BOSTON (CBS) — Quick, what’s the most overplayed story in Boston sports?
If your answer is anything other than the Red Sox managerial search, you need a life.
According to the Boston Globe, Alex Cora will be interviewed on Sunday for the managerial vacancy created by the recent firing of John Farrell. Given that Cora is the bench coach of the Houston Astros, the fact that he is interviewing in the middle of the American League Championship Series is revealing. Most times, coaches whose teams are participating in the playoffs wait until their teams are eliminated – or until they win a championship – before they start focusing on things like managerial vacancies.
That aside, maybe you want Cora as the next Red Sox manager and maybe you don’t. Maybe you want Sandy Alomar or Gabe Kapler or Jason Varitek. No matter your choice, there is every chance that you are right … or that you are wrong.
Here’s the point: in the absence of a slam-dunk consensus choice like Jim Leyland in his prime, none of us has any clue whether the next Red Sox manager will be a good choice or a bad one. By now, we should know that hiring the next manager is all, 100 percent, entirely about the fit. When the Red Sox hired John Farrell in 2013, we all thought he was the right guy at the right time. And he was. Five years later, we know that Farrell often sounded more like a corporate executive than a baseball manager and that he had trouble figuring out complexities like the double switch and when the rules allowed him to change pitchers.
Get the point? Many of us were underwhelmed when the Red Sox hired Terry Francona, who went on to become the greatest manager in Red Sox history. Ditto in New York for Joe Torre, who looked like an extraordinarily average retread when he took over the New York Yankees in 1996. Joe Maddon was a nobody when the Tampa Bay Rays hired him, and now he’s regarded more like Phil Jackson in spikes, at least when he’s not running Aroldis Chapman into the ground.
The point is that you have no idea whether Cora can handle these Red Sox or not. Ditto for Kapler or any of the other candidates. None of us do. The Red Sox are going largely on feel here, which is to say that they’re looking for the manager who best suits them at this point in time. That means someone who can handle the scrutiny of Boston, the petulance of David Price, the sensitivity of the Sox’ young core and the lofty expectations of a big market team. They need someone who can be both a face of the franchise (particularly in the absence of David Ortiz or a ream star player) and a leader.
Mostly, they need someone likable to their fans and players both. (Or at least we think they do.) Go back and look at David Price as he returned to the dugout following his final pitch of the 2017 season, in Game 3 of the AL Division Series against Houston. As Price returns to the dugout, Fenway is on its feet. He is greeted with high fives as he goes down the dugout steps. And while this is all taking place, Price walks right by Farrell and pitching coach Carl Willis, neither of whom even look at the disenchanted left-hander, in what may have been the biggest moment of the 2017 Boston baseball season.
Now compare that with what happened in New York earlier this week, in Game 5 of the ALDS between the Yankees and Cleveland Indians, when David Robertson escapes from a jam while starter CC Sabathia (who had been replaced by Robertson) is standing on the top step of the dugout and pounding on the railing in delight.
Did Farrell ignore Price because he had planned to keep Price in the game, as we later learned? Maybe. Maybe Price ignored his manager for the same reason. But whatever it was, the entire vibe didn’t feel right. But then, with the 2017 Red Sox, it rarely did.
Again, you undoubtedly have your favorites with regard to the identity of the next Red Sox manager. We all do. And the truth is that none of us have a clue about the fit. What we do know – or should – is that it was time for a change because within the walls of the home clubhouse at Fenway Park, John Farrell simply wasn’t working anymore.
And we know, too, that the Red Sox have far bigger problems than their manager, from the middle of their lineup to the leadership void in their clubhouse, and that those are far, far more important than the man who fills out the lineup card in a sport where managers can often do more harm than good.