Three candidates down, two on the horizon and none planned beyond that. That, in a nutshell, summarizes where the Red Sox currently stand in their search for the successor to Terry Francona.
Red Sox GM Ben Cherington, charged with his first search for a manager, has made clear a few different elements in the process. First, he's not interested in wasting the time of non-candidates. Six individuals have been scheduled to meet with the club (with one of those, Mike Maddux, ultimately declining the invitation), and Cherington doesn't want to expand the pool to include dozens of additional candidates just for the sake of information gathering. He winnowed his list significantly before he started conducting interviews.
"We didn't want to do the information gathering exercise that sometimes happens with the managers search and talk to 15 different people," said Cherington. "Just didn't want to do that. So we're only including people in the process we would seriously consider hiring."
Secondly, prior major league managing experience is not that high on the list of priorities for Sox managerial candidates. Of the six candidates whom the Sox have scheduled interviews -- Phillies bench coach Pete Mackanin, Brewers hitting coach Dale Sveum, Rangers pitching coach Maddux, Indians bench coach Sandy Alomar Jr., Blue Jays first base coach Torey Lovullo and Tigers third base coach Gene Lamont -- only Lamont has held a full-time managing job. (Mackanin and Sveum both held posts of interim managers.)
Indeed, Alomar has never managed at any level and has just four years of coaching experience. Maddux, of course, has never managed either, having spent his career as a pitching coach.
That said, Cherington explained on Thursday that the Sox did want to bring in Lamont -- considered the biggest surprise among the candidates whom the Sox are bringing in for an interview -- in order to define the difference between a candidate with prior managerial experience. Lamont managed for four years with the White Sox from 1992-95 (he was fired in his last year in Chicago) and four with the Pirates from 1997-2000.
While it has been natural to speculate that, with a wealth of inexperienced candidates, the Sox were interested in talking to a veteran manager about the possibility of serving as a bench coach to help groom a rookie in the position, Cherington insisted that Lamont, the third base coach for Jim Leyland in Detroit for the last six years, is a legitimate candidate for the position.
"I wanted to include someone in the process who had done it, not just on an interim basis [as both Sveum and Mackanin had], [but] at the major league level," said Cherington. "We got consistently good feedback back on Gene from his time with his previous stint in Chicago and elsewhere. And certainly [he] has been working with a really good manager for a long time. [He] was here before as a coach [with the Red Sox in 2001].
"[Lamont is a] well-respected guy and had success as a major league manager. Based on that, I talked to [Tigers GM/CEO] Dave Dombrowski about it and I felt he was the right experienced person to bring in and include in the process."
Lamont is the last scheduled candidate in the interview process. He will meet with Cherington and the Sox on Saturday, one day after Lovullo comes to town.
Third, to this point, this is Cherington's process. He and the Red Sox baseball operations staff have been charged with doing the legwork of creating the list of candidates. At this stage of first-round interviews, CEO/President Larry Lucchino has met with the candidates, but it will not be until the second round of interviews when Sox principal owner John Henry and chairman Tom Werner will be asked for their input with a narrower group of finalists.
"My job in this to identify a very small, short list of people that I think could be a fit for us -- and I may have a personal preference on who the next manager is -- then give as much information as I can to ownership. They clearly have an important voice in this decision, and they need to be comfortable with the decision as much as I am," said Cherington. "In the end when we start to narrow the list down, I think it'll be more collaborative [with owners] at that point. To this point, it's been more my effort on getting to know the candidates. As we get to the next level, they'll get more involved."
Alomar became the third candidate to interview for the job on Wednesday. A six-time All-Star during his 20-year playing career, Alomar has never managed in either the majors or minors. However, in the four years that he has spent as a coach (two with the Mets as a major league catching instructor, two with the Indians as a first-base coach), he has quickly became a highly regarded managerial prospect.
The catcher comes from a renowned baseball family, having grown up around the game thanks to a father who was a longtime player and coach and a brother (Roberto Alomar) who became a Hall of Famer in no small part because of his baseball acumen. He has spent virtually his entire life in the game. Now, he has set the goal of being a manager, and he believes he is ready to fulfill that challenge.
"It'll be a big challenge [to manage] anywhere in the major league level. Boston is a different market. I understand that. But anywhere you manage is going to be a big step," said Alomar. "Some people take different routes. I chose this way. I've learned tremendously. I feel like I'm prepared to manage a major-league team, even though I didn't manage in the minor leagues."
Based on his vantage point of seeing the game behind the plate, from the bench (as a role player later in his career), from the bullpen (while coaching for the Mets) and the first base coach's box, Alomar believes that he has seen the game from enough different vantage points that the transition to the manager's perch would be seamless.
"For many years I was back there [behind the plate] and not only in regular games but in postseason games, I was able to see players' positioning, calling pitches, making decisions, catching is a position you have to make a lot of decisions on the fly. There's no time to think about decisions. You just have to react. Go with your gut feeling sometimes, go with a plan," he added. "I think managing is kind of similar to that.
"Injuries kind of put you in the position to think about, you know what, I don't know how long I'm going to be playing. In the time being that I'm platooning or backing up as a catcher, I felt like I was able to go a different route and be able to manage a game from the dugout -- sitting next to the manager or talking to the manager, things he did when he managed," he added. "Basically around 2001 and up, that's when I started thinking about the possibility that I could be a coach soon or a manager."
Indeed, his feel for the game likely can match that of many who do have big league managing experience. That lesson was reinforced by the in-game simulation that the Sox feature for their managerial candidates.
"He sees the game really well," said Cherington. "The simulation exercise went really well. He's clearly, despite not managing in-game, sees the game very much like a manager does."
Cherington first encountered Alomar in 1998, when both were with the Indians -- Alomar as an All-Star catcher, Cherington as a video advance scout who observed the catcher's clubhouse comportment but rarely if ever interacted with him. Alomar made a favorable impression on Cherington as he got his start in the game, and that remains the case now.
"He's going to be a major league manager," said Cherington. "Whether that's in 2012 or sometime after that, I'm very confident to say that he'll be a big league manager some time."
As for whether that opportunity will come in Boston, that remains to be seen. But more clarity shall arrive soon, as the Sox attempt to steam towards a resolution of this search by Thanksgiving.