BOSTON – John Farrell strode into the news conference at Fenway Park, confidently held up a Boston Red Sox jersey and took the reins of a team in need of repair.
The Red Sox officially introduced Farrell on Tuesday as the 46th manager of the historic franchise. Farrell, who was the Red Sox pitching coach from 2007 to 2010, spent the past two seasons as the Toronto Blue Jays’ manager.
Farrell, 50, replaces Bobby Valentine, who managed the Red Sox to their worst record (69-93) since 1965.
“We have a lot of work to do,” Farrell said. “There’s a list of to-do’s, no doubt about it. (But) there’s a core group there that you can build around, and build a very successful team.”
The Red Sox are counting on Farrell to build that success, and there are two reasons to believe he can.
One, Farrell appears to be the polar opposite of Valentine, whose controversial nature and public disagreements with players and coaches became a distraction.
The other is Farrell’s presence. At 6-foot-4, the well-spoken manager gets one’s attention.
Mike Hazen, the Red Sox assistant general manager, remembers meeting Farrell 11 years ago, when Hazen was an intern with the Cleveland Indians and Farrell was Cleveland’s new director of player development.
“The way he walks into a room, his commanding presence, his intelligence, his ability to communicate a message, John commanded a tremendous amount of respect,” Hazen said. “He held his staff accountable, held his players accountable.”
Farrell directed an Indians farm system that was considered one of the best in baseball. Its Double-A minor league team, the Akron Aeros, faced the Portland Sea Dogs twice for the Eastern League championship (Akron winning in 2005, Portland winning in 2006).
Farrell moved to Boston in 2007 to become the Red Sox pitching coach. He helped to develop a staff that included Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, two starters who remain with the club but were disappointing this season. Farrell hopes to help right them.
“Talking with Clay and Jon already, they are eager to get going,” Farrell said. “We’ll be able to tap back into those (previous) experiences to get it right.”
Farrell said he will work with his pitching coach, just as he will work with all of his coaches. He said his staff will be assembled soon.
Valentine’s relationship with his coaches was rocky. He accused some of them of undermining his leadership.
Red Sox General Manager Ben Cherington, who often had to put out controversies that Valentine ignited, said Farrell’s staff will work together.
“John needs to have people around him to allow him to create that cohesive unit that he’s looking for, that ultimately we’re all looking for,” Cherington said.
Although Valentine was hired last year, he wasn’t on Cherington’s list of finalists. Larry Lucchino, the team president, brought Valentine into the mix.
Cherington and Valentine didn’t appear to mesh. Cherington never said so, but his hopes for his relationship with Farrell spoke volumes Tuesday.
“It’s important I have a relationship with the manager that’s strong to the point that you can disagree and be candid with one another, and walk away knowing that relationship is still intact,” Cherington said. “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 about that with John, based on my existing relationship with him,” he said.
Just as Valentine wasn’t solely to blame for this year’s disastrous season, neither is Farrell a guarantee to return Boston to the World Series. Farrell managed Toronto to an 81-81 record in 2011, then went 73-89 this season.
But the Red Sox believe he has the skills to lead this team. “I think we absolutely have the right man for the job,” Lucchino said.
To get Farrell out of the remaining year on his contract with the Blue Jays, Boston sent shortstop Mike Aviles to Toronto as compensation. Aviles, 31, is a career .277 hitter who played 136 games for the Red Sox in 2012, mostly at shortstop.
Farrell received a three-year contract from Boston for an undisclosed salary.
During Tuesday’s news conference, Toronto reporters asked Farrell about breaking his contract with the Blue Jays. Farrell said he was always candid with the Toronto front office about his desire to have the Red Sox job.
When the job opened up after Terry Francona was fired following the 2011 season, Toronto wouldn’t allow Boston to interview Farrell. This year, the Blue Jays relented.
“You see the passion of this region, the energy that is in this ballpark every single night,” Farrell said. “Boston is, in my mind … this is the epicenter of the game.”
Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or at: firstname.lastname@example.org