BOSTON (CBS) – When the Red Sox announced they had hired Bobby Valentine as their new manager nearly a year ago, I reacted as many of the players did.
I couldn’t have possibly been less excited about the idea of bringing in someone of his turbulent make-up to transform an organization that needed to find a new identity. It seemed most everyone other than team President and CEO Larry Lucchino could see that from a mile away – general manager Ben Cherington included — not that any of us could have actually predicted one of if not the worst and most dysfunctional seasons in the franchise’s last half-century.
Seriously, it made 2001 look like the glory days.
Now, mercifully, Bobby V is gone, leaving a pants-stain on what was otherwise a very successful last decade in which the Red Sox averaged 91 wins a season and won two World Series. Ask Larry, he’ll tell you all about it. Then he’ll write you a letter.
The new manager, courtesy of a three-year contract and exports of clam chowder to Toronto, is former Boston pitching coach John Farrell. The Red Sox interviewed four men before moving ahead with the inevitable, but wrapped up the process quickly in hopes of creating a new clubhouse culture with that ever-coveted “new voice.” I miss Terry Francona, known in my house as the “old voice.”
The players in Boston are excited. They know this guy; some of the pitchers – Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz – had their best years with him. Dustin Pedroia credits Farrell for giving him a pep-talk that pulled him out of a slump back in 2008. He’s David Ortiz’s main man.
This time, the players are jumping for joy. I’m… standing still.
Let me get this out of the way – while many in the media and fans alike think the Farrell hire is the perfect move, I’m just not so sure. I’m not sure enough to say it isn’t, nor enough to say it is. I’m skeptical. I’m a fence-sitter. But, how do I lean? I don’t like it.
In two years with the Jays, Farrell’s only managerial experience after four great seasons guiding Boston pitchers to some of the best numbers the American League had to offer, Toronto went 154-170. In 2012, the Blue Jays were just an injury-plagued 73-89. Hardly numbers to write home about. Even the Canadian conversion rate doesn’t make that sound impressive. And, don’t tell me about injuries. The Yankees had more than a few injuries this season and advanced to the ALCS.
But, at least pitching is Farrell’s strong suit. What’s that? The Jays were 11th in the league in team ERA in both 2011 (4.32) and 2012 (4.64)? Maybe it was just their talent, or lack thereof. They didn’t have a good Josh Beckett, Curt Schilling, Lester, Buchholz or a lights-out Jonathan Papelbon. They didn’t even have Manny Delcarmen. Don’t worry, though, Farrell will have Daniel Bard again now that he’s back. If he can do what he did with Bard a few seasons ago, then he probably should’ve been given a four-year deal.
I’m concerned. I’m concerned that when the Toronto Star’s Mark Zwolinski joined “Hardy and Trupiano” on 98.5 The Sports Hub over the weekend, he basically bid Farrell a good riddance. He noted how Farrell’s tenure with the Jays had gone south due to a lack of leadership or structure, how his presence in the clubhouse became uncomfortable to players, one of whom – Omar Vizquel – cited the communication between the coaching staff and the players as the worst he’d experienced in his 738-year career. Haven’t we already seen enough of that in Boston for a lifetime? If you haven’t, go chase down Bobby V on his bike for another interview.
“There was very little direction in the clubhouse,” Zwolinski told Hardy and Trup. “Players came and went as they pleased, a lot of them were on their own agenda, even dressed as they pleased. Some of the pitchers were very vocal about it off the record and they were looking to John saying, ‘What the heck’s going on with this?’”
Basically, Zwolinski left fans in Boston feeling they could be in for a long year, though he did step up a little for the new dugout boss on Yawkey Way.
“I just want to say something about John,” he concluded. “I’m probably sounding like a lot of it is his fault – it’s not. He actually stood up at the end of the year, probably too late, but had a meeting in front of the players and said, ‘I’m the manager here. Does anyone have a problem with that?’ and kind of settled things down, though the season was lost.”
My biggest fear is that John Farrell is Josh McDaniels, the Patriots’ offensive coordinator. These are two guys who shined in lesser-profile roles in New England (Farrell as the pitching coach for the Sox and McDaniels in his first go-round as the OC with the Pats) before moving elsewhere in top positions and failing miserably. Farrell’s tenure in Toronto was bad, plain and simple. McDaniels couldn’t hack it as the head coach in Denver (11-17) after setting all kinds of offensive records with the Patriots – thank you, Tom Terrific – and he wasn’t anything impressive as the offensive coordinator in St. Louis in 2011, either. Yet, when Bill Belichick finally decides to ride off into the sunset, a day we hope is a solid decade away, many feel McDaniels is the logical replacement, just as the Sox pursued Farrell to replace Francona before settling on the guy who invented the wrap sandwich.
Why? Why are two unproven men the obvious choice in a high-profile market to take over situations they haven’t been able to handle in the past?
Because they were here when things were great.
As a Red Sox fan, I like the idea of Farrell, too. He’s a link to the past, the good ‘ole days. He’s familiar with all the key players and priorities. Guys know him, they like him. Maybe it could work again.
Do you know how many girlfriends I’ve considered reconciling with using that logic? It’s dumb! There are prettier, smarter, nicer girls out there who don’t donate the clothes they’ve decided they don’t like on you to the Salvation Army.
Like some fans, I was especially intrigued by San Diego special assistant Brad Ausmus. Normally I don’t like the idea of hiring a guy with no managerial experience in a situation like this, but maybe I’m just a sucker for the array of New England connections (from Connecticut, attended Dartmouth, etc.). He’s also Jewish and the Sox don’t have Kevin Youkilis or Gabe Kapler anymore, so there’s that. More importantly, he had a great 18-year career, worked well with pitchers as a catcher and is highly respected throughout the game. He’ll get his chance, like Mike Matheny and Robin Ventura did a year ago. It just won’t be here.
While some part of me always wanted Bobby Valentine to fail as Red Sox manager simply because I’ve never liked the guy, I’m a John Farrell supporter. I want him to do well in Boston and sincerely hope I’m wrong in believing he may not be the right fit for a team that probably should spend more time distancing itself from the past than reaching back to it.
But, what do I know? I’m writing this while wearing my 2004 World Series hat.
Adam Kaufman, a native of Massachusetts, joined the Sports Hub as an on-air personality in June 2011. He has worked as a television and radio anchor and broadcaster for various outlets since 2004, and his written views on sports and entertainment have appeared on NESN.com and in the New England Hockey Journal. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamMKaufman.