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Reimer: John Farrell leaves Red Sox as ultimate lame duck

Alex Reimer
October 11, 2017 - 1:21 pm

John Farrell arrived in Boston with a seemingly infinite amount of goodwill. As the man following Bobby Valentine, the bar for success was relatively low. Basically, if Farrell didn’t act like a bozo at the podium or get into passive aggressive wars with players and coaches, he would have been viewed favorably in comparison to his predecessor. The fact he was a throwback from the Francona years, and apparently struck fear into Clay Buchholz, helped his case as well. 

Despite one World Series and three division titles, Farrell leaves the Red Sox with less public organizational support than Valentine. When Bobby V was canned after the disastrous 2012 campaign, ownership showered him with love in an immediate press release

“Bobby leaves the Red Sox’ manager’s office with our respect, gratitude, and affection,” said former CEO Larry Lucchino. “I have no doubt that he will continue to contribute to the game he loves so much and knows so well.’”

Ex-general manager Ben Cherington, whom Lucchino infamously overruled on Valentine, was also praiseworthy. “With an historic number of injuries, Bobby was dealt a difficult hand. He did the best he could under seriously adverse circumstances, and I am thankful to him,” he added.

While press release statements can seldom be taken seriously, the Red Sox went through the charade of framing it as a warm departure. Those same liberties weren’t taken with Farrell. The team announced his firing Tuesday morning and didn't include any quotes from ownership in its formal press release. President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski held a press conference, but didn’t answer many questions of significance. He declined to comment on why Farrell lost his job, but said greater success this season would not have saved him. When asked to sum up Farrell’s tenure, Dombrowski simply said he did a “nice job.” 

It was a puzzling event, which appropriately concludes Farrell’s mystifying tenure as Red Sox manager. Yes, Red Sox skippers are routinely scapegoats. But Farrell didn’t appear to court any sort of constituency. The admiration from the 2013 championship was whitewashed with two consecutive last-place finishes in 2014 and 2015. An affair with female reporter Jess Moran only further sullied Farrell’s reputation. 

The manager never recovered. The turnaround 93-win campaign in 2016 was rendered meaningless once the Indians swept the lifeless Red Sox out of the playoffs. David Ortiz’s retirement zapped the team of its star power, leadership and middle of the lineup. None of those three were adequately replaced. 

This was perhaps the most tumultuous first-place season in history. The team only appeared to be relevant when it was mired in drama, from the Adam Jones incident to David Price berating beloved analyst Dennis Eckersley on a team plane. Price never apologized for the episode, and neither did Farrell. 

As my colleague John Tomase notes, Farrell appeared estranged from the veteran “leadership” on this team. Dustin Pedroia refused Monday to explicitly say he wanted Farrell to return in 2018, instead offering mealy-mouthed word salad. 

“I thought John did a great job. We won the division and, you know, there was never any quit in this team,” he told reporters. “I’m proud of everybody in here. We’ve dealt with a lot. And our fight continued every single day. We didn’t achieve our goals, but I’m proud of how everybody went about his business and showed up for everybody and played to win.”

It was a nice sentiment, but the lack of an actual answer was beyond telling. 

Farrell leaves the Red Sox at a time when fan interest is seemingly sputtering. NESN ratings fell 15 percent in primetime and hundreds of tickets for both playoff home games were available up until the day of. A public relations-obsessed ownership group might have felt obligated to make a change, just to generate some buzz. 

It’s fitting that Farrell’s last act as Red Sox manager was getting ejected from a playoff game to protect Pedroia, who wouldn’t endorse his return, and in front of fans who won’t miss him in the least. He entered as a savior and leaves as a lame duck. 

And judging by the organization’s silence, they don’t care how anybody perceives it. 

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