The Indians, who were bouncing around the bottom of the American League East, plucked Farrell in the second round of the 1984 draft and briskly moved him up the development ladder. Three years later, when Doc Edwards, his former minor league manager, took over amid another busted season in Cleveland, he brought up Farrell and mentored him. “I remember those conversations with him,” said Farrell, “his ability to just put his arm around you and make you feel, hey, you know what? It’s going to be OK.”
Farrell immediately became a staff workhorse and was regarded as an elder statesman in the clubhouse. “He was honest and straightforward, always the guy that people went to for advice,” recalled Nagy, who was a rookie in 1990. “He was the voice of reason a lot of times.”
The Indians of that era might have struggled on the field but they were rich in leaders. Five members of the 1988 team — Farrell, Black, Terry Francona, and Ron Washington, plus hitting coach Charlie Manuel — now are major league managers. “I think everybody wanted to stay in the game,” said Farrell. “You don’t sit there and map out your future. You’re consumed by what you do today, and if that creates opportunities for you going forward, all the better.”
Farrell’s playing opportunities were sabotaged when he blew out his elbow in 1990 and missed the next two seasons. “You could tell that the will and the drive to keep going was extremely high,” remarked Black. “The thing I admired about John was that there were no excuses. He didn’t feel sorry for himself. I’m sure there were times when he got down but he never showed it. He battled for a long time through that.”
Farrell signed as a free agent with California, endured a 3-12 reentry season in 1993, and spent the next three years going up and down between Triple A and the majors, before calling it a career in Detroit. He went back to Stillwater, where he served as OSU’s pitching coach and recruiting coordinator for five years and picked up his business management diploma.
Then the Indians came calling. Mark Shapiro, who’d taken over as GM in 2001, had been impressed by Farrell during his earlier days in the front office. “Certain guys you earmark thinking, when I get a chance to move up this is a guy I want to take with me,” said Shapiro, now the club president. “Being a farm director is great training for any job in baseball because you have to have a lot of tough conversations.”
While Farrell is engaging and personable — “If you don’t like John, there’s something wrong with you,” said Kampf — he also is consistently direct and candid. “Johnny will lay it out there,” said Nagy. “As a player, all you can ask for is honesty — tell me where I stand. Johnny will sit a player down and say, hey, this is what’s going on.”
Farrell’s upfront, frank, and consistent approach quickly proved productive with a gifted but mercurial Boston pitching staff that spanned an eclectic spectrum from Curt Schilling to Josh Beckett to Tim Wakefield to Jonathan Papelbon to Daisuke Matsuzaka.
Though the Sox didn’t want to lose Farrell to Toronto, his two years as skipper there served to complete his résumé, which Boston’s management felt was ideal for a franchise that needs to build from the bottom. “Ben is constantly talking about the Next Great Red Sox Team,” said Lucchino. “That’s the goal. We can see John Farrell as the Next Great Red Sox Manager of the Next Great Red Sox Team.”
The club wanted Farrell badly enough to agree to a rare player-for-manager deal. “I just hope [Cherington] doesn’t trade me again,” Farrell quipped when he was introduced.
“We do need an outfielder,” the GM mused.
John Powers can be reached at email@example.com.