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When pressed, John Farrell has answers

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  October 23, 2012 12:01 PM

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If you're a Red Sox fan, Tuesday was about fresh starts and finding those long-lost reasons for optimism. And so I think we'd all agree that the occasion of introducing the 46th manager in franchise history should not turn into a referendum on whether epic, inexcusable, look-at-me disaster is too delicate a way to describe the 45th manager.

So let's keep it to this: After hearing John Farrell speak for roughly a half-hour at his introductory press conference at Fenway Park, you're not only reassured that the manager Ben Cherington wanted all along is the right choice to pull this team out of its malaise, but you cannot help but be reminded of just how wrong Larry Lucchino (I'm presuming he was hiding behind the black curtain today) got it 11 months ago.

There was no mention of a synergistic NESN program or a weekly radio appearance in New York or ballroom dancing trophies or whether Huffy or Schwinn offers a better pair of wheels for the price. There was no wide-eyed, blisteringly white-toothed insincerity, no anecdotes that may or may not have survived the inquiry of a fact-checker.

There was simply Farrell, with his decade-long friend and new boss Cherington to his right, commanding the room with candor, insight, and no-nonsense sincerity, attributes that will serve him well in commanding the clubhouse. There were the usual awkward attempts at humor ("Put this on your big melon,'' Cherington said as he handed him a Red Sox cap), and the not-so-subtle wardrobe choices (blue shirt, red tie) that reflect the colors of the team and, in good times, the region. That presence that intimidated Clay Buchholz and kept Josh Beckett in line during Farrell's four seasons here as pitching coach was relentlessly apparent.

washingtonron1023.jpgHe offered recurring terms ("hit the ground running'' was a particular Farrell favorite, and yes, Cherington did manage to avoid saying "multifactorial'' this time around) and casual baseball insights (the 1988 Cleveland team he played on had six future managers, including Farrell and Terry Francona). There were acknowledgements of his failures, his awareness of what he did wrong being the surest sign that he will learn from his mistakes.

It wasn't just a reintroduction, but a reiteration of what he stands for as a baseball man. He suggested the team would be aggressive on the mound and on the basepaths, thanked the Blue Jays for letting him pursue his dream job, and made sure to praise the backup candidates such as Brad Ausmus. All in all, the whole thing was reassuring enough that skeptics of Farrell's record in Toronto (154-170 in two seasons) have to now suspect that the failings weren't so much his as they were the result of myriad issues, some beyond his control. (Yes, Ben, OK -- they were multifactorial.)

I'll admit it: It was more impressive than even those of us already convinced of his rightness for the job expected.

Another quick confession: My pregame thought when I was assigned to write this reaction to Farrell's introduction was to parse his quotes, sorting out what he said from what he really meant. There's always some decoding required in these situations, you know?

Except that in this case, there really wasn't. Not today, and not with Farrell and Cherington, whose bond surely has something to do with their no-nonsense personalities. I don't think Farrell could have been more forthcoming, whether he was being justifiably challenged by a Toronto reporter on whether "he skipped town'' on the Jays, or answering a query about what he saw going wrong with the Red Sox from the opposite dugout the past two years.

Rather than trying to figure out what he was really trying to say -- a habit developed here over the past year while trying to solve the perpetual Bobby Valentine riddle or make sense of the latest Lucchino missive -- I found myself simply listening to what he was saying. While I'm a bit wary of his suggestion that they'll be aggressive on the basepaths -- please, please, please don't waste outs on early-inning bunts and reckless stolen base attempts -- the majority of Farrell's answers served the same purpose: They convinced you that someone very competent and copacetic with the front office is now in charge, that the dark days dating back to September 2011 will give way to sunlight come February in Fort Myers.

He was convincing in saying that he'll be able to work with and even repair players who succeeded while he was here and floundered since he left, specifically Jon Lester and Daniel Bard. But he also said he's not taking his previous relationships for granted.

"I believe there's an amount of professionalism that every player who comes to the big leagues and certainly the Red Sox would have," said Farrell. "That guides their preparation, their motivation.

"I will work my butt off to earn their trust, earn their respect, and create an environment in that clubhouse that is a trusting one, a learning one, a competitive one, and hopefully, a very successful one at the same time. If that's being described as a players' manager, then maybe that's what I am."

He emphasized that he will hold the players accountable, and that once his coaching staff is assembled, it will imperative that they work as a unit, with one voice. In other words, he's not going to test out the Valentine method of giving the pitching coach the silent treatment.

"I can't speak to what the clubhouse was like last year,'' he said when asked if he was familiar with the "toxic" atmosphere. "I think it's important that we communicate consistently with the players, that we outline expectations, and we have to hold players accountable to what we're trying to get done. That's leading people. At the same time, they have to have a voice in this, to give their input.

"It's got to be a positive place that they want to come to every single day.''

Farrell didn't shy away from retrospection, offering specifics about what he could have done differently to improve the Blue Jays during his two seasons.

"I think there might have been opportunities to speak more passionately about some suggestions or recommendations to the roster,'' Farrell said. ''We also introduced and brought in a number of young players and created a diverse offense that was aggressive. We looked to incorporate a much more aggressive running game, and some of that was overboard. We ran into some outs.

"So, creating that environment and that approach and putting young players into it, there were probably opportunities where I should have shut them down in terms of the X's and O's of the game. And maybe I would have changed closers a little bit quicker.''

They are lessons he brings with him to Boston, a place with considerably more pressure than Toronto. Historically a baseball-mad city, it has just been mad about baseball for more than a year now. Farrell said he welcomes the pressure of getting this thing right.

"I think that's one of the drawing cards to this position,'' Farrell said. "I played in the American League my entire career, coming through and experiencing it at field level and on the mound here. Having been in the dugout for four years and being part of a World Series championship team, this is arguably the best place in this game. If there hadn't been recent challenges, I probably wouldn't be sitting here.

"There are a lot of things that make it a natural fit. Now, by no means is it a given to have success. We've got a lot of work to do. But I'm confident in Ben's abilities to bring in the right players and put together a roster that will compete for a World Series.''

It was one more great answer from Farrell, the new-yet-familiar manager who right now, five-plus months before Opening Day, sure does seem like a great answer himself.




About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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