John Farrell is going to get fired. It might happen this week, it might happen at the trade deadline, and it might happen in 10 years while you’re recovering from a stomach bug likely brought on from eating too many Taco Bell-flavored corn chips. You should maybe not do that. But no matter when it happens, we know John Farrell is going to get fired, because we have one irrefutable fact that proves it as solidly as the very foundation of Fenway Park itself: he is the manager of the Boston Red Sox.
That matters only because everyone who has ever managed the Boston Red Sox has been fired. It is the way of things. Terry Francona won two World Series including the team’s first in 86 years. You might remember that one, and if not maybe you remember the one he won three seasons later. Fired. And humiliated by the team as he went out the door as well, but ha ha who’s counting? Before him came Grady Little. Fired. Joe Kerrigan. Fired. Jimy Williams. Fired. Kevin Kennedy. Fired. After Francona there was a guy named Bobby Valentine and you’ll never guess what happened to him! There have been 44 Red Sox managers over the century-plus that the team has existed and every one of them who has managed in anything approaching baseball’s modern era has had his butt kicked out of Fenway Park at some point. It’s the nature of the job. It’s the inevitable conclusion to managing the Boston Red Sox.
And the fact is, the vast majority of times, changing managers hasn’t made one darn bit of difference on the field. There are exceptions of course. Dick Williams took over the team in 1967 and led and improbable run to the American League pennant. Francona took over in 2004 and the Red Sox won the World Series. And then there’s Farrell, who took over for Valentine in 2013 and led the Red Sox to their third Series win in a decade. That’s three out of 44.
What I believe the fans want more than some manager blood on their hands is a good baseball team, and I don’t believe firing the manager is going to fix the fundamental problems with this team.
This isn’t to say that Farrell shouldn’t be fired. Maybe he should. The team stinks this year and especially so compared to what we all thought it would be. They’re far worse than even the most pessimistic prognosticator could have prognosticated. What I’m attempting to do here though is make a distinction: “The team is playing a certain way and it is bad and we don’t like it so we should fire the manager.” That’s not necessarily logical thinking. It implies a relationship between the manager and the way the team is playing that I don’t believe exists in so solid a form as to be any kind of solution to the real problem at hand. I’m not so naïve as to assume there is no relationship between those two, but neither am I so blind as to think I know what the strength of that relationship is beyond what I can see and what I can calculate.
Red Sox fans may want Farrell fired. Maybe most do. I’ve never been the biggest Farrell fan so I wouldn’t be heartbroken to see him go, as I was with Francona. But what I believe the fans want more than some manager blood on their hands is a good baseball team, and I don’t believe firing the manager is going to fix the fundamental problems with this team. Neither will firing the General Manager, for the record.
If you believe the manager is incompetent (Kerrigan), overmatched (Little), out for himself (Valentine), or some other unpardonable sin then by all means, can his butt and roll him into the Charles, but I haven’t seen any evidence that Farrell is any of those things. Farrell’s in-game strategy can leave something to be desired. I’ll never forget him inexplicably letting Brandon Workman bat for himself during the late innings of a World Series game. But egregious examples aside, this is the same guy who two years ago was lauded repeatedly for changing the culture of the clubhouse and leading the team from the wilderness of the Valentine era, blessedly short though it was, to yet another World Series win. Has the manager changed so much in two seasons?
Farrell can’t force Hanley Ramirez to learn left field. Maybe a new manager could light a fire under Ramirez and spark him to learn more quickly, but that seems like wishful thinking. Ramirez has his contract and he’s hitting (mostly) and it seems he’s happy with that, so like most situations a manager faces, the ways forward are all grayed out. Neither could Farrell get Mike Napoli to stop being awful, to heal any of the myriad of injured catchers or teach their replacements to, you know, play baseball good. Indeed there’s a list of things that Farrell can’t truly be held responsible for in my opinion, and it corresponds pretty closely to the list of ailments that have befallen the team this season. Farrell isn’t an incompetent, a philistine or your garden variety idiot. It’s pretty clear he’s a good baseball man. Not the best, maybe, but that’s an impossible standard.
One thing Farrell can be responsible for is the way he handles this rough patch. Altering who he is as a manager by jacking guys around in the lineup for no real reason, hitting and running with players who aren’t suited for it in situations that don’t call for it, and bunting bunting BUNTING are all signs of a manager who is feeling the heat and passing it along to his players. To some extent I have seen, as you have likely seen as well, Farrell succumb to some of these temptations recently. But just as it’s 1am and I’d really like another beer but it’s 1am and I’m almost done with this article so I really shouldn’t but I’m not done yet and oh what the heck we all make mistakes right, so too does Farrell.
Farrell isn’t Francona, who never, even in the darkest days of 2011, did any of that; just one reason why I was so sad to see him go. But he’s won a World Series, and he’s made the best of bad situations before. But most importantly firing him now won’t actually solve anything. John Farrell will be fired. But it probably shouldn’t be soon and it probably shouldn’t be because the Red Sox stink right now.
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