Firing the manager: An idea that never made much sense

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Grounds crew before the Red Sox’ 8-7 soggy win over the Yankees. Photo (cc) by Dan Kennedy.

At the end of the Red Sox’ disastrous 2011 season, Terry Francona—the greatest manager in team history—was fired (and kicked hard on his way out). The excuse: Well, you can’t fire the players. In fact, that’s exactly what they needed to do, and they did it the following year.

So now we come to John Farrell. As Nick Cafardo points out in the Boston Globe, calls that Farrell has to go are being stilled for the moment, but you can be sure they’ll be back as soon as the Sox start losing games again.

I don’t get it. I’ve never gotten it. If you have a manager who has the trust of the front office, why wouldn’t you keep him for as long as he wants to manage—five or 10 years, maybe more? Yes, there are some genuinely bad managers who have to go (Grady Little, Bobby Valentine). Same with general managers (Ben Cherington). For the most part, though, if you’ve got a good manager or GM, keep him.

Some of Farrell’s in-game moves are mystifying, but the team plays hard for him and he handles the pitching staff well—as you would expect, given that he was a very good pitching coach. The Red Sox were wrong to get rid of Francona, who may have needed a season off the field but should have stayed with the team; they’d be wrong to get rid of Farrell.

Firing the manager is usually a bad idea

Boston Red Sox at Baltimore Orioles June 15, 2013
John Farrell in happier times — with David Ortiz in 2013.

The Fire John Farrell campaign is far enough along that Boston Globe columnist Christopher Gasper feels compelled to write about why the Red Sox shouldn’t fire him.

Personally, I’ve never understood the urge to fire managers. Sometimes you hire a really bad one and you have no choice. But when you’ve got a good one, you should keep him.

Lest we forget, after the 2011 collapse the Sox fired Terry Francona, the best manager they’d ever had, citing the truism that you can’t fire all the players. Less than a year later, they did fire all the players, more or less, leading to a World Series victory in 2013 under Farrell — a fine manager, but no Francona.

What bothers me about the 2015 Red Sox is that some of the problems were predictable — the lousy starting rotation in particular. But that’s on Ben Cherington and the front office, not Farrell. (No, I wouldn’t fire Cherington, either, but I assume he and the owners are engaged in some serious soul-searching.)

The Sox have plenty of problems, but Farrell isn’t one of them.

Photo (cc) by Keith Allison and published under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Thinking about the big Red Sox trade

Josh Beckett and Kevin Youkilis meet President Obama at the 2009 All-Star Game.

I used to write about the Red Sox quite a bit here, but I’ve found that Facebook and Twitter are generally more than sufficient to express a few opinions and get a discussion going. Still, with the Sox having pulled off perhaps the biggest trade in team history, I’ve got to say something.

So here’s something: I like it. I’m thrilled to see Josh Beckett leaving, of course. I like Carl Crawford, but his body’s been breaking down since he got here. And though there are going to be many days when we’d love to see Adrian Gonzalez in the middle of the Red Sox’ lineup, the fact is that Ben Cherington, Larry Lucchino and company didn’t have the financial flexibility to fix what’s killing them — a lack of starting pitching. Now they do.

Bobby Valentine? I don’t know. I’ve got no problem with Bobby V. He’s not as good a manager as Terry Francona, but he’s been maligned since he got here for reasons that I don’t understand. No one was going to win with this team, especially with all the injuries.

The role of the sports media in the Red Sox drama this year deserves deeper exploration. Thanks to the competition between sports-talk radio stations WEEI and WBZ-FM, the environment seems more toxic than it has in many years.

No doubt there were and are problems with the clubhouse chemistry — Francona, Cherington and Valentine have all said that. And yes, more than four players certainly should have showed up for Johnny Pesky’s funeral. But is all the drama swirling about the team even remotely as important as the injuries and — beginning last September — the complete collapse of the starting pitching? (Insert obligatory reference to beer and chicken here.)

The craziness especially affected fans’ perception of Beckett. He seemed unwilling or unable to help himself in terms of public relations, and it strikes me as credible that his lack of physical conditioning is at least partly responsible for his miserable record this year.

But it wouldn’t surprise me if Beckett’s been concealing a significant injury — one the Dodgers presumably already knew about. Let’s not forget that another non-fan favorite, John Lackey, took the ball every fifth day last year despite having a torn ligament in his elbow. These guys want to compete. If it weren’t for Beckett, the Sox would never have won in 2007, and that should count for a lot.

The big loss was Gonzalez. Evidently the trade wouldn’t have happened without him. The fact that he was making way too much money and seemed a little soft when the game was on the line makes his departure more palatable. But the stories coming out about his supposed whining and lack of leadership should be taken for what they are until someone is willing to speak on the record.

Official White House photo by Pete Souza.