Well, now that I’ve caught my breath after a whirlwind return from the bye week in Ohio, here’s what’s been on my mind.
Somewhere Dan Duquette is smiling a very wide smile.
Ben Cherington, the man he hired as a scout in 1999, is now running baseball operations for the Red Sox. Talk about full circle.
For all the furor in the last eight years about Moneyball and computers and spreadsheets, turns out that the ability to evaluate talent is still king.
Will there be big-ticket free agents signed by Boston in the future? Sure. Will there be players acquired who don’t work out? Always are. Cherington even admitted to fully supporting Carl Crawford before his signing last December.
But the bottom line is that scouting and talent evaluation has a seat back at the table, instead of just a voice in the background. More on that in a bit.
At about 2 p.m., I hopped in the car and drove like mad to make it to the Fenway presser where Larry Lucchino (not Tom Werner and JohnHenry) introduced Ben Cherington as the team’s successor to Theo Epstein.
As I was huffing and puffing on my way to the State Street Pavilion on the fourth floor at Fenway, I heard Lucchino’s voice over the PA system. The booming voice was espousing the character traits that made Cherington the “perfect fit” for the Red Sox. Lucchino was going on about how Cherington made his way up through the team’s system as a scout and an assistant general manager.
I strolled in just as Lucchino introduced the man who he said was “proud” to be taking over as the 11th GM in Red Sox history.
From the moment Cherington started talking, I could tell one thing for sure: the Red Sox had won a badly needed public relations battle. And because this is Boston and New England, it’s all about who won, who lost and why.
The answer was clearly Cherington, the Red Sox and baseball sensibility.
He was smooth, well prepared, articulate and confident. He smiled naturally. He laughed at yours truly when asked if he had a “Carmine”, the computer that helped steer Epstein's tenure. He assured Red Sox fans that not only does he take accountability for September; he still believes the pieces are in place for the foundation of another championship contender in 2012.
His predecessor – by all accounts, including that of our own Alex Speier – was just as well-received in Chicago as Epstein was introduced as GM of the Cubs, looking to end their World Series title drought, which reached 103 years this month. He was well received because Cubs fans were desperate to believe in the silver bullet, precisely what Cherington would say - hours later - doesn’t exist when trying to fix problems, both on and off the field.
But, the camera doesn’t lie.
At times, Theo appeared to be a man who looked like he wanted the job but not the spotlight that goes along with it. He appeared somewhat nervous at times – which is understandable – and looked like a man who knew the questions remained about his track record in Boston.
Epstein has always been someone who is far more comfortable with the written word than he is with the spoken medium, radio or TV. That was never more evident than in his “goodbye kiss” which appeared in the Boston Globe on Tuesday morning.
It’s only fitting that he would use that forum, since it’s one he can control. The op-ed was brilliantly written and artfully crafted,reflecting a genuine appreciation of the chance to make his mark in Boston the last 10 years.
In the presser at Wrigley, there was the obligatory, “We’re only here to talk about the Cubs” and not his unfortunate exit out of Boston, leaving behind “7-20” and bad clubhouse and management karma.
But the whole time watching Epstein, it was hard not to think that wasn’t at least in the back of his mind knocking on the front of his conscientiousness. It was like watching a high school kid talk about his good grades in one subject (two World Series titles and a farm system) while not wanting to bring up the bad grades (free agency and computer-driven rosters).
That’s where Cherington took the chance to make his mark. Smart man. That is also exactly where I’d tell Cherington to start.
He mentioned that he would likely bring in more field scouts to add to the baseball operations. In the same breath he said there needs to be a healthy exchange of ideas, with a mixture of statistical analysis and on-field evaluation.
I can assure you that under Epstein’s tenure, if there was a benefit of doubt it was given to Carmine. Under Cherington, it’s pretty clear that scouts and baseball evaluation personnel will have an equal voice at the table.
So, what about your voices on Twitter and Facebook? I asked and you came through.
From: @drjefflo:@Trags Would love to see Cherington tell Lucchino to lower ticket prices. #BuyABrick #TragBag #RedSox
Well, that’s sounds dandy @drjefflo but me thinks Larry is the one doing the “telling” in their working relationship. Which brings up another point, and often-raised question since news broke last week about ownership’s choice of Cherington: Is Cherington really just a puppet for Lucchino?
