Before his cancer, Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell was fighting to keep his job. Now his team needs to fight like his family would to remain the leader.
It’s the national holiday in Canada called ‘Family Day’, where everyone gets to stay home and be with their loved ones. Nothing else. No historic reasoning. No fanfare. No decorations or presents. It’s a day to just sit back with the people who you care about the most. If needed, you would fight for these people, making sure that they were safe and secure. You would do anything for them, wouldn’t you?
If any of the Boston Red Sox players care about manager John Farrell, this season will be one heck of a fight uphill.
Scott Lauber of The Boston Herald reported that “a few days ago, Farrell arrived for spring training in Fort Myers, Fla. And with pitchers and catchers scheduled for their first workout on Friday, the 53-year-old former pitcher will soon get dressed in a uniform and walk onto the field — albeit the practice fields at the Sox’ training facility — for the first time since his diagnosis [of Stage 1 non-Hodgkin’s Burkitt lymphoma] last August.”
As Lauber points out further in his article, it’s not like Farrell was guaranteed to be the Red Sox manager before the diagnosis; Farrell was fighting to keep his job. He may have led Boston out of the putrid Bobby Valentine era by winning the World Series in 2013, but that was one season that had emotions still riding off of the Boston Marathon bombing. “In five years as a big league manager (two with the Toronto Blue Jays, three with the Red Sox), Farrell’s teams have recorded only one winning season. Add it all up and, by the middle of August, even Farrell’s fiercest loyalists were beginning to wonder if a change had to be made.”
Farrell has always been realistic about how much he has meant to the team and its players, especially with the Red Sox: “But I have contended that this game is always about the players. That doesn’t mean you don’t share in the bottom-line results. You’re responsible for that group. There’s the cliche that you are what your record says you are. I fully understand that.”
Farrell couldn’t use a bat on the field to help former general manager Ben Cherington keep his job in Boston. Cherington led the club in the boardroom to try and patch the holes in the team after the disappointing 2014 season. The players he brought in were Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval, and Rick Porcello, who all played poorly and reflected badly onto Cherington’s work enough for the Red Sox brass to desire a change. They needed a scapegoat, and it’s not like the team was just going to release three major assets with heavy contracts that they would still have to pay.
Likely, the way the team was headed, as ugly as it is to say it, the diagnosis was a stay of execution for Farrell’s managerial position. Someone had to go, in the public eye, and that was Cherington, the only one still standing around when the music stopped. Put aside the fact that the organization and the players care for Farrell for a minute. No professional business is ever going to fire a company man just after he finds out that he has cancer. The optics would be shockingly cruel.
Now, Farrell is healthy, with his cancer in remission. Now, Dave Dombrowski is the general manager, a man who never hired Farrell in the first place. As much as they are getting to know each other since Dombrowski was hired, the boss will expect results, meaning not last place in the American League East division for the past two seasons.
Even with the inept play of Ramirez and Sandoval, the Red Sox were the fourth best team in the majors for scoring runs (748) and RBIs (706) and they were tied for fifth in team batting average (.265), so offensively Farrell shouldn’t have to sweat. This season, all expectations are that the younger players like Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts, who carried the team’s offense for most of last season, will only play even better now that they have a couple seasons under their belts. Add to that the fact that David Ortiz, the future hall-of-fame designated hitter and face of the franchise, has decided to retire after 2016 and you have a team highly motivated to score runs and get to the postseason.
The problem lays within the fact that Farrell, above even his very public loyalty to the veterans on the team, is known for being a former pitching coach. His skills factored in the Red Sox having the sixth highest earned-run average (4.31 ERA), 18th in strikeouts (1218), and also had the sixth highest opposing batting average (.264).
However, by no fault of his own, one could argue that the reason for the issues was that the pitchers for whom Farrell jumped the Blue Jays’ ship, such as Jon Lester and John Lackey, were moved out of Fenway Park. Farrell was left with Clay Buchholz, who couldn’t regain his form from 2013; Eduardo Rodriguez, a rookie who kept accidentally tipping his pitches to the hitters; Porcello and Joe Kelly, who looked like trade busts for most of the year; and Wade Miley, who wasn’t consistent enough for the Red Sox to even decide to keep for another year.
Yet, Farrell’s specialty was to be the ‘pitcher whisperer’, able to settle young pitchers down and get veteran starters to dominate any situation. That didn’t happen, even when Lester and Lackey were still on the team only five months removed from a championship season.
If Farrell is to keep his job, the Red Sox must find a way to stay out of the division basement for a third straight season. The starting rotation, the bullpen, and the coaching staff will have to pull together as a family in order to find that magic from 2013, or at least the potential that they have on paper. Dombrowski added arms like Craig Kimbrel to Farrell’s arsenal, and now the manager must figure out the proper way to use them. The pitchers can’t just dwindle on the mound, trying to rediscover their game for a few months; they need to find it now.
If April is a slow month for wins, don’t expect Farrell to have a long leash, just because the players are loyal to him. If they really see him as an important member of the Red Sox family, they will need to fight for him like they would fight for their own fathers and mothers, with determination and a sense of urgency.