BOSTON  – The atmosphere in the Red Sox clubhouse must improve. The track record on free-agent signings is “not good enough.” And the team’s stunning collapse was “painful” for fans.
Ben Cherington admitted all of that on Tuesday.

Now, as Boston’s new general manager, he must work on a daunting array of tasks left behind when Theo Epstein departed to become president of baseball operations of the Chicago Cubs.

“My eyes are wide open that there are going to be tough days that come with this job,” said Cherington, who joined the Red Sox in 1999 as a mid-Atlantic scout, at his introductory news conference, “but there’s so much enormous upside.”

The franchise sank to a new low with the worst September collapse in baseball history.

The Red Sox began the month in first place in the AL East and with a nine-game lead on Tampa Bay for a wild-card berth. But the Rays won that spot on the final day of the regular season.

Then, reports came out about problems in the clubhouse. A Boston Globe story said starting pitchers Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and John Lackey drank beer and ate fried chicken there during games in which they weren’t scheduled to pitch.

Will the team ban beer in the clubhouse during games?

“There’s a lot that goes into a good clubhouse culture,” said Cherington, who spent the last three years as Epstein’s assistant. “We’re going to hire a manager. That’s a very important step. And he’s going to work with us on any changes that we feel are necessary.”

Cherington, 37, must replace Terry Francona, whose eight-year run as manager ended two days after the season.

He has “a short list” of candidates and expects to begin interviews soon, although he noted that Francona wasn’t hired until after Thanksgiving in 2004.

“I want someone who cares about players but is also willing and ready to have tough conversations with them,” he said.

Francona was known as a players’ manager with few rules, but team president Larry Lucchino said Tuesday the team doesn’t necessarily need a sterner boss.

“We just want an effective leader whose voice the players respond to,” he said.

“Sometimes that can be a gentle rider. Sometimes that needs to be more of a disciplinarian.”
The key is having talented, committed players.

Cherington said he wants to retain designated hitter David Ortiz and closer Jonathan Papelbon, both eligible for free agency, and has had “initial dialogue” with both.

Lucchino praised Cherington as “the ultimate team player, and his hunger for the future success of the Boston Red Sox is second to none.”