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For Red Sox, dugout search goes well beyond the manager

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff  November 9, 2011 09:08 AM

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The search continues with Sandy Alomar Jr. today, Torey Lovullo on Friday and Gene Lamont on Saturday. As surely as baseball’s free agent talent is jostling for position on the open market, so are the candidates for the managerial openings in Boston, Chicago and St. Louis.

But remember: teams like the Red Sox, Cubs and Cardinals are not solely looking for managers.

In many cases, they are looking for coaches, too.

If you are surprised that the soon-to-be 65-year-old Lamont has appeared on the list of interviewees for the Red Sox' managerial vacancy, do not be. In baseball, anything is possible. There is also every chance (or an even greater one) that the Red Sox want Lamont to serve as bench coach for a younger, more inexperienced manager -- Dale Sveum, perhaps -- and that general manager Ben Cherington is assembling the staff that will oversee the Red Sox' roster in 2012 and, perhaps, beyond.

In Boston, after all, we have seen this sort of thing before. Following the 1996 season, for instance, the Red Sox interviewed Grady Little for their managerial opening only to hire him as bench coach for Jimy Williams. And given the recent maneuverings involving Mike Maddux, who is due to interview for the Cubs' managerial opening today, one can only wonder whether the Red Sox had designs of luring Maddux in as their pitching coach, a far more convincing explanation beyond "family" for Maddux' withdrawal from consideration.

With all due respect to Maddux, the distance between the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and Boston has nothing to do with anything. If the Red Sox were the only team ready to give him a manager's job, he'd hardly turn it down over an additional 1,500 miles in a continuously shrinking universe. What Maddux knows, perhaps, is that the Cubs intend to give him either their manager's job or no worse a position than the Red Sox do, and he isn't about to go from Texas to Boston for a lateral move.

Especially when it was reported last week that Sveum already is a leading candidate for the Boston job, an unsurprising development given Sveum's previous connection to the Red Sox (as a coach for the deposed Terry Francona) and his indisputable baseball acumen.

During Sveum's stint here as a third base coach, players privately raved about his knowledge. They respected him immensely. And they respected him not because he was nice to them or easy on them or allowed them latitude, but because he possessed real, tactical insight to which they could relate. They knew that he knew what he was talking about, which means they believed in him.

What someone like Sveum does not have is in-game managing experience, which is precisely why he needs someone like Lamont, a baseball lifer who has been in professional baseball for nearly 50 years. During his time in the game, Lamont has served as a coach, player and manager, and he has advised skippers ranging from Williams to Jim Leyland. When Williams and Dan Duquette were engaged in something of a power struggle during Williams' managerial tenure -- Duquette's reluctance to pay Little led to Little's departure for Cleveland -- former Sox executive Lee Thomas bridged the gap by suggesting Lamont as a bench coach, a move that stabilized the Boston staff.

Maybe the Red Sox today want Lamont as their manager, but it seems unlikely. Closer inspection of the Red Sox' model suggests the Sox are trying to assemble a staff that can cover all bases, the way they did when they flanked Theo Epstein with Bill Lajoie, among others, in the fall of 2002. Try thinking of Sveum and Lamont as a baseball version of Barack Obama and Joe Biden, a tandem of energy and experience that gives the Red Sox comprehensive coverage in the clubhouse and dugout.

Does that mean Sveum is a lock for the job? No. But it does give us some insight of what Cherington may be trying to build. Maybe Cherington wants Lovullo as his manager, or even Alomar. As in free agency, there are lots of moving pieces. But the greater likelihood is that Cherington went into the entire process with a plan, with names on his list for manager, bench coach, pitching coach and other positions, looking at the entire assembly of manager and coaches as a group.

Whether or not he is the manager, after all, someone like Lovullo would be important because he managed in the Red Sox minor league system and might have some relationships with younger Boston players. Someone like Alomar could help bridge any cultural gap that might exist in any clubhouse between American and Hispanic players. For Cherington, the idea is to close any holes that might exist in his clubhouse and dugout structure, and we all know that the 2011 Red Sox had plenty of those.

Where this all ends up remains difficult to say, but after the last 10-20 years of Red Sox history, this much is clear: the Red Sox don’t need the best manager on the market so much as they need the right manager for their existing operation. Once you get past the big names in any managerial search -- Leyland, Tony La Russa and their respective peers -- handicapping the field is difficult for those of us on the outside. Is any of us really equipped to know whether Maddux would make a better manager in Boston than Sveum? Hell no. What we look for then is the logic behind the decision, the philosophy, because every organization and every general manager must have a vision of what he is trying to accomplish.

In the end, barring the unexpected emergence of a big-name candidate -- given the Red Sox hiring history under this administration, that seems unlikely -- what the Red Sox are trying to do here is just as important as with whom. In fact, in the wake of the chicken-fried finish to September, the identity of the pitching coach might be every bit as important as that of the manager. Cherington is not empowering one man here so much as he is building the nucleus of the dugout and clubhouse operation, and there are lots of elements to cover beyond pitching changes and the hit-and-run.

In the fall of 2003, after all, few in Boston were inspired when the Red Sox hired Terry Francona as their manager.

But as it turned out, even if the Red Sox didn't hire the biggest name on the market at the time, they found the best fit.

And they surrounded him with an effective support structure.

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Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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