I’d say when it comes to day-to-day baseball matters, no, but as Lucchino reminded everyone this week, if there’s a big move to be made, everyone in the upper reaches of the organization will have a say. Based on his demeanor in his presser, Cherington will probably have a more suitable skill set to deal with Larry than Epstein did.
To the question of expectations from Cherington, and what moves do you want him to make, this from @L1telsN0w: "Establish the Red Sox Way!! Expect professionalism"
The “Red Sox Way” – as mentioned above – was to rely heavily on computer-generated statistics as a fallback in roster make-up and evaluation. The Red Sox lost their way relying too heavily on it and were burned by several miscalculations on veteran players on the downside of their careers.
Cherington promised a more balanced approach and given his background in field scouting, there’s no reason to think he won’t be a man of his word.
To me, one of the most underplayed lines of the press conference from Tuesday at Fenway was Cherington admitting there will be some “buy low” opportunities for the Red Sox this winter.
He certainly could go out and court CC Sabathia or C.J. Wilson or Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder, but with the core in place, he’s likely to save some of that money and look at more ways to build the kind of depth that wasn’t there in August and September as the team got tired and broken down.
Sabathia or Wilson would certainly boost the front-end of the rotation but Cherington didn’t sound like a GM ready to go out and spend the dough.
The other part of the “Red Sox Way” obviously has to do with the tone the next manager sets. Cherington made it clear he wants that guy to communicate with his players and expects him to visit players like Carl Crawford in the winter and inspire them for the spring.
From Jason on Facebook regarding the search for a new Red Sox skipper: [Brett]Butler or Dodgers 3B coach Tim Wallach would be my #1 choices and PLEASE for the love of god NO Don Wakamatsu!!! He's as ferocious as a newborn kitten and would get eaten up by players & press.
Jason, one thing is for sure, the Red Sox will be sure to not have a meek manager in place. Don’t you worry. But they also need a skipper who has experience managing a veteran-laden clubhouse like the one he’ll be inheriting in Boston. And one with experience in the AL East couldn’t hurt either. I have like Tampa Bay bench coach Dave Martinez all along. He learned from Joe Maddon and understands the balance to be struck between being relaxed and disciplined.
My final rant:
It’s always been a pet peeve of mine to see news anchors that never cover a team show up when the crap hits the fan.
It’s not exactly a favorite of Bill Belichick, either. Remember in 2009 – as chronicled in “A Football Life: Bill Belichick” - when he was asked over and over by Byron Barnett of Ch. 7 what he thought of the field conditions at Houston’s Reliant Stadium and the season-ending injury to Wes Welker?
Barnett tried to reason with Belichick that fans want to know about how Welker was feeling. Belichick would have none of it and repeated over and over, “we’re on to Baltimore,” a reference to the first-round opponent.
Well, I started the week on Tuesday waiting around in the Patriots locker room to talk to players. As a reporter, you can always tell a player has made the wrong type of news when you see tabloid TV reporters and anchors make the 25-mile trek from Boston to Foxboro for the sole purpose of talking to one player when he hasn’t covered the team all season.
That player, of course, was Rob Gronkowski, he of the two-shot pictorial on Twitter that didn’t go over so well with the higher-ups at Gillette. Well, hard to blame Gronk, as he didn’t speak at all on Tuesday while Barnett’s colleague Jonathan Hall of Ch. 7 was left holding the bag, and microphone.
Can’t blame Hall or Barnett, naturally, since both do what the bosses ask. But I’ve always found it awkward – and that’s being very kind - to send a news reporter into a room that closes its ranks to protect itself. Turns out Gronk did talk Wednesday. Gronk made his peace with Patriots higher-ups and had his piece with reporters, promising never to do something so ignorant again.
The post-script to this: Gronkowski wore a “Stay Wreckless” t-shirt in the locker room Thursday. Can’t make it up.
We presume it’s nothing more than the tight end’s appreciation for the album from “sleaze metal” artist Dirty Penny and a message for the Steelers on Sunday afternoon in Pittsburgh.