The Peril that is Farrell

By  Terry Cushman   –   @cushmanMLB

It’s a well known fact since early 2015, that I am a STAUNCH John Farrell hater.   If there is a person on twitter or somewhere on the internet that hates John Farrell more than me, I would like to meet him/her.

Truth be told, the moment Bobby Valentine was mercifully fired in October of 2012, nobody wanted John Farrell to be the manager of this team as much as I did.  As a Red Sox fan, the worst day of my life  was when they fired Terry Francona (I was in diapers back in 1986).  And after a highly tumultuous year with Valentine at the helm, who better to bring in as manager than someone who was previously a prominent figure in the Francona establishment?   Nobody seemed more fit than Farrell.   Jon Lester was coming off his career worst season.   Daisuke & Lackey were coming off Tommy John Surgery.  And all three had achieved some degree of success while he was their pitching coach.  So sending Mike Aviles to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for John Farrell made perfect sense.  I had no doubt whatsoever.  It HAD to be Farrell.

In 2013 everything went right.  The Red Sox were firing on all cylinders, and were able to ride a season long wave  without it virtually ever crashing.  The only glaring mistake that Farrell was heavily criticized for, was not doing a double-switch in a late inning World Series game in St. Louis.  Rather than pulling someone off the bench to pinch hit for Brandon Workman, he allowed Workman to strike out at the plate in a crucial at bat.  Workman had subsequently never taken a single at bat in professional baseball.  The last time he was in a batter’s box was back when he was in high school.  As Farrell took his criticism for that misstep, I was among the sympathizers that insisted nobody is perfect, and he would likely only improve as a manager with each passing year.

Turns out, I couldn’t have been more wrong.  The wheels in most of our heads started spinning in 2014 that Farrell very well could be inept as a manager.  It was tough to tell due to the fact Cherington blew the team up, and too many inexperienced  farm hands had been called up to truly guage Farrell’s ability to lead this team.  Or additionally coming up with effective solutions to “right the ship” when the Red Sox are performing less than stellar.

2015 all but confirmed our fears.  We witnessed misstep after misstep from a manager who not only couldn’t handle the pressure, but at times couldn’t get out of his own way.  It was like night and day when Torey Lovullo took over during Farrell’s leave of absence.  Lovullo gave the players a longer leash, and instilled a Francona-like faith in them, which in turn saw each player gain an immense faith in themselves.  The Red Sox were the best team in baseball during the final two months of the season with Lovullo calling the shots.

2016 was a roller coaster season to say the least.  Farrell finally had his ace (David Price), and the Red Sox actually enjoyed a decent start to the season.  The pitching was lagging, but the offense was off the charts.  Mookie, Bogaerts, & Ortiz got off to a fast start.  Pedroia & Shaw were highly productive.  Jackie Bradley Jr had some people convinced he was gonna break Joe DiMaggio’s hitting streak.   But as the offense cooled off, so did the Red Sox.   The bullpen was in shambles.   Price & Porcello’s  4.00+  ERA’s looked a lot uglier now that their run support had evaporated.  John Farrell & Carl Willis didn’t seem to have any answers. Together they looked like a couple of monkeys trying to solve a sudoku. By the end of June the Red Sox were sinking like a rock, and the timing seemed right for us to slip out of contention as was we had the two previous seasons.

While the #FIREFARRELL drama was heightening,  it seemed like the “get out of jail” free card he had received due his cancer diagnosis might have finally expired.  But agonizingly, instead of firing the manager, Dave Dombrowski inserted the Red Sox pitching analytics director (Brian Bannister) into actual on-field activities.  It was a frantic solution aimed at avoiding a major P.R. disaster for Dombrowski, who had a lot invested into 2016.  Luckily for him, the rotation steadily rounded into form.  As did the offense.  But the bullpen continued to struggle with consistency until the month of September.  Mostly in part due to Farrell’s obliviousness to the fact he had very capable 8th inning guy in the form of Brad Ziegler.   Ziegler was also a HIGHLY effective 9th inning guy in Arizona.  But Farrell only saw him as a “right handed specialist.”    In TWO critical late inning situations where he had a seemingly obvious choice between choosing Ziegler (winning) or Tazawa (losing), he chose Tazawa both times.

Nonetheless, the Red Sox cruised into October thanks in part to an 11 game win streak that was started by Hanley Ramirez.  The ALDS was an intriguing matchup between Boston & Cleveland.  It was a chance for John Farrell to possibly slam the door on three straight years of intense criticism.  And also for David Price to finally put his post season demons to rest.   Cleveland had a severely undermanned rotation.  They basically patch worked a three man rotation comprised of their ace, and two glorified long-relievers as their starting 1-2-3.   Surely Red Sox Ownership were still bitter that Francona had the balls to retaliate at them via his autobiography. He was viciously slandered through the media after being fired few years earlier, and Sox Ownership were likely begging for the opportunity of crushing his dreams of another championship and getting the last laugh.

Unfortunately for Red Sox Ownership, Farrell prepared the Red Sox for the ALDS as if they were about to play a spring training series.  Francona however, had his team prepared to embark on a historic post season run.   Not only was the ALDS not close on the field, it wasn’t close in the dugout either.  Francona was out managing Farrell while utilizing every possible move in his playbook.   It was as if Francona was playing checkers against a blind man.  From a pure baseball academic perspective, Francona intellectually FLOGGED Farrell from the first out in game one, to the final out in the three game sweep.

Dave Dombrowski has been around baseball for a long time.  He wasted no time whatsoever in announcing Farrell’s return in 2017.   He’s smart enough to know that his best protection from this rabid fan base, is to make sure he keeps someone else (Farrell) around that the fans can hate more than him.   John Farrell is nothing more than an insurance policy for him.  If this season goes awry, he can finally point his finger and assign all the blame at John Farrell, and act like the hero for finally firing him.   Once he uses that mulligan, he would obviously be granted a transition period to install a new manager.

What Dombrowski is NOT smart enough to know, is that Boston fans are some of the smartest in all of sports.  We read between the lines.  Writers like Abraham, Tomase, Drellich, & Bradford have tried selling us their laughably biased & toxic Pro-Farrell narrative, which Red Sox fans are no longer buying.  We don’t like our intelligence insulted.  The more they try to cram it down our throats, the quicker we spit it out.  Dombrowski won’t be able to hide behind those narratives much longer.

The vast majority of Boston fans despise John Henry & Tom Werner for their behind the scenes backstabbing.  A very similar if not bigger majority hate our Manager.   It’s a very unlikeable group, and not good foundation for Dombrowski.

Ben Cherington was a hero when he hoisted up the World Series trophy in 2013.   18 short months later Boston fans were calling for his head.  Dombrowski has never been a hero in Boston to begin with.  If he can’t find someone to effectively lead this team on the field more sooner than later, perhaps he too will also learn that the tide turns very quickly in the city of Boston.

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