FORT MYERS, Fla. — Ron Roenicke managed a confident young infielder named Alex Cora with the Double-A San Antonio Missions in 1997, then again the following season with the Triple-A Albuquerque Dukes.
Roenicke made such a deep impression that Cora selected him as bench coach when he became manager of the Red Sox in 2018.
It made sense to give a rookie manager somebody he knew and trusted in the dugout.
Now, two years later, Cora is in exile after being named a key figure in baseball’s still evolving cheating scandal and the Red Sox needed somebody they knew and trusted to manage their team.
That made Roenicke a perfect choice again.
With spring training getting started on Wednesday morning, the Sox had little choice but to name a manager. Roenicke is officially an interim manager, a designation chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom acknowledged was in deference to Major League Baseball’s investigation into the 2018 Red Sox.
If Roenicke comes out of the investigation unsullied, which is the expectation, his title could be changed. If not? Let’s not think about that for now. These Red Sox have enough problems already.
For now there’s no bench coach, which isn’t really an issue until the games get started. That decision can wait until after the investigation is complete.
Roenicke is 63 and probably isn’t the manager the 36-year-old Bloom expects to lead the team for years to come. But the Sox need somebody to get them through what is likely to be a challenging season. Then they can reassess what makes sense over the long term.
The Red Sox considered some different candidates, former Toronto manager John Gibbons among them, before what was described to me as a unanimous decision to promote Roenicke.
That the people who were around the team the last two years believed Roenicke should be the choice was no surprise. Beyond his vast experience, Roenicke is a good communicator who has earned the trust of the players.
But it was Bloom who had to be convinced.
Before Cora was ousted, Bloom and Roenicke had spoken only a few times. But as Bloom called around to other teams to do his homework on Roenicke, unsolicited calls came in to vouch for him.
“It really painted a picture that squared with what I saw during the interview process,” Bloom said.
Given all that transpired over the last month, the last thing the Sox players needed was getting to know a new manager. Bringing Roenicke and the coaching staff back will create some needed continuity.
This gives them the best chance to contend after trading Mookie Betts and David Price, if that is even possible.
“Our focus is to get back in the playoffs and see what happens after that,” Roenicke said.
Roenicke was 342-331 managing the Milwaukee Brewers from 2011-15. The Brewers got to the NLCS in his first season but Prince Fielder left as a free agent. Zack Greinke was traded to the Angels the following year. Roenicke then had to deal with Ryan Braun’s PED suspension in 2013.
So managing amid turmoil will be nothing new for him.
“All the experiences, probably learning more from the trials that you go through, the challenges that you go through than when things are going well,” Roenicke said. “I think all of that will help me certainly to be able to deal with things that come up.”
Roenicke coached under Los Angeles Angels manager Mike Scioscia from 2000-10. At their best, those teams played fast and forced the action. In the days before launch angle mania, the Angels focused on putting the ball in play and running the bases aggressively.
“I love bunting and running and creating all kinds of problems,” Roenicke said. “I was used to it in Anaheim. I really like it. I realize you can’t run into a lot of outs and still be successful . . . but I like being aggressive.”
Bunting? As a charter member of the Never Bunt Club, that wasn’t good to hear. But Roenicke understands times have changed and that every manager has to value analytics.
He’ll welcome input from Bloom, GM Brian O’Halloran and the research staffers. He doesn’t see that changing from how analytically oriented Cora ran the team.
“I want to be as aggressive as I can be without being stupid,” Roenicke said.
He also plans to put more emphasis on having a sense of urgency at the start of the season, something missing last year. So maybe the starting pitchers will actually face hitters this spring training instead of pretending to in the bullpen.
Somebody has to make those decisions and that’s Roenicke. The Red Sox, have their manager.