Red Sox’s leadership problems go far beyond John Farrell
After five seasons that included one World Series championship and three division titles, the Red Sox have parted ways with manager John Farrell.
BOSTON — Shut down Twitter. Silence the sports-talk airwaves.
John Farrell is gone.
That’s right, New England. The Boston Red Sox finally heard you. It took longer than you would have liked, but owner John Henry, chairman Tom Werner, president/CEO Sam Kennedy and president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski came around. They axed Farrell on Wednesday morning, two days after he managed the Sox to a second consecutive first-round playoff knockout.
Drink a toast, all you champions of the #FireFarrell movement. Surely this is cause for rejoicing.
It also doesn’t solve anything.
This isn’t to say Farrell was unjustly fired. When a team with a payroll nearing $200 million wins 93 games and a division title in back-to-back years only to upchuck on itself in the postseason, change often comes. The manager is the easiest fall guy. It’s an occupational hazard.
The Red Sox also endured more drama this season than an episode of “This Is Us.” From Dustin Pedroia throwing teammates under the bus in a beanball war with the Baltimore Orioles, to David Price humiliating broadcaster Dennis Eckersley on the team plane, to the trainer who used a smartwatch to relay stolen signs to players, it all happened on Farrell’s watch.
But pinning it all on Farrell and pretending things will be different with another manager is as shortsighted as it is foolish. The problem runs much deeper than that. It goes to a clubhouse run by two defiant veterans, the inability of a bunch of young players to mature into team leaders and the overall makeup of a team that often seemed to be joylessly slogging back to the top of the American League East.
It was assumed Pedroia would take the torch from retired David Ortiz and lead the Red Sox into the post-Papi era. But the veteran second baseman has never been comfortable in that role. This season, he proved he’s ill-suited for it, too.
In April, Orioles star Manny Machado slid hard into Pedroia, causing him to reinjure his surgically repaired knee. During the next few days, Red Sox pitchers failed in multiple attempts at retaliation. When reliever Matt Barnes threw behind Machado’s head, Pedroia yelled out to Machado, “It’s not me, it’s them.”
With that, the self-proclaimed “Laser Show” morphed into Fredo Corleone, effectively taking sides against the family.
Pedroia ended a postgame interview in May by saying, “Can I go home now?” He didn’t do anything to deter Price from ambushing Eckersley in June. And it was only after details of that ugly incident became public that Pedroia stood at his locker and said, “People say from the outside we don’t have a leader. I’m standing right here.”
Actually, it was Price who stepped into the leadership void. But the $217 million lefty’s idea of unifying the team was to attack the media. Price became the Red Sox’s resident ombudsman, taking exception to even the most innocuous criticism. He made a scene by shouting at a reporter after a June game in New York and blasted Eckersley for merely pointing out that lefty Eduardo Rodriguez struggled in a minor league rehab start.
In both instances, Price was unapologetic for behavior that could best be labeled unprofessional. His teammates lapped it up, though. And while Price might have succeeded in bringing players together in an us-against-the-world sort of way, a culture of unnecessary negativity seemed to emanate from the clubhouse.
Meanwhile, neither Mookie Betts nor Xander Bogaerts — the Red Sox’s brightest young stars and possible future franchise cornerstones — developed into leaders. Maybe it was because both had less successful seasons than in 2016. Maybe it’s merely too soon to expect a couple of 25-year-olds to be a team’s emotional compass. Or maybe it’s just not in their DNA.
The New York Yankees and Houston Astros reached the postseason because of a similar nucleus of young players. But both teams also prioritized bringing in high-character, veteran position players to act as steady hands during losing streaks, police the clubhouse whenever necessary and help their manager maintain a pulse of the team.
Matt Holliday and Todd Frazier were added to a Yankees roster that included Chase Headley and Brett Gardner. They serve as good examples for Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird and the rest of the Baby Bombers. Last winter, the Astros signed free agents Carlos Beltran and Josh Reddick and traded for Brian McCann, each of whom has positively influenced young stars Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman and George Springer and make life infinitely easier for manager A.J. Hinch.
“A guy like Beltran, being the 40-something that is he in the clubhouse, will keep things very even-keeled, will keep things in perspective,” Hinch said. “Beltran is very key because of his presence and because of the influence he has on our players. The attention to detail, the room-temperature gauge is very important in the clubhouse.”
The Red Sox lack that dynamic. First baseman Mitch Moreland and reserve outfielder Chris Young tried to play that role to varying degrees, but considering how impressionable the Red Sox’s core remains, there wasn’t nearly enough of a positive veteran presence.
Farrell bears some blame for not being able to bring out that quality in enough players. But he also didn’t put the roster together. That was on Dombrowski, and it will be Dombrowski’s job to provide the next manager – Jason Varitek? Alex Cora? Brad Ausmus? – with a better clubhouse mix.
Meanwhile, live it up, Farrell haters. Your favorite pinata has been knocked down.
Now, maybe the Red Sox can address their real problems.