BOSTON — John Farrell is out as manager of the Boston Red Sox.
After steering a relatively young team to the first back-to-back division titles in franchise history but also consecutive first-round playoff knockouts, Farrell will not return for the final year left on his contract, Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski announced Wednesday.
In dumping Farrell now, Dombrowski agreed that the team needs a new voice in the clubhouse and a fresh public face. Despite another first-place American League East finish, the Red Sox grew increasingly unpopular this season. Prime-time television ratings on New England Sports Network dropped 15 percent below ratings last year, which was David Ortiz’s final season.
Within the past few days, ownership came around to the idea that Farrell was partly responsible. Farrell posted a 432-378 record over a roller-coaster five-year tenure that included a World Series championship in 2013 and two last-place finishes. He is the only Red Sox manager to win three American League East crowns and ranks sixth on the club’s all-time wins list.
But Farrell also became a punching bag for frustrated fans and talk-radio hosts. While all managers get second-guessed for in-game moves that don’t pan out, Farrell came under greater scrutiny than many. Conspiracy theorists maintain that he would have gotten fired in 2015 had he not missed the final six weeks of the season to undergo cancer treatment.
This year, in particular, was challenging for Farrell. Regarded previously as a players’ manager, there was a perception that he lost respect from some veterans who doubted he had their back. Left-handed pitcher David Price, for one, seemed to treat Farrell with derision by calling him “Manager John.”
Farrell dealt with several brush fires this season. There was a beanball saga against the Baltimore Orioles in April and May in which Red Sox pitchers repeatedly failed to exact revenge for a hard slide into second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who in turn appeared to take sides against his teammates for their attempts at retaliation. In June, Price humiliated broadcaster Dennis Eckersley on the team plane, an incident that didn’t produce any apologies to the Hall of Fame pitcher from uniformed personnel, including Farrell.
On the field, though, Farrell masterfully handled the bullpen en route to 15 extra-inning victories, and he coaxed the most out of an offense that slugged the fewest home runs in the AL by preaching relentless opportunism on the bases. In his final on-the-field act on Monday at Fenway Park, he was ejected from Game 4 of the American League Division Series for protecting Pedroia in an argument with plate umpire Mark Wegner. Then, Farrell advised bench coach Gary DiSarcina to leave ace pitcher Chris Sale in the game in the eighth inning. Sale gave up the game-tying homer to Houston’s Alex Bregman.
But after that season-ending loss, several players pledged support for Farrell.
“He gave me every opportunity to succeed,” Sale said. “I can say the same for everybody on this team.”
Said star right fielder Mookie Betts: “He’s done a great job in managing personalities and put us in a position to win. He listens to us, and he talks with us. Those dynamics he fits well.”
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Dombrowski is now able to appoint a manager of his choosing. Upon taking charge late in the 2015 season, Dombrowski inherited a cancer-stricken Farrell. And although Dombrowski never publicly hinted at dissatisfaction, even complimenting Farrell last week after the Red Sox clinched the AL East, he also was never effusive in his praise.
Dombrowski has hired only two managers in the past 12 seasons: Jim Leyland, with whom he worked for both the Florida Marlins and Detroit Tigers, is steadfastly retired; Brad Ausmus, one potential candidate to replace Farrell, was recently fired by the Tigers after a 98-loss, last-place season.
Houston Astros bench coach Alex Cora, a hot managerial prospect who played for the Sox from 2005 to 2008. Dombrowski also has a long-standing relationship with Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa, who recently turned 73 and hasn’t managed since 2011 with the St. Louis Cardinals.
If anything, observing Farrell seems to have given Dombrowski an appreciation for the intensity of managing in Boston. It requires a thick skin and the ability to shrug off criticism. And it isn’t for everybody.
“Managing is a tough job, period. I think it’s a tougher job here than maybe anywhere else,” Dombrowski said recently. “The scrutiny you receive — being in the game as long as I’ve been in the game, I’m amazed somewhat [by] the scrutiny aspect of it. And then when I look at the names behind [Farrell’s] desk, the number of pictures and how few guys have stayed a long time, it just shows you it’s a tough job.”