John Farrell goes lobstering
The former Red Sox skipper is happily pursuing his other passion, which he calls “a lifelong dream.”
SOMEWHERE IN IPSWICH BAY — His uniform is now orange-and-yellow-trimmed waders, blue rubber gloves, and Xtratuff fishing boots. John Farrell, once the manager of the Red Sox, is now the skipper of Seaweed, a 46-foot lobster boat, and he couldn’t be happier.
“It’s peaceful,” says Farrell, 56, as he pulls away from the dock at 4:30 a.m. while the inky night merges with the promise of dawn. “It’s a completely different world out on the water.”
There are no baseball critics out here, and the rules are different. Instead of ignoring the bottom feeders, he captures them by the boatload.
Today’s mission is ambitious: to pull and bait 350 of the 800 lobster traps he has placed off the Massachusetts shoreline.
He arose at 3:15 and drove his Ford pickup to the dock. There was no whining about the early start or the fact that he’s long asleep before Red Sox games are over.
“I think that anyone who has a passion about what they choose to get into, it’s not work, it’s an enjoyment,” he says.
But things grind to a halt when a drawbridge remains closed despite Farrell’s repeated radio requests. The skipper calmly waits without sounding the horn, before very politely giving the operator a wakeup call by phone.
It’s the exact opposite of the fiery manager who got ejected in the final game of the 2017 AL Division Series against the Astros. Farrell was fired two days later despite having won his second consecutive division title and a World Series in 2013.
Now he’s calm and relaxed.
“He’s very easygoing, laidback, and you can just tell he just loves what he’s doing right now,” says Nathan Noonan, Farrell’s back man (stern man). “It’s unbelievable, his work ethic.”
During the 12 hours on the water, Farrell sits down only five times. He says he runs on adrenaline.
“This is a lifelong dream,” says Farrell.
His father, Tom Farrell, was a Jersey shore lobsterman whose nickname was Seaweed, hence the boat’s name.
Young John Farrell wanted to be a lobsterman ever since his father took him onboard in the third grade. He banded lobsters and strung bait that sometimes had him gagging.
“It’s a wakeup call,” he says, laughing.
He even had bought into his father’s boat when he was in seventh grade. But when his father invested in a large trawler, the business went bankrupt. John Farrell turned to his other passion.
“Fortunately, I was able to throw a baseball, but in the back of my mind, I forever envisioned returning to the water,” he says. “Fortunately, I’ve been able to realize that.”
He keeps a portrait of Tom Farrell in the cabin below. His mother dedicated the boat last October, smashing a bottle of her husband’s favorite gin across the bow.
Farrell hasn’t worn a Red Sox cap since he was fired, nor has he been to Fenway Park. But he’s still a Sox fan.
“The Red Sox are a big part of my adult life,” he says. “I am thankful for the opportunity. It was an incredible experience. For the fortunate few that have been in that seat, we sometimes talk that it is one of two extremes — it’s either the best place or the worst place.”
He also thinks highly of current manager Alex Cora.
“He’s got a good group of players, and good players make managers look really good,” says Farrell. “Obviously he has a very good way with people.”
He also believes in the World Series hangover. A last-place finish followed the 2013 championship season. Why does that happen?
“If I knew that answer, I would have possibly done things differently in 2014,” says Farrell. “I don’t know that anyone can put their finger on it. But maybe there’s a different vibe.
“Is there a physical hangover from playing an extra month at the highest intensity of the year? Possibly. But they are now in striking distance.”
After he was fired, says Farrell, “I hurt more for the staff that got let go as well. The fact that they all got jobs within two weeks was an indication of the quality people they are.”
He is not interested in the past.
“I very rarely look back,” he says. “So what lies ahead is more exciting than what’s behind.”
But he says he misses the team camaraderie, and he has reached out to visit the wounded David Ortiz.
“I know how much it means to get visitors when you’re lying in a hospital bed,” he says.
He doesn’t think Boston fans unfairly got him into hot water with their pointed criticism.
“There are no better fans than Red Sox fans, because even on a June night, it’s a playoff atmosphere,” he says. “What more could you ever ask for?”
He even forgives talk radio, which treated him like a rotting fish head in a lobster trap.
“They’ve got audiences to create,” he says. “So there’s an approach that they choose to use.”
Even on Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, who fired him, he takes the high road.
“Change happens,” Farrell says.
Farrell says he would someday like to manage a contending team again. He has seven years of managerial experience, the first two with the Toronto Blue Jays.
“Seven years is how long it takes for a lobster to be legal size,” he says.
Once he reaches his traps, he works rhythmically and quickly. He sorts the catch while listening to Vinyl Classic Rock radio. “Born to Run” is one of his favorites.
He’s pretty jovial these days, enjoying a huge laugh when a lobster nips a photographer’s finger.
“My insurance doesn’t cover stupid,” he says.
Farrell says every day on the water is different.
“There’s unknown, there’s mystery, there’s challenges,” he says.
Today’s challenge is rain and fog.
Noonan bands the lobsters and baits the traps. He and Farrell work together like a shortstop and second baseman, sometimes communicating by just a nod of the head.
“The stress level is so much less than being responsible for an enormous entity,” says Farrell. “That doesn’t mean you take things for granted, because you’ve always got to stay alert and aware.”
On another day, a deck hand had a close call. A buoy line got wrapped around his boot and he was rapidly being tugged toward churning waters behind a 50-pound lobster trap. Farrell threw the engine into reverse, buying enough time for the deck hand to slip his foot out of his boot before it disappeared into the dark waters.
Farrell believes he has found the perfect mix of his two passions, baseball and lobstering. He spends 10 days a month scouting minor league pitchers for the Cincinnati Reds and recently appeared as a Fox baseball analyst.
But his 2015 battle with lymphoma forever changed his outlook on life. He is cancer-free now, but the disease taught him that the clock is ticking.
“So if I wanted to do something, I would say, ‘Let’s do it,’ ” he says. “And that’s kind of at the crux of this.”
It’s past 4 p.m., and the cocoon of fog is lifting. There is a healthy bounty of lobsters in the hold. The port is finally in view.
The skipper is asked what message he could give those scared souls, hooked up to a chemo drip, in a sterile hospital setting.
He thinks long and hard.
“Don’t ever lose sight of what your dreams and what your goals are,” he says.