Farrell vies to join small club of former pitchers
Boston skipper could become fifth pitcher to manage team to World Series title
BOSTON -- John Farrell has a rare opportunity. If his Red Sox can defeat the Cardinals in a World Series that begins on Wednesday night with Game 1 in Fenway Park at 7:30 p.m. ET on FOX, he'd be only the fifth pitcher in Major League Baseball history to manage a team to the title.
It hasn't happened in 25 years, and consider that this is the 108th World Series.
"Until you outlined it, I had no clue about it," Farrell said before the Red Sox worked out at Fenway on Monday. "I look at this as we're a team competing for a world championship regardless of the background, regardless of the set of experiences. This is a unique opportunity."
Yes it is. The first pitcher to manage a team to a World Series title, ironically enough, was Eddie Dyer with the Cardinals over the Red Sox in 1946 in an epic seven-game series that ended on Johnny Pesky's belated relay throw to the plate as Enos Slaughter scored the winning run. That was the first of four times the two teams have now met in the Fall Classic.
The others are Bob Lemon with the Yankees in 1978, Dallas Green with the Phillies in 1980 and Tommy Lasorda with the Dodgers in '81 and '88. That quartet accumulated 242 wins on the mound. Lemon, the Hall of Fame right-hander who played his entire 13-year career for the Indians, had 207 of them.
The above stat points to a couple of anomalies: Great pitchers don't manage and pitchers, in general, don't seem to make great ones. In the Majors this year, before a spat of dismissals and retirements, there were more minority managers (four) than pitchers (two). Aside from Farrell, Bud Black of the Padres is the other one.
Black said he and his good friend Farrell are among a different school of pitchers, who have worked their way up through the ranks and spent solid time as pitching coaches before making the step up in their careers to top man in the dugout.
"I think there's a little bit of bias about making pitchers managers," Black said when reached by phone on Monday night. "Practically half the team is pitchers, so executives feel that if they have a good pitching coach, let's hang on to them and keep them in that department. I do think there are a lot of great ex-pitchers who can manage. It's just a matter of getting these guys the opportunity."
Black and Farrell have taken similar paths. Black, a left-hander, had the far better career, winning 121 games for five teams in 15 seasons, starting for the Royals when they defeated the Cardinals in a seven-game 1985 World Series. Farrell, a right-hander, was 36-46 for three clubs and missed two full seasons in the middle of his 10-year career because of an elbow injury and Tommy John surgery. They were teammates in Cleveland from 1988-1990.
Both had front-office gigs before embarking on tenures as a pitching coach, Black from 2000-06 with the Angels and Farrell from 2006-2010 with the Red Sox. Black joined the Padres as manager for the '07 season and has been there ever since, failing to make the playoffs in his seven seasons. Farrell left Boston to manage the Blue Jays in '11 and returned to manage the Red Sox this year. Farrell was 154-170 in his two fourth-place finishes with Toronto. There was little statistical clue that Farrell was ready to take a Boston club that finished 69-93 in 2012 to 97 wins and the World Series a year later. Black, though, saw it differently.
"I played with Johnny for three years," Black said. "Right away I knew that he was a good baseball guy, had a good mind for the game and a great work ethic. You could tell in the clubhouse amongst the guys that he had great leadership skills. He's a good friend and he's checked off a lot of boxes along the way that I thought were instrumental in him becoming a very good manager."
Jake Peavy has played for both men and has reached the conclusion that they are among the best younger managers in a game that is has become dominated by how well one can utilize a pitching staff, particularly the bullpen. Farrell is 51 and Black is 56.
For that reason, catchers, by and large, seem to make the best managers as Joe Torre, Joe Girardi, Bruce Bochy and Bob Melvin, have proven, just to name a few. All are keenly adept at getting the most from their bullpens.
"Their perspective encompasses the whole game," Black said. "They have to be in tune with the pitching side because of the pitcher-catcher relationship. Obviously they're in tune with the offensive side because they're an offensive player. They're exposed to so much.
"The pitching side is something that I've lived my whole life. There's no doubt that I rely heavily on my coaches for the offensive side. I never get into hitting mechanics at all."
Perhaps that's why it's so tough for pitchers to become good managers.
"I don't know," said Peavy, who pitched for Black and the Padres in 2007-08 and Farrell since his trade from the White Sox this past July 30. "I watched Buddy Black go through this for a little bit. You have a great amount of expertise in this one area, pitching. Then you have to let that go and manage every aspect of the game. To me, Buddy has grown into as a good a manager as there is. He's outstanding."
Peavy, who also played for Bochy in San Diego, said Farrell is the same kind of great communicator. Just like Bochy, Peavy says Farrell roams the outfield during batting practice, "Getting the pulse, checking the pulse of his players."
"John does it all well. He's been in the front office, been a coach and now has been a manager for a few years. When you have that kind of background and experience, it certainly helps. But John has also done an incredible job of being in charge, of being steady, not up and down and really letting the players play."
Farrell and Black may have started a new trend. And now Farrell has a chance to go where few pitchers have ever tread: managing their teams to victory in the World Series.
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.