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Dave D'Onofrio's Sox Beat: Reunited at the top
New Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell, right, speaks during a press conference as general manager Ben Cherington, left, looks on. (Greg M. Cooper-US PRESSWIRE)
About an hour after the Blue Jays moved closer to what eventually became a three-game sweep of the Red Sox in mid-July, Ben Cherington and John Farrell stood together on Yawkey Way, baseball fans and bar patrons passing by as the two smiling men stared at a cell phone. It wasn't long after Cherington's wife had given birth, so presumably the general manager from Meriden was proudly showing pictures.
In that case, it was a scene that told a story that had nothing to do with baseball.
But now that Cherington has hired Farrell to be Boston's next manager, it's a scene speaking to a relationship that could prove crucial as they endeavor to build what the GM continually refers to as the “next great Red Sox team.”
For all the flaws of Bobby Valentine, perhaps the most damning on the way to a record of 69-93 was his inability to communicate with his superiors and work with them to maximize a roster that was constantly evolving. It was reportedly an issue from the time he was hired, with murmurs popping up again in spring training, when the manager criticized Kevin Youkilis, and at a few other junctures throughout the season. The relationship between the front office and the dugout never seemed to be cohesive enough to restore the cracks in what had become a fractured organization.
And that — above all else — is the reason why Cherington could confidently say he had found “the right person for the job” in introducing Farrell on Tuesday, because the two have known each other for a decade, worked closely together four fruitful seasons, and know his personality will mesh with the people and purposes of Boston's baseball operations department.
“It's important that I have a relationship with the manager that's strong to the point that you can disagree and be candid with each other and walk away knowing that that relationship is still intact,” said Cherington, who came to know Farrell when both were farm directors in 2002, then got to know him better when Farrell was the Sox pitching coach from 2007-10.
“I have a better chance of making good decisions if that relationship allows for that kind of candid discussion and disagreement at times. I feel confident in that with John based on my existing relationship with him.”
As Cherington then pointed out, he and Farrell have never worked together in this exact capacity. And their partnership will surely take a different shape with each man in a new capacity. But whereas Cherington needed to build his relationship with Valentine from the ground up, with a manager who was playing in the big leagues before he was even born, now he gets to work with someone with whom there is undoubtedly mutual respect.
With someone who so understands what the Red Sox are about that he considers the pressure of its managerial job to be a draw. With someone who knows baseball organizations at every level.
And with someone who arrives with credibility in Fenway's home clubhouse because he's been there before. Farrell alluded to conversations he's already had with David Ortiz, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, text messages he has traded with Daniel Bard, and that level of institutional knowledge should help him establish his presence immediately.
He says he endeavors to build a level of trust where players can be candid, and expects that if a culture of professionalism and accountability is established, the clubhouse will be “a positive place they want to come to every day.” And a place where such positivity translates to the field.
“I truly believe in an up-tempo, aggressive style of play,” Farrell said. “It will take into account the strengths of our roster, that's a given, but I think to play that style of game does create an attitude which I think is critical to win at the major league level, and that's to be relentless.
“With our effort, with our preparation, with the work and the competitiveness that we take the field every night, that is of the utmost importance in how we play. That's, in some ways, a non-negotiable as far as I look at it. Our effort is controlled every night, it's something we can control, and to give forth our best effort is a minimum.”
Asked where things went wrong in Toronto, where he was 16 games under .500 in two years as manager, Farrell said sometimes he allowed his young players to be a little too aggressive without reining them back in. And he regretted not changing closers sooner.
But those sorts of decisions and disciplining are easier when the entire organization is working with a united mission. And that's what Farrell is expected to have in Boston. He says he wants to hire a coaching staff that speaks with a singular voice, and up the chain he already feels as though he can share his thoughts on how the roster should be pieced together.
That should make the fact he's hired six weeks before Valentine was all the more invaluable as the Red Sox start to rebuild.
“The fact of having a comfort level with Ben, and Mike (Hazen), and BOH (Brian O'Halloran) and everybody in baseball ops, there's no communication barriers,” Farrell said of Cherington and his two assistant GMs. “There's no reluctance to give a gut feel or an educated opinion on a given player, on a given combination of things that might currently exist, or what we're trying to achieve on a roster standpoint.”
Even when Valentine was here, everyone was trying to achieve the same thing. The difference now is that the Sox finally have confidence that everyone is speaking the same language, everyone is pulling in the same direction, everyone is working together. They don't know if Farrell is a good major-league manager, and they don't know if he can fix what ails the Sox pitching staff in that new role. The only thing they know, really, is the man himself.
But in this case that familiarity may be what they need more than anything.
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Dave D'Onofrio covers Boston sports for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @davedonofrio