John Farrell wasn’t in the dugout for the final innings of his last game with the Red Sox. He was ejected in the bottom of the second inning after his second baseman, Dustin Pedroia—who a couple of hours later would make the final out of Boston’s 2017 season—took issue with umpire Mark Wegner’s strike zone. Farrell jumped in, did some expressive pointing and shouting, and there he went: an embattled manager with one year left on his contract, whose bullpen jockeying has raised more than a few eyebrows, forced to watch his team play the remainder of an elimination game without him. Did he follow every pitch from where he was, bellowing at no one to pull Chris Sale before it was too late? Did he, Zen-like after his theatrical defense of Pedroia, begin to prepare for the prospect of a Game 5? Did he put his feet up on his clubhouse desk, knowing what almost certainly would come next?
The Red Sox lost Game 4 of the American League Divisional Series 5-4, unable to present much of a challenge for the Astros in their march to the ALCS. On Wednesday morning, Boston announced that Farrell’s time with the team had come to an end. Farrell, whose five years at the helm saw the Red Sox win a World Series (2013) and three division titles (2013, 2016, and 2017). Farrell, whose team won a second consecutive AL East crown this season, marking the first time that the franchise has ever won it in back-to-back years. Farrell, who previously spent four seasons on the bench as the team’s pitching coach and was part of three additional postseason trips and another World Series victory. He is now out of a job.
Consider, for a moment, the transgressions of 2017’s other departed or soon-to-depart managers. There’s Brad Ausmus, whose Tigers went 64-98 this season and tumbled to last place in their division. There’s Pete Mackanin, whose Phillies emerged from 2016’s hopeful chrysalis as a 96-loss team. There’s Terry Collins, whose Mets emerged as the sort of thing you might threaten a misbehaving child with. And then we have Farrell, whose Red Sox were merely pretty good.
Boston fans, bless their rabidly defensive hearts, have long memories. They are also, as a rule, not particularly inclined toward forgiveness. Attempt an illegal pitching change in the bottom of ninth? Bring in Matt Barnes for the ninth inning of a tie game while closer Craig Kimbrel waits in the bullpen? Describe a devastating implosion by David Price, the pitcher who openly broke with Farrell and took to derisively calling him “Manager John” on Twitter, as “probably his best stuff of the season?” You’ll hear about it, and you’ll keep hearing about it, and you’ll find it scribbled on slips of paper and shoved under your door, and you’ll hear crowds marching down Yawkey Way shouting about it, and then after you plug up your ears with wax you’ll find it carved into your closet. Here is my boss, for example, who—in case you don’t know—is a Boston sports fan, on his 93-win baseball team:
So long 2017 Red Sox. I'm ready for a new manager.— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) October 9, 2017
On Wednesday, Boston president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski was vague about the cause of Farrell’s dismissal. He told The Boston Globe’s Pete Abraham that Farrell was “fired for reasons he won't disclose and that no level of team success would have prevented that.” Maybe this means something; maybe it means nothing at all. Farrell’s clearest fault was a distressing habit of dicking around with the bullpen, which might sound familiar because it is also the habit of just about every manager in the long history of distressing management, which is to say management. Every baseball fan thinks their team’s manager leaves their fragile starter in too long. Every baseball thinks it’s criminal that their team’s best reliever is ever left out of a game, and that it’s perhaps punishable to hand their team’s shakiest reliever the ball at all. Each and every baseball fan—this side of San Francisco, anyway—believes that their manager is, at least on a plurality of days ending in Y, a lazy, lousy hack.
The difference in Boston is that even managers with long and impressive lists of accomplishments have to answer for it. After the Red Sox were eliminated from a second consecutive playoff series, Farrell was eliminated, too.
Once upon a time, Farrell had a response to a fan’s management critiques:
Now, at least in Boston, he won’t be given a chance for a rebuttal.