FORT MYERS, Fla. — When there was an opening on the Boston Red Sox coaching staff back in November, assistant general manager Ben Cherington phoned Ron Johnson and told him he was a candidate for the job.

Johnson, 54, did not get excited. He was a minor league coach and manager for 24 years, including two in Portland, and figured the Red Sox were interviewing him only as a courtesy.

“After a few years you just let things be as they are,” said Johnson, who managed the Portland Sea Dogs in 2003-04 before moving up to Triple-A Pawtucket, where he’s been since.

But then Johnson’s phone rang 20 minutes later. Red Sox Manager Terry Francona was calling.

“He said, ‘hey listen, I just want you to know that you have a legitimate chance for this job. So be prepared and come up here and do a nice job (with the interview),’ ” Johnson said.

“That’s when I started thinking that this may be an opportunity.”

That is why Francona called. He knew that after five years as Pawtucket’s manager, Johnson might have been losing hope of reaching the majors in Boston.

“He may have gotten passed over for consideration a couple of times because he was such a good Triple-A manager,” Francona said.

“In the end, we started thinking about it, that it wasn’t right. We told him that coming into the interview.”

Johnson prepared his case. When Red Sox bench coach Brad Mills took the managing job in Houston, third-base coach DeMarlo Hale became the bench coach and first-base coach Tim Bogar moved to third.

Hale also coaches the outfielders, and Bogar the infielders. A first-base coach was needed.

“I thought it was the right move,” Johnson said.

“You got a situation where, one, you didn’t lose your infield guy (Bogar) or your outfield guy (Hale). I didn’t really have that expertise. That was one of the things I always heard that has held me back.

“And in this situation, you’re not going to replace Brad Mills. One, he’s an outstanding baseball man and, two, he’s been a personal friend of the manager for 30 years. You know that’s irreplaceable.

“If you’re going to insert someone, I believe I would be the best fit because 75 percent of your roster has played multiple years with me. So I have personal and professional relationships with them already.

“And I’ve been a manager for 18 years and I’ve been with (the Red Sox organization) for 10 years and in (major league) spring training for five years. I thought it would be the smoothest deal.”

That is what Johnson told the Red Sox. While he waited for their answer, he kept getting encouraging texts from Francona, but Johnson took them the wrong way.

“Was this his way of letting me down easy?” Johnson said.

But then the phone rang in late November.

“I saw it was (Francona). I thought, ‘OK, this is it.’ I picked it up and he goes, ‘hey, what’s going on?’

“Then he goes, ‘hey, you still want to be the first-base coach?’ I said, ‘yeah.’

“He goes, ‘alright, you’re the first-base coach. (GM) Theo (Epstein) will call you in a little bit. Congratulations.”

Francona knew the impact of the news he was delivering. Johnson “has been waiting for that phone call for a long time,” Francona said.

As a first baseman in the Kansas City and Montreal organizations, Johnson played in a total of 22 games from 1982-84.

Now, after so many years of toiling in the minors, he finally got the call back up to the majors.

“Ever since that call, it’s been pretty much like going to Disneyland every day,” Johnson said.

 

Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be contacted at 791-6411 or at:

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