Why Farrell won with Red Sox, lost with Jays

One year after John Farrell became manager of the Red Sox, this much is clear: He’s the perfect fit in Boston. In Toronto, not so much.

Exactly a year after the Boston Red Sox introduced him as their 46th manager, John Farrell is set to take the field for Game 1 of the World Series on Wednesday night, riding high while the Toronto Blue Jays remain mired in bedrock.

Much like they did last Oct. 23, Bostonians will fete Farrell as their saviour, and we’ll leave it for Blue Jays fans to debate which indignity is worse as the visceral hurt from his departure continues to fester.

“I think this has got an opportunity to be a fairly quick turnaround, and get to the point of contending next year,” Farrell said during his introductory news conference at Fenway Park’s State Street Pavilion Club. Prophetic words as it turned out.

All of which begs the question of why things worked out so well with the Red Sox and so poorly with the Blue Jays. In the wake of his leaving, you’d be hard-pressed to find many people who regretted that Farrell was gone, it was simply the manner in which he ended up in Boston that had everyone up in arms. Roundly criticized for the reckless way the Blue Jays played on the field, he was seen as having little control over his club. Yet in the course of a single year, he’s gone from chump to champ, the stuff of wistful profiles hailing him as the man who set the disjointed Red Sox right. And let’s give credit where credit is due—he did just that. Under Farrell’s watch, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and Jacoby Ellsbury regained past form, John Lackey returned from injury and pitched like a boss and a series of clever free-agent additions integrated into the whole seamlessly. For the players the Red Sox had or were set to acquire, he was the perfect fit.

That wasn’t the case for the Blue Jays, especially after Farrell first asked out of his contract to manage the Red Sox after the 2011 season. Things progressively devolved from there, and though neither side is willing to admit it, that left damaging baggage in a burgeoning relationship, and was a dynamic at play during the inevitable conflicts to come.

Consider the following excerpt of an interview I did with Farrell on the day of his introduction at Fenway Park:

Q: In hindsight, was it a mistake for the Blue Jays to bring you back for the 2012 season after you expressed an interest in returning to Boston?

A: “This city (Boston) and organization (Red Sox) holds a special place to me and my family, for a set of experiences and a family situation. I’m not going to run from that, and yet some people might hold that against you because you feel a strength (connection) toward a given situation. I’m not going to defend that, whether or not the right decision was made to bring me back. In my mind yes, but that might be something that maybe Alex (Anthopoulos) or Paul (Beeston, the Blue Jays president and CEO) would better answer.”

Q: How do you think your first expression of interest in managing the Red Sox in October 2011 affected your relationship with the Blue Jays?

A: “I walked into Paul’s office in December (2011) and said, ‘Are we OK?’ And he goes, ‘Yeah.’ I was very explicit with him saying I didn’t come here because of a policy (the Blue Jays’ policy preventing employees from lateral moves). They have an organization to protect and I totally get it, and I’m forever grateful for the opportunity that was provided. My commitment and my approach and my intensity to do the job never wavered throughout the two years (in Toronto).”

Q: Would you still have pursued the Red Sox job if the Blue Jays had been successful in 2012?
A: “To be candid, yes. I don’t view myself based on the record, I view myself as the person I am, you would hope the work that you do and the record is a by-product of the people contributing to a common goal. I was candid with Alex last year, I was candid at the end of this year. He said if the opportunity comes up are you interested, I said, ‘Yes.’”

Q: There are doubts about your commitment the past season…
A: “I was totally engaged during my time there.”

Q: Fair enough, but you can look at the two-year deal the Red Sox gave Bobby Valentine and the way its expiration timed with the end of your contract and wonder whether that’s a coincidence.
A: “That’s like saying you could plot your future. I had no intention to plot or no ability to plot that, this is a rare set of circumstances that came together, and who’s to say that if the record was 89-73, I could very well still be in Toronto right now, this very day.”

Q: How would you describe your relationship with Alex?
A: “A lot has been made, and blown out of proportion, to be quite frank with you, that Alex and I had a disconnect and that we didn’t see eye-to-eye. We’re two competitive people in a competitive environment. You’re going to have different opinions and we were hit with a lot of different challenges, from injury to certain performances. No, it didn’t run exactly as smooth as you would like, but I can’t say that’s because of a disconnect in the relationship.”

Maybe, but at minimum there was a loss of trust, and just like in a romantic relationship, telling the person you’re with that there’s someone else you want usually doesn’t end well. That’s why Blue Jays fans sifting through the wasteland of another lost season shouldn’t look longingly at Farrell and wonder what might have been.

He and the Red Sox fit one another in a way he and the Blue Jays never did, and he would never have become the manager he is had he stayed.

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