September 30, 2013

On Baseball: A capable manager by any means

By Kevin Thomas kthomas@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

The Boston Red Sox regular season ended like it did last year: with a meaningless game on the last day.

John Farrell
click image to enlarge

John Farrell

Elise Amendola

That is the only similarity.

To really appreciate the regular season the Red Sox completed on Sunday in Baltimore, you have to recall how it all ended in 2012:

Daisuke Matsuzaka on the mound.

Bobby Valentine in the dugout.

And a record of 69-93, the worst mark since 1965.

Reasons abound for this unpredictable makeover in 2013, which finds the Red Sox with the American League's best record and playoff-bound for the first time in four years.

Pitching is a big reason and Matsuzaka's absence certainly helped. He's moved on to two different teams since.

Another huge explanation for this reversal of fortune can be found in the dugout. There, John Farrell stands among his coaches and players, interacting.

Valentine did not interact. He directed. And it didn't work.

True, Valentine did not have the overall talent, nor the pitching, that Farrell enjoys. But he also never fit in the Red Sox way of doing things, which begins with a capital C.

Communication.

"(Farrell) does a good job of asking our opinion on situations," outfielder Jonny Gomes said. "How guys play is in direct correlation of their manager. And 90-some wins speaks for itself."

In this space around this time last year, we wrote:

 

Valentine) is a man who speaks a lot. But somehow the communication at Fenway keeps breaking down. And several times -- whether it be his description of a player or an outburst on the radio, Valentine has had to come back and clarify what he was trying to say.

When you have to constantly explain what you meant, that is not good communication.

 

Valentine was fired on Oct. 4, 2012. One year later, Boston will play its first playoff game of the 2013 postseason.

When the Red Sox hired Farrell, they got someone in the mold of the man they fired in 2011, Terry Francona -- a communicator who takes in information from his staff, players and front office -- and then manages (usually successfully).

Look where Francona has led the Indians this year.

Farrell worked for Francona as Boston's pitching coach before moving to Toronto as manager in 2011. By the end of that year, Francona admittedly was tired.

"When you're manager of the Red Sox, it can take its toll," Francona said this year during his return to Fenway as the Cleveland manager. "Toward the end, it did take a toll."

When Farrell took over the job, he called Francona one of those he learned from.

"He had such a knack to connect with people, and to bring them all to a common point," Farrell said.

"And if there were issues, which there were, it was handled in an appropriate way."

Farrell has done much the same.

"He lets you do your thing. Lets the players play. A good facilitator," said third base coach Brian Butterfield, who was also with Farrell in Toronto. "It's fun to come to the park. Been enjoyable for three years to be with John.

"It's not all peaches and cream. During the course of the season, you might have some differences. Player-coach, player-manager, coach-manager. You're talking about highly-competitive people -- coaches, the manager, the players -- in the same clubhouse for seven months.

"It's not always real nice. But you want people free to say whatever they want. That's the way it should be."

But this is not a team run by committee.

"He is in charge," Butterfield said.

One reason why Farrell listens so well is that he can probably relate to the person he is talking with.

"He's coached in the big leagues. He's played in the big leagues. He's been in the front office. He's been a college coach," General Manager Ben Cherington said. "He can pretty much put himself in the shoes of anyone he has to communicate with.

"The manager has to communicate in all sorts of directions all the time, every day. John has done a terrific job with it."

Farrell was once director of player development for the Indians.

In Boston, he keeps an eye on the minor league teams. So when Xander Bogaerts was starting to get hot at Hadlock Field, Farrell knew.

Boston has used several Sea Dogs, including Bogaerts, this year. Decisions on these players were based on plenty of discussions.

"He gives us ideas and he's very open minded to different ideas that we throw at him; how we see the roster shaping up and how he can utilize that as a manager," Assistant General Manager Mike Hazen said.

"That's a daily conversation trying to make those pieces work. When's the right time to bring up Xander Bogaerts -- and talking at length well prior to Xander ever coming up here -- about how Xander could fit if he comes up. John's input was invaluable, as it is with every other decision."

The Red Sox look like a team again, their front office, coaches and players working together.

The man in the dugout is listening, and managing and winning.

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

kthomas@pressherald.com

Twitter: ClearTheBases

 

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