The Red Sox need a new manager and Boston needs a new attitude
John Farrell lost his job as the manager of the Boston Red Sox this (Wednesday) morning. He is just the second Red Sox manager in the past ninety eight seasons to have led the Red Sox to a World Series title, and the first in the organization’s history to win the American League East twice in a row.
For the most part, Boston Red Sox fans are celebrating. To them, Farrell and his Red Sox are nothing but disappointing failures that did not live up to expectations. It is not enough to call the Red Sox a promising young team with a still-bright future and a 2018 pitching rotation that looks intimidating on paper. To Boston, that team is unacceptable.
People will tell you the Red Sox are unlikable, despite having Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi in the same outfield night in and night out. They’ll tell you the team lacks personality, despite Betts and Dustin Pedroia, who once was the personification of what we wanted in a Boston ballplayer. They’ll talk about how the team lacks leadership as though it’s John Farrell’s job to have replaced Jonny Gomes and Shane Victorino’s clubhouse contributions.
If you bring up the team’s record, excuses will be made. The AL East, the toughest division in the league this year, is considered weak if it fits the narrative.
If all else fails, much of Boston will lay a line on you that the Red Sox only win in spite of John Farrell. This despite lacking leadership and personality, so apparently Adam Smith’s concept of the Invisible Hand has been leading the Red Sox to all their wins since 2013.
This all adds up to a conclusion: Boston thinks their beloved baseball team, two time AL East defending champions coming into 2018, is flat out bad. Not disappointing or underachieving, a bad team. Today I’ve read tweets from people that basically boil down to “I can like the Red Sox again.”
All of this makes me remember The Deal.
By that I mean, before 2004, many Red Sox fans made a deal with nobody in particular. “Just win the World Series one time, just once in my life, and it’ll be house money from there.” That or some variant of that was The Deal, and while not everybody made it a whole lot of New Englanders and other Red Sox fans made it.
The deal has been altered. I suppose the Red Sox ought to pray we do not alter it further.
It’s not just that a World Series winning Red Sox manager is being fired to a celebration today, that nobody seems willing to toast the guy on his way out whether they believe it’s time or not. That’s disappointing, but that’s just sports fans being sports fans in a way.
That kind of attitude is dominating Red Sox baseball. The team is seen as a failure, and the manager terrible. Ownership is seen as a manipulative and shadowy group that have a penchant for creating negative press about players and coaches who leave town. The phrase “smear campaign” is well-known among Boston fans, to the point some believe that ownership is planting stories in the Boston Globe (owned by John Henry) despite the risk that such a move would put over his businesses.
The players are given little benefit of the doubt. Dustin Pedroia is becoming a target for Boston radio hosts for things they imagine are happening inside of his head. It was less than an hour after Farrell’s fate was sealed that somebody speculated that this was David Price’s fault for reasons that could not be proven or disproven.
Despite so many people having made The Deal, Red Sox baseball is somehow an angrier and less enjoyable experience now than it was during times when the Red Sox were a historic baseball punchline.
Part of the blame is on the spoils of victory, of course. Most Red Sox fans also support the Patriots, and anyone who roots for both of those teams under the age of 25 cannot remember a time when Boston teams weren’t title contenders at all times.
When evaluating John Farrell, it’s not going to help him to compare him to his Boston contemporaries. Brad Stevens has done a phenomenal job with the Celtics. What’s more, he doesn’t have to be tied to championships because even the most thickly-accented Celtics fan wouldn’t demand the team beat the Cavaliers or Warriors. Belichick is a comparison that would make Hall of Famers look bad.
Red Sox fans have always been loud, confident in their own importance, reactionary, and quick to anger. This is new, though. Other managers have achieved much less and been rewarded with the love of the Hub of the Universe. One in particular is very telling as to what’s going on here.
In 1988, John McNamara was fired at the All Star Break because Boston was underachieving. McNamara was the manager in 86, when the team came oh-so-close, but he was not without blame in losing that series and the underachieving first half in 88 did him in. The Red Sox then brought in Joe Morgan, not to be confused with the Hall of Fame second baseman.
