was 1988, when the Sox absolutely did the right thing by making a midseason managerial change. The firing of John McNamara remains a highlight for almost everyone who was around the Red Sox of the mid/late-1980s. Mac was a miserable man, supported only by some veteran players, Mrs. Yawkey, and the inimitable Haywood Sullivan. The sour Sox skipper hated just about everyone else. When his talented team was picked to finish first in 1988, Mac snarled, “Sometimes people pick you to finish first just to see you get [expletive] fired.’’
He was capped four months later, on July 14. It was Bastille Day in France, Christmas Day in Red Sox Nation. It was one of those midseason moves that changed everything. Free at last, liberated by Joe Morgan, the Sox ripped off 12 consecutive wins. They won 19 of 20 games after the firing of Despicable Him. They won 89 games and finished first in the American League East. It remains the midseason managerial change against which all others must be measured.
The Joe Morgan story is also a reminder that sometimes you are better off not making a change. Morgan took the Sox to the playoffs twice in three seasons, then had a rather ordinary Red Sox edition in contention late in the 1991 season before finishing 84-78. Regrettably, the Sox franchise was plagued by buffoonery at the top and it was decided that Morgan be fired to make room for rising managerial star Butch Hobson.
Morgan’s parting words were, “This team isn’t as good as people think they are,’’ and Walpole Joe proved prophetic when Daddy Butch drove the Red Sox into last place with a 73-89 record a year later. After finishing an aggregate 55 games out of first place over three sub-.500 seasons, Hobson was mercifully fired.
So be careful what you wish for, Sox fans.
John Farrell may not be the guy you want.
But Terry Francona’s not walking through that door.