Overall, this was a fantastically fun Red Sox that went exceedingly well more often than not. Unfortunately, the end was undeniably disappointing and frustrating. After such a long year, these kind of exits seem rushed and incredibly anti-climactic. Nothing went according to plan in these three losses, and every second of the game was jarring to watch. Despite all that, Dave Dombrowski told the media on Tuesday that the team would be retaining John Farrell as its manager for the 2017 season. This likely isn’t surprising to anyone, but there are many people who are upset with the team for making this decision.
To be blunt about it, these people are wrong and irrational. To be clear, the “Fire Farrell!” crowd has been mostly irrational all season, but there were plenty of moments when the movement was totally understandable. After the team went on its second-half run and took home the division crowd, wanting to can the manager became a crazy position to take.
That’s not to say I don’t at least understand where the cries are coming from, though. It’s incredibly frustrating to watch a game and see decisions that you disagree with, particularly when those decisions end up having immediately negative consequences. Trust me, I’ve had that happen plenty of times with Farrell. His bullpen management at times seems almost random, and specifically his usage of Brad Ziegler in the second half made me pull my hair out. Hell, even in the final game of the year he had some bad decisions. Farrell’s choice to pinch hit Chris Young for Andrew Benintendi instead of Sandy Leon or Jackie Bradley comes immediately to mind and was a totally bizarre move. Still, there is so much more to Farrell than all of that.
This is hardly a unique take, but it truly is hard to overstate just how important the task of keeping a clubhouse running smoothly is for a manager. Baseball is just such a different animal than other sports, with teams playing almost literally every day and not being able to avoid teammates. In other sports, if there is some sort of fight occurring between two players, there is typically at least one day off in between games where those two can mostly avoid each other. In baseball, that is not the case, and it’s up to the manager to make sure those types of situations don’t affect the team or even spread throughout the clubhouse. If anyone should know the value of this portion of the game it should be the Red Sox after 2012 and the Bobby V Experience.
Speaking of which, Farrell has never really gotten proper credit for his part of the amazing 2013 run. Yes, players are always the reason for championships, but this team was in desperate need for a stabilizing force after all of the turmoil from late-2011 through 2012. Farrell was that guy, a calming presence who players always know will have their backs. The following two seasons were obviously massive disappointments, but those are also the type of years you’d expect someone to lose the clubhouse.
Farrell managed to keep things running smoothly despite the shocking lack of success on the field. I know we all get annoyed when Farrell praises a player after said player has a rough game. Think about it from the players’ perspective, though. It’s nice knowing that your boss has your back, and it’s gotta be even nicer to hear it in such a public setting. Some players could benefit from getting chewed out in the media, I suppose. Personalities just range so much. Farrell, though, should have the benefit of the doubt in terms of what approach will work with his group of players.
Even beyond his ability to command the clubhouse, which is clearly the most important factor in deciding to bring him back. Farrell has directly led to some success on the field. I wrote earlier in the year about some of those moves, many of which were simply rewarding players based on performance rather than salary. It’s easy to give Dave Dombrowski all the credit for these decisions — and he certainly had something to do with it — but Farrell would always be the one to catch the brunt of the criticism if things didn’t work out.
If you’d blame him when things don’t work, he deserves credit when they do. Beyond that, he has overseen some important progressions on the roster. He’s brought a group of young players and helped them flourish on the field, which is not an easy task for a manager who is under constant pressure to win.
Finally, if you are in favor of firing Farrell, who would be replacing him? I think we, as Red Sox fans, were spoiled by years of Terry Francona. He was a special manager, and it’s hard to find guys like that. Good managers don’t grow on trees, especially not ones who can blend in with the pressure of Boston. Torey Lovullo is the most popular option, and I get it. The end of 2015 was really eye-opening and it looked like a whole new ball club when he took over. Additionally, we don’t really remember second-guessing him.
Of course, it’s important to remember that this run came in what amounts to garbage time, as the team was already out of the race. It’s a lot easier to take some chances and get the team to play loosely when the games don’t matter. Furthermore, we rarely remember managerial decisions in meaningless games. This isn’t to say Lovullo would fail as a manager, just that it’s far from a guarantee he’d be as good as Farrell, never mind better.
Managers will always get too much blame from every fan base in baseball, particularly after a frustrating end to the season. It’s not surprised to see people clamoring for Farrell’s exit from Boston. However, he’s been an outstanding manager, particularly for this group of players in this city. He just led this team to an incredible season, and got them to perform well in a crucial second half that was littered with road trips. That’s no small task. Being frustrated right now is totally reasonable. What’s not reasonable is taking all of those frustrations out on Farrell.