John Farrell And The Retread Fallacy

Jeff Gross - Getty Images

John Farrell may or may not be a good manager if and when he comes to Boston, but his lack of success in Toronto will likely have very little to do with it.

Exhibit 1:

The manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1934, '35, and '36 accumulated a win-loss record of 208-251. He was rightfully fired and out of work in 1937. In 1938 he was hired to manage the lowly Boston Bees. He lasted with the Bees until 1943, surprising considering his one winning season and .432 winning percentage during that time. He was fired following the '43 season meaning that, other than the ten pennants and seven World Series wins he put together in 12 years with the Yankees, Casey Stengel never had any success as a manager.

Exhibit 2:

Joe Altobelli won a World Series with the Baltimore Orioles in 1983. He lasted only one season beyond that. He was replaced by a manager that only lasted two seasons himself, posting a record of 126-141 where upon he re-retired. You see, that was Earl Weaver's second run with the Orioles and even he couldn't coax blood from that stone.

Exhibit 3:

The manager of the Philadelphia Phillies in 1997 was, as I'm sure you're aware, Terry Francona. Francona arrived as a young go-getter, and was fired a reviled figure four seasons later after 'leading' the team to a 285-363 record. Francona's next managerial assignment in Boston was nondescript other than the two World Series wins.

* * *

Much hand-wringing is occurring over the Red Sox managerial vacancy, specifically the idea that the job is John Farrell's if he wants it. I'm not Farrell's biggest fan, but I think it's important to keep an open mind about his candidacy. If for no other reason, the above three examples illustrate why.

There are knocks on Farrell the manager but those are the same knocks as were held against the men discussed above. Farrell's lack of success in Toronto reflects negatively on him, as does the incident involving Yunel Escobar's eye black, but neither do they prove he isn't capable of handling a winning team, just that in this instance he failed to lift a loser.

Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe wrote probably the definitive piece on why Farrell is, as he says, "a flawed candidate." In it he notes that Omar Vizquel, saint that he is, wasn't the biggest fan of Farrell's managerial style.

More damaging were the allegations veteran infielder Omar Vizquel made late in the season that the Blue Jays were a sloppy team on the field. "It’s part of the inexperience," Vizquel told the Toronto Sun. "If you make mistakes and nobody says anything about it — they just let it go — we’re going to keep making the same mistakes over and over again.

I bring this up not because I have some fancy prepared rejoinder but to illustrate the point. When teams lose, things like this come out. When they win, the manager took a chance or the team was colorful or some other positive after-the-fact narrative.

Francona's time in Philadelphia was replete with stuff just like the Vizquel quote above. I had hoped to illustrate this fact with quotes from the Philadelphia media after Francona was relieved of his duties in 2000. But sadly for all involved the Philly.com site doesn't recognize my browsers something something computer related and so there goes that idea. It isn't difficult to imagine what the Philly media would say anyway. It's only their paper of record so it would probably contain but a few swear words, but it wouldn't be complimentary just the same.

Francona's success in Boston had little (not "none," little) to do with his failures in Philadelphia. That isn't to say he didn't learn anything in his first managerial go-round, just that without the talent on the field to take advantage of it, it would have been irrelevant. In my weekly article for Baseball Prospectus yesterday I discussed the two reasons managers get fired.

Through painstaking research, I have determined that most managers get fired for one or more of the following reasons:

1. Losing
2. Being a jerk.

Reason Two encompasses, in reverse order of importance, not getting along with people, drinking, drugging, being a sociopath, cannibalism, and/or not removing Pedro Martinez from the game when clearly necessary. The thing about Reason Two, though, is that any and all of those indiscretions, assuming eating other humans can be called an indiscretion, will be universally tolerated as long as some version of Reason One isn’t met. Managers have been caught in all manner of bad situations, or have made other off-field mistakes and usually, as long as Reason One isn’t met, they’re fine. In other words, go ahead and eat people as long as your team wins more games than it loses.

The idea that a manager who has failed in one city will fail in another isn't true. History says so over and over and over again. More than anything, what makes a manager successful is the quality of the team around him. Recent Red Sox history points this out as well. Think Grady Little, who won 93 and then 95 games, was a genius? He's still available if so.

Just as Farrell's failure (if you want to call it that) in Toronto doesn't mean failure in Boston, neither is it any kind of guarantee of Farrell's success. Recent Red Sox history bears that out as well. Being the smartest guy in the room will get you nowhere if everything you touch turns to crap. If we start from there, the next Red Sox manager should find some success, at least relatively speaking.

To be clear, I'm not suggesting the search for a new manager doesn't matter. It does, just in ways we can't know from judging the manager's previous employment record. As for Farrell, should he be hired, he'll bring some good qualities and some faults with him to Boston. If we can learn anything from his run in Toronto, it's that he's unlikely to deep-six the team upon arrival. Beyond that, if the front office puts talent on the field, the team should do well and he or whomever they hire will be hailed as a good manager. Or at least not a drooling imbecile.

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