Red Sox to Chart Interesting Course Under New Skipper

The Boston Red Sox managerial vacancy continues to be a search filled with intrigue.  The team has interviewed a flurry of candidates: Brewers hitting coach Dale Sveum (who has since taken the Cubs managerial opening), Phillies bench coach Pete Mackanin, Indians bullpen coach and former catcher Sandy Alomar, Jr., Tigers third base coach Gene Lamont, and Blue Jays first base coach (and former Pawtucket Red Sox skipper) Torey Lovullo.  The field has a combined 16 games of major league experience under their belt, all of which belongs to Sveum during his brief stint as interim Brewers manager in 2008 following the dismissal of Ned Yost.

Which leads to an interesting question for general manager Ben Cherington: what is the ultimate goal to be accomplished with this hire?  The last time the Red Sox had to fill this position, the organization was still licking its wounds from Aaron Boone’s ALCS-clinching home run off of Tim Wakefield in 2003.  Owners John Henry, Larry Lucchino, and Tom Werner were furious with Grady Little’s inability to acknowledge the staggering evidence that Pedro’s arm might as well fall off after 100 pitches in a ballgame.  Grady was an easygoing player’s manager, but faltered in the key aspect.

Enter Terry Francona, a man with former major league managing experience in Philadelphia (a town frequently compared to Boston and New York for their fan bases’ passion towards sharing their opinions).  Here was a guy who could do what Little did and take it one step further.  The result: bye-bye Bambino curse, hello Duck Boat parades in 2004 and 2007.

With those successes under the team and city’s belts, suddenly every September and October game took on added meaning and additional pressure.  The payroll ballooned to meet the demands of a passionate fan base for whom anything less than a championship meant dismal failure, much like their rival brethren four hours down I-95.  Somewhere along the way, with all that money being handed out to Jonathan Papelbon (who refused to talk long-term contract in order to squeeze every dime out of his arbitration years), Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, JD Drew, and so on, the players became too comfortable with their surroundings, as if they owned the place.

The qualities that made Terry Francona such a perfect fit for the job in 2003 were put to the test.  That clubhouse had grown so comfortable with his style that there was little maneuvering left for him to push people into when the team wasn’t going well.  Which brings us to today.

What does this team need in their next skipper?  The curse is gone, a new tradition of winning, not just contending, is in place.  But you have a team that lost their way in both April (don’t forget that horrific 11-15 start that was just as much to blame for the Sox’s position at the end of the year) and September, with the bulk of the team returning for 2012.   So what does this team need to put last year’s demons behind them?

Enter the new manager.  This team needs a new identity, a new chemistry, and a new voice to bring those two things together.  Which is why the pool of candidates is so interesting.

None of these men have an established managerial track record or reputation.  Which is PERFECT for this club.

A blank slate is the best place to start.  This team needs to start from scratch.  While there are still holdovers that have come up through the Red Sox system like Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester, and Jacoby Ellsbury, this is still a relatively mixed group that has been acquired in recent years like Beckett, Lackey, and Adrian Gonzalez.  This team needs to develop a new identity the way the 2004 Red Sox came up with the “Band of Idiots” moniker.  That team had fun together and subsequently won together.

While the candidates for the job have learned from some of the games best managers (Charlie Manuel in Philly, former Sox pitching Coach John Farrell in Toronto, Jim Leyland in Detroit), they can learn and foster their abilities and team identity with the 25 players in that cramped clubhouse on Yawkey Way.

The Red Sox had self-imposed a deadline of Thanksgiving to have named their next skipper, but with their seeming top choice headed for the North Side of Chicago, it seems they don’t mind taking their time and having a new guy in place by the winter meetings.  It will be interesting to see which face they intend to stamp on that clubhouse as they try to bury the end of last year’s story when they report to Ft. Myers.

The trouble with hiring someone without a track record is we don’t have much to go on as far as predicting what they’ll bring to the table.  The reason is simple: the only people in proper position to judge their characters are Ben Cherington and whoever he brings in the room for the interview.  Nobody necessarily knew what men like Joe Maddon would bring to Tampa or Bud Black to San Diego.

This club needs someone who can be a stoic field boss in leading the troops on the field, can take proper direction from Cherington & Co. on how to deploy the players at his disposal, and help the 25 guys in the clubhouse remember to have fun despite the enormous pressures of playing in Boston.

While this seems like a monumental task, it also seems to be the mold many clubs have built successfully.  Joe Maddon in Tampa Bay is one such example of a guy who understands the philosophies of the front office but has served as a catalyst for his players, leading them to three playoff berths in the past four years despite one of baseball’s lowest payrolls.

The Red Sox will likely continue their hunt for the latest treasure in that mold of manager and hope it will reignite that perfect chemistry between front office, manager, and clubhouse that turned Fenway Park into the powerhouse baseball destination we’ve come to know it as for the past decade.

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