Morgan oversaw a remarkable turnaround during that 1988 season. Boston won their first twelve games under him and went on to win the AL East. “Morgan Magic” is still referenced to this day among Red Sox fans as one of the greatest managerial performances in the team’s history.
Morgan went on to lead the Red Sox to a second AL East title in 1990. He was fired after the 1991 season where the team finished in second place.
The Red Sox finished dead last in 1992 despite Roger Clemens having one of his finest seasons.
Now it’s worth mentioning that Joe Morgan’s playoff record is 0-8. The Red Sox were swept by Oakland in both of those series, and it wasn’t even that close. They were outclassed and just flat out beaten both times. Perhaps he overachieved, but remember he came in because the team was expected to do more than it had been doing.
John Farrell’s playoff record is 12-11. That includes the 2013 World Series run, which as you may recall resulted in a duck boat parade down Boylston Street and this image that will always make me as emotional as anything sports-related I can think of:
Whether you believe Farrell ran that club, or perhaps just didn’t screw it all up, it doesn’t matter. He was on one of those duck boats. His team won. Make all the excuses you want and he’ll still have that ring. One more than Morgan, and twelve more playoff victories.
John Farrell’s Red Sox were sixth in MLB in total wins during his tenure, despite two straight last place finishes in 2014 and 2015. He is the only manager in Boston Red Sox history to have overseen two consecutive AL East championships, as well as the only manager they’ve had that has won the division three times. He passed Morgan on that list just this year.
This is also a person who served as pitching coach under Terry Francona, so he’s one of the few people ever employed by the Red Sox to end up with more than one championship ring.
Yet Farrell is being run out of town as persona-non-grata. It isn’t enough to suggest that, while he had his moments, his time is up. That would not be extreme enough for Boston. No, Farrell clearly had to go, he was unacceptable.
I’ll finish this comparison by pointing out that John Farrell comes from northern New Jersey. Joe Morgan is a proud son of Walpole, Massachusetts. Perhaps that accounts for all the difference in the reception of those two human beings. John Farrell never drove a snowplow in the offseason.
Boston is a city that holds Boston People in a special light. Lou Merloni was a serviceable, hard-working, and forgettable baseball player. In Boston, he’s a radio host who influences fans every day because he has a certain accent. When someone’s from Massachusetts they get special consideration. Tom Heinsohn and Jerry Remy call games up there, and their inability to pronounce the letter R is undoubtedly part of why.
In 2017, the Red Sox were light on New Englanders, and not coincidentally happened to do a lot of things that rubbed New Englanders the wrong way. David Price was yelled at for trying to tweet with a sense of humor. Then he had some fights with the media and as a result a nonzero amount of people have said it’s his fault Farrell lost his job. (The same people called Price a $217 million reliever, as though money should have helped his elbow heal faster.)
Unlike the Celtics, they don’t have eleven championships in the Bill Russell era (perhaps it’s the Heinsohn era to Bostonians). Unlike the Patriots, they don’t have the greatest coach of all time or a star player who might be the best in the sport’s history. Sure, the Red Sox of the past thirteen years have essentially changed how New England sports fans experience reality, but the Celtics and Patriots have all the benefit of doubt that they’re willing to give.
The sad fact is that by the end of the calendar year, that certain kind of Red Sox fan who prefers anger over joy will have a new laundry list of reasons they don’t like the new manager or the team that he’ll preside over. Expect John Farrell to be treated better in his absence than he ever was when he was at Fenway, because it’ll make for convenient “fire the new guy” narratives.
The Red Sox of current vintage are being treated as a bad baseball team. That is not going to change whether the next manager is Alex Cora or an octogenarian Joe Morgan. My old Northeastern University student radio cohort Adam Jones will go on his nightly show on Boston sports radio and bemoan Dustin Pedroia, who he calls “the little leader.” (In fairness, he calls himself the Sports Vulture, so this is his trade.)
Inevitably, the postseason prowess of just about every current Red Sock is going to come into the conversation. Dave Dombrowski’s seat will also heat up, as if the Red Sox fail to get it done again his roster decisions will start to see scrutiny. Already there is talk about what Boston can give up to get Giancarlo Stanton, and in the process some talk about what players they don’t care about giving up on. Just because the knives were out for Farrell doesn’t mean they’ll go away now that he’s been cut.