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The second coming of Dan Duquette

Posted by Steve Silva, Boston.com Staff  September 21, 2012 10:44 AM

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Seventeen years after winning an improbable division title as the general manager of the Red Sox, Dan Duquette returns to Fenway Park on Friday night with the playoffs again in his sights. Duquette was out of baseball a year ago, a forgotten man without a team. Many regarded his years in Boston as a calamity of bad baseball and worse public relations.

The truth? The public relations were a disaster. The baseball wasn't nearly as bad as everyone made it out to be.

What goes around comes around, as the saying goes, and so here we are now, 10 years after Duquette was fired from a Red Sox organization recently bought by John Henry and Co., and the worm has indeed turned. Duquette and the Orioles are on the come. The Red Sox are the calamity. And Boston's baseball operation is in far worse condition than Duquette ever left it, despite the public relations campaign that had much of New England believing Duquette was a baseball Bozo with glasses.

Was Duquette a great general manager? No. But he wasn't a clown, either, which is how much of the media portrayed him (to the delight of the new Red Sox owners) in the aftermath of the team's worst public relations failure until, well, this one.

Go back and look at the roster the Red Sox had in the spring of 2002, folks. Pedro Martinez. Manny Ramirez. Nomar Garciaparra. Johnny Damon. Trot Nixon. Jason Varitek. Derek Lowe. Tim Wakefield. Duquette brought `em all here. With the exception of Garciaparra, all were critical contributors to at least one Red Sox championship, which is more than we can argue for, say, Adrian Gonzalez. Or Carl Crawford. Or John Lackey. Or Edgar Renteria.

Here's the other great myth from the Duquette Era, one that the new Sox owners (at the time) eagerly perpetuated: The Red Sox' player development operation was barren. Over subsequent years, that same operation yielded Kevin Youkilis, Hanley Ramirez, Anibal Sanchez, and a host of others, many of whom were used in the trades that allowed the Red Sox to acquire, among others, Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell, and Curt Schilling.

Know how Red Sox owners privately explained that odd paradox? By saying they made the deal despite Duquette having allegedly left them empty-handed. (Translation: The rest of baseball is comprised of suckers. Come to think of it, in the wake of the recent trade that sent Gonzalez, Beckett, and Crawford to the Los Angeles Dodgers, finding suckers may be among the current administration's most indisputable skills.)

Again, do not misunderstand. Nobody is suggesting that the Red Sox of the Duquette Era had a player development machine remotely akin to the that or the New York Yankees, Dodgers, or even the Orioles in the heydays of those respective franchises. We're just saying it wasn't as bad as everyone made it out to be. Short of Garciaparra and Youkilis, the latter of whom was developed under the new ownership, there are not many (if any) All-Star-caliber players drafted and developed during the Duquette Era, but the Sox also didn't trade away any prospects (a la Jeff Bagwell under Lou Gorman) who budded elsewhere.

Teams that Duquette essentially built from 1995-2002 averaged slightly more than 88 wins per season and made three playoff appearances and one American League Championship Series. The Sox did not win a world title or even reach a World Series. But to call that a colossal failure is terribly wrong.

So what was the biggest problem of the Duquette Era? He wasn't media friendly. He was standoffish and stubborn. The large majority of Boston media members resented Duquette for the simple fact that he was uncooperative and unfriendly, which sounds an awful lot like a certain football coach (minus the championships, of course) who happens to now work in a rather notable strip mall on the northbound side of Route 1.

That flaw - and it's a biggie in this multimedia age -- kept Dan Duquette out of baseball for essentially 10 years.

Further, when Duquette was hired by the Baltimore Orioles as their general manager last offseason, many viewed that as in indictment on the Orioles more than anything else. And maybe it was. Baltimore entered this season with 14 straight losing seasons and four consecutive last-place finishes in the American League East, not to mention a megalomaniacal owner (Peter Angelos) regarded as an obstructionist.

At the same time, the Red Sox seemingly couldn't find anyone to manage their team in the wake of Terry Francona's dismissal, ultimately settling on another man (Bobby Valentine) who, like Duquette, had been out of the game for 10 years. The Red Sox undoubtedly would argue that this had far more to do with a much shallower pool of candidates, though the Chicago White Sox certainly didn't have a problem finding a manager when they named the inexperienced Robin Ventura. (Thinking outside of the box was once regarded as this administration's strength.)

Whether Duquette and the Orioles actually win anything this year is certainly open to debate, particularly with a starting rotation that leaves a great deal to be desired. Still, the Orioles are in the thick of the hunt entering the final two weeks of the season, and they are within a whisker of the Yankees for first place in the division.

And the Orioles have done it with a season-opening roster that doesn't even compare with the one Duquette left the Red Sox with in 2002.

That is at least one thing we should all be able to agree on.

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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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