TORONTO – Long ago named to the city’s sports villain hall of fame, Toronto Blue Jays fans gave John Farrell his induction ceremony Friday night, heaping on him the type of venom and scorn that greeted charter members such as Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady, Chris Bosh and A.J. Burnett upon their returns.
Yup, 45,328 at Rogers Centre dropped the full business on the man who fled to become Boston Red Sox manager, with boos, jeers and chants of “screw you, Farrell” that devolved into something less polite we’ll leave to your creativity. Good times, even for the target of it all, largely thanks to a 6-4 victory that splashed cold water on the hate-in.
“That probably goes to another level,” Farrell said in comparing this experience to previous boos he’s received. “You know, things are there that you have no control over, and those who love to compete, I think our players fed off it a little bit, and people are going to have their opinions, fully respect those, and tonight happened to be this type of situation.”
So, Farrell fully respects your antipathy. Now what? Is the pound of flesh extracted before and during the Blue Jays’ latest disheartening setback enough to satisfy the masses, bringing to a close an opening week filled with sideshows around the return of baseball? Or are we headed for the clichéd routine of the bitter jilted ex acting out in each of Farrell’s remaining eight dates in Toronto this season?
Look, Friday’s derision was well-earned by Farrell, who showed a remarkable disloyalty to the Blue Jays by expressing an interest in pursuing the Red Sox’s managerial vacancy not only this past off-season, but also the one previous, after his rookie year. That’s not cool, people around the game noticed, and in some corners his reputation was damaged.
Yet, given how he had trouble connecting with his players, GM Alex Anthopoulos and others up and down the franchise, contributing to the club spinning its wheels the previous two years, in many ways it’s good that he left. And what makes it even better is that rather than having to fire him and pay his salary, Anthopoulos managed to instead pry infielder Mike Aviles from the Red Sox, and then flip him with Yan Gomes to the Cleveland Indians for useful reliever Esmil Rogers, who took the loss pitching on a third straight day.
Logically, there’s no arguing that – this was a divorce that was needed and made total sense. During the general managers meetings in November, one rival GM generously praised Anthopoulos for getting so much in return for Farrell. Yet it’s not the fact that he left that breeds the visceral anger on display Friday, it’s the thoroughly distasteful manner in which it went down that really infuriates.
The final months of the 2012 season were marked by leaks to Boston media designed to make public the Red Sox’s interest in having Farrell replace Bobby Valentine, and while Farrell repeatedly stated that his focus and commitment were with the Blue Jays, he never really shot the issue down. When he finally left, many wondered as Adam Lind did publicly, how much his heart was really in it.
Farrell has chafed at that notion, repeating Friday that, “I can look myself in the mirror and say that I gave the Blue Jays organization everything I had on a given day, to work as diligently, as thoroughly as possible to win a game on a given night. We had to deal with a lot of things along the way.”
There’s no question he worked his tail off, no one should question that. But there’s a difference between working relentlessly out of obligation, and working with your heart invested in the outcome.
It’s the doubts over his investment that turned his departure from your average parting of ways to a villainous split a la McGrady, Carter, Bosh, Burnett and others from Toronto’s blighted sports past.
The thing is, turning each comeback into an outlet to spew bile gets old in a hurry, and given how many meetings the Blue Jays and Red Sox will have this season, maintaining the bitterness of that grudge isn’t going to be a fun way to pass through the season.
And while initially Farrell left behind scorched earth the way McGrady and the others did when they departed, the Blue Jays horizon is far from a wasteland right now, with a deep and talented core capable of far more than a sluggish 1-3 start suggests.
Sometimes the worst experiences provide the best lessons, and the past two years under Farrell may have been the steps needed to get the Blue Jays to make some big moves and give Anthopoulos the confidence to bring back John Gibbons as manager.
Gibbons has fit this team with the comfort of your go-to hoody – warm, familiar and relaxed, while Farrell was like a rented tux you can’t wait to get out of. More importantly, Gibbons is all in with the Blue Jays, no one for a second doubts that.
“I’d rather him be there instead of being here and wishing he was there,” slugger Jose Bautista said in reference to Farrell, and his point is completely apt.
It would have been fitting for Rogers to have picked up the win Friday, the return for Farrell helping to conquer a packed stadium’s object of scorn, but instead he was hung with the loss after the Red Sox scratched out the go-ahead run against him in the eighth inning.
Ample opportunity remains for that narrative to play out, and Rogers will surely provide the Blue Jays with more value this year than Farrell would have.
“I’ve never thought about that, I’ve never talked about that,” the affable right-hander said earlier this week when asked what it’s like essentially being what the Blue Jays obtained for Farrell. “The opportunity we have this year, Gibby the manager gave me the opportunity to get comfortable and with the other players, I think that’s the key, and if we’re going to be good this year, that the players be like that. You can see everybody in this clubhouse is so happy because (Gibbons) tries to give confidence to every player, tries talk with every player.”
Sure booing Farrell was fun, and yeah, he had Friday’s gong show coming. But holding onto that for eight more games in Toronto this season, and perhaps beyond, when there are much better things to be focused on?
When Jose Reyes homered in the seventh inning and tied the game 4-4, the crowd exploded and the atmosphere offered a hint of what this place could be like if big crowds keep coming out and the Blue Jays deliver a meaningful season. That’s the real fun. Continuing to boo Farrell and the rest of Toronto’s most loathed sporting turncoats over and over again? All that does is show you’re still not over them.