Farrell's history made him right man for Red Sox
Former pitcher can relate to injured players, brought focused attitude to team
BOSTON -- It's been a long and winding road for John Farrell from a pitching career shortened by injury through coaching stints in college and the Major Leagues, not to mention his shaky two years managing in Toronto.
All that is behind him today: the Tommy John surgery that cost him two seasons, the rare trade last offseason that brought him from Toronto back to Boston, where he was once the pitching coach. Farrell is the manager of the World Series-winning Red Sox now, finishing his first season in one of Major League Baseball's toughest jobs.
Not only did Farrell win in his first trip to the World Series as a manager, but he also made a little bit of history. He's only the fifth pitcher to manage a team to a World Series title and the first in 25 years. To underscore what a remarkable statistic that is, this was the 109th World Series.
The first pitcher to do it, coincidentally, was Eddie Dyer with the Cards 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.
The others were Bob Lemon with the Yankees in 1978, Dallas Green with the Phillies in 1980 and Tommy Lasorda with the Dodgers in 1981 and '88. That quartet accumulated 242 wins. Lemon, the Hall of Fame right-hander who played his entire 13-year career for the Indians, had 207 of them.
Farrell, a right-hander, also came up with the Tribe and pitched for them for the first four years of his eight-year career that began in 1987 and ended in '96. He missed both the 1991 and '92 seasons because of the injury and subsequent surgery. Farrell finished with a 36-46 record and a 4.56 ERA.
|1918||Ed Barrow *||Cubs||4-2|
|1912||Jake Stahl||Giants||4-3 **|
|1903||Jimmy Collins ***||Pirates||5-3|
What Farrell suffered back then gave him the empathy to relate to his current players, including Wednesday night's starter and winner John Lackey, who recently had a similar fate, missing the entire 2012 season after a right elbow injury and Tommy John surgery.
"Well, having suffered an injury, much like John Lackey is dealing with and coming back from, I think it just gives you a greater understanding of what guys are going through or compassion toward their situations in your post-playing career," Farrell said. "Once the game is taken away from you because of an injury, you begin to appreciate it much more when you come back.
"I think it [all] just gives you greater insight as you move forward. And in my eyes, I've looked back on those times of rehab and dealing with certain challenges along the way, and you find a way to overcome them. And more than anything else, you respect the game with a greater level of appreciation."
Farrell's challenge when he came to Boston was turning around the culture of a team that had lost 93 games last season and had failed miserably during consecutive seasons under managers Terry Francona and Bobby Valentine, who were both dismissed. Meanwhile, Farrell had a tough time with the rebuilding Blue Jays, finishing .500 in 2011 and 73-89 in '12 as an injury-riddled pitching staff collapsed around him.
The Red Sox sought permission to talk to Farrell two years ago to replace Francona, but Toronto denied the request. Last year the Blue Jays were willing to trade him for infielder Mike Aviles. The trade, engineered by second-year general manager Ben Cherington, turned out to be one of Boston's best moves of the past offseason.
"This winter when he got the job, and again [in] Spring Training, [Farrell] just talked about keeping the focus on the field," said Cherington in the din of the celebration. "The most important thing was going to be the game on the field that night. We were going to be as well or better prepared as anyone. He was going to make it about the players, holding them to a high standard, but empowering them at the same time.
"Those are easy things to say in the winter, but it's hard to pull off when you're going through a six- or eight-month season. It's a grind. And sure enough, he did it. It's a credit to him and the people around him. They made it about just what they said it would be."
As a man who was the Red Sox's pitching coach for four years, beginning with the 2007 championship season, Farrell was at his best resurrecting the pitching staff. He turned around old friend Jon Lester from a 14-game loser in 2012 to a 15-game winner during the regular season, with four more wins during the postseason, including two in the World Series.
The bullpen was rebuilt on the fly, and because of injuries to their back-end reliever, the Red Sox wound up with Koji Uehara emerging as a lights-out closer.
"I think John helped me, there's no question about it," Lester said. "But the biggest thing was that he let [pitching coach] Juan [Nieves] do his job. Anytime you get a manager stepping on a pitching coach's toes, it's tough. He's got a great sense of humor, too. He's awesome. He took all the negative stuff and turned it into a positive. That's the way you have to be here in Boston, even if you don't believe it. You have to act it. It's a very tough environment to work in."
Farrell helped the team rise above it all.
From the dismal end to 2012 through the Boston Marathon bombings, which shocked the city, the Red Sox put the fans on their shoulders, and it culminated Wednesday night with their first World Series victory at Fenway Park since 1918.
"It's been an incredible 12, 13 months," Farrell said. "And I'm forever thankful and grateful for the opportunity in Toronto. A unique set of circumstances took place for me to be able to come back here to the Red Sox. And there were a lot of changes. Ben Cherington deserves all the credit for bringing the players in here that he has. To see it culminate in this tonight, I can tell you this: Last October, we probably didn't know we'd be sitting here, but every effort was made to do just that."
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.