John Farrell’s legacy defined by a series of yeah-buts

WORLD SERIES GAME 6 10/30/13 Red Sox manager John Farrell holds up the World Series trophy with general manager Ben Cherington during Game Six of the World Series between the Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals at Fenway Park in Boston, Oct. 30, 2013. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)
John Farrell holds up the World Series trophy with Ben Cherington after Game 6 of the 2013 World Series between the Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals at Fenway Park. –Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Dave Dombrowski had valid reasons for firing John Farrell.

I can’t think of another coach or executive in the 40 years I’ve been hooked on Boston sports whose legacy is more defined by yeah-buts than John Farrell, former Red Sox manager.

Know what I mean? There’s a counter to everything, no matter whether you’re praising him for a prudent decision or blasting him for a bewildering one. To discuss his five-year run as Red Sox manager, which ended with his firing Wednesday morning, is to get caught in a maelstrom of rebuttals, most of which are valid and none of which settle a thing.


Just consider these points and counterpoints:

He finished in last place twice in five years and his teams went 1-6 in the playoffs the last two years . . . yeah, but he also became the second Red Sox manager to win a World Series since 1918, and he won two straight division titles before his firing.

He’s great with young players. The core of the Red Sox’ lineup developed on his watch: Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr. . . . yeah, but virtually every one of them regressed significantly on his watch this season.

All of the melodrama of this season (the David Price/Dennis Eckersley confrontation, Dustin Pedroia’s don’t-blame-me response during a tense series with the Orioles, Hanley Ramirez’s inability to play first base on most days) never would have happened on Terry Francona’s watch . . . yeah, but Francona was in charge of the collision into the iceberg in September 2011 — and Jason Varitek, apparently a candidate to replace Farrell, was the captain of that ship.

He won the 2013 World Series . . . yeah, but they did it in spite of him. In the World Series, he let Brandon Workman hit for the first time since high school! Since high school! Who does that?


He should have been fired for the way he handled the last innings of Game 4 against the Astros. Even Grady Little knew Chris Sale was out of gas in the eighth . . . yeah, but the Red Sox stayed alive the day before in a satisfying Game 3 because he yanked Doug Fister after recording four outs and masterfully handed the bullpen. Besides, Craig Kimbrel is the one who should wear the goat horns through the winter for Game 4.

The 2017 Red Sox underachieved. That’s on him . . . yeah, but in their first season since 2002 without David Ortiz, they won 93 games and the American League East title and nearly pushed a clearly superior Astros team to five games. The ghost of Casey Stengel could have managed this team with the spirit of John McGraw as the bench coach and they wouldn’t have done much better.

He was better than his predecessor, Bobby Valentine . . . yeah, but Bobby V. invented the wrap. Let me know when Farrell cooks up something delicious.

You get the gist. Whether you’re sympathizing with Farrell or considering his firing a classic instance of good riddance, your perception was shaped well before Wednesday. Those wild fluctuations on his record made him as polarizing as a Red Sox manager could be. It made him the quintessential sports radio topic, a sure-fire way to keep the phones ringing in between fat-loss commercials. Never have there been such strong opinions, one way or the other, about someone who when all of the good and bad times were tallied was ultimately average at his job.


Because Boston is Boston, boasting a large population of La-Z-Boy-bound general managers and managers, Farrell never could win here, even when he did win. We could all do the job better, even if we have no idea what really goes into the job. Even Francona, who I believe to be the best manager in Red Sox history, post- or pre-1918, had to deal with chronic second-guessing and sporadic caterwauls of FranCOMA on the FM dial.

Whomever gets the next gig — and I’d like to see Alex Cora, DeMarlo Hale, and Dodgers player development director Gabe Kapler in the mix — they would be wise to show a little more personality and transparency than Farrell did. He often recapped the game in his postgame news conference as if he were reading the second paragraph of an Associated Press game story (“Well, Pete, Chris Sale pitched seven strong innings and . . . ’’). Among Francona’s greatest strengths were a disarming knack for self-deprecation and an ability and willingness to clearly explain decisions that may have initially seemed puzzling.

If Farrell talked to his players in the colorless and stoic way he talked to the media, it would be no surprise that they tuned him out. But he did seem to be gaining a knack for explaining himself, five years into the gig. He took a lot of heat for sitting rookie Rafael Devers in Game 2 against the Astros. But a few days later, Farrell explained that Devers could succeed against slider-dependent lefties such as Francisco Liriano (against whom he homered in Game 3) but struggled against lefties who could drop the ball on the inside corner like Dallas Keuchel can. Maybe it was an excuse. But it was one that made sense.

All of this made for a strange juxtaposition when Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski met with the media Wednesday morning to discuss his decision. There were valid reasons to fire Farrell — leaving Sale in to start the eighth in Game 4 might have been reason enough for some to dump him before Monday was done. Yet Dombrowski was oddly vague about the reasons for the decision. He spoke for nearly 35 minutes, and the closest he came to sharing a reason was this:

“I thought it was an appropriate time to make a change for the betterment of the organization moving forward,’’ said Dombrowski. “For me, sometimes change can be better. That’s why we decided to move forward with the change.’’

Gotcha. So it was about . . . change. Thanks for the illumination, Dave. Maybe he knew what we know: If he’d spent the entire 35 minutes listing reasons for firing him, he could have spent another 35 minutes reminiscing about the good things that happened on Farrell’s watch. Maybe it was savvy of Dombrowski to make the decision without an attempt at justification. The yeah-buts don’t mean a thing when you’ve already delivered the final word.