Farrell instilled focus in Red Sox from day one
Club heeds message to deliver for skipper, rebound from tough '12
As the saying goes, you get only one chance to make a first impression. Back on Feb. 15, still months before the Red Sox would show the general public what kind of team they had, the new manager made his opening address -- one that would stick with his players all year long.
That morning in Spring Training, John Farrell looked a room full of players in the eye and demanded professionalism and focus, which he believed would lead to excellence.
There was no talk about the Red Sox making incremental steps back to respectability after the 69-93 disappointment of 2012. Before an exhibition game had even been played, Farrell talked about winning, because that is what the Boston Red Sox should be associated with.
"He's the captain of our ship," said outfielder Jonny Gomes. "Who are you without a captain? From jump street, when he had the meeting with 60-plus guys in Spring Training, we got the message right away. We just nodded our head and got to work."
And when the Red Sox accomplished what Farrell challenged them to do on that first day, the players didn't forget where a lot of their initial inspiration came from.
"Our manager, he's the reason why we are where we are," said David Ortiz during the celebration after the Red Sox clinched the American League East title.
After the ill-fated Bobby Valentine experiment lasted just one season, the Red Sox knew a unique leader was needed. They targeted Farrell for many reasons, including his organizational skills and his obvious familiarity with the Red Sox from his four seasons as pitching coach from 2007-10.
Farrell quickly evolved into everything the team had hoped and more. He works tirelessly, an attitude many of his players share. And he worked in perfect concert with his coaching staff, ensuring that the players were getting one consistent message.
The one thing Farrell instilled from the first day is to treat every game like it means everything. External distractions that develop in a place like Boston? Farrell demanded that his players made sure those stayed external.
"Coming together for the first time in that first meeting, we talked about what was associated with Boston -- and that's winning," said Farrell. "We talked about a style of play in which we wanted to push the envelope and be aggressive, but not stupid-aggressive.
"And probably the one simple element that I tried to make known is, 'Let's make the game tonight -- the game every night -- the focal point.' I almost correlate it to a starting pitcher, that if you focus on just pitching the greatest number of innings you can, then that drives everything else. It drives your work, your preparation, all those things.
"And I felt like the same way with this team. If we focus on the game tonight, then all of our attention, our focus, will be on how we're preparing and how we're going to take advantage of situations inside it. This group loves the attention to detail. They love to have some understanding of what they might be able to exploit inside of a game."
What helped Farrell's cause is that general manager Ben Cherington went out and got him the perfect type of players to absorb his message.
From Gomes to Mike Napoli to Shane Victorino to David Ross to Ryan Dempster and others, the Red Sox turned into a clubhouse full of baseball junkies.
And for the holdovers like Dustin Pedroia, Ortiz and Jon Lester, who had always felt the same way about the game, it turned out to be a perfect mix.
"The one thing I think is most rewarding for all of us is obviously achieving the goal that we have so far," said Farrell. "To me, it's probably as important as how we've done it. What I mean by that is, early conversations with Ben, sitting down and defining, 'What do we want to be?' It was kind of a remake in a way.
"It was, 'OK, what do we want to be known for?' In our minds, the city of Boston or the Red Sox, to me, has always been associated with winning. Sure, that's the end result. But how we were going to get there is probably more of what I'm talking about and that is to outline our expectations of doing it in a way that is very much a strong team concept and then finding guys that match that with the reputations that they had. I think that's been the most rewarding thing, as you asked."
The one thing that is clear with Farrell is that he isn't comfortable taking individual credit.
After two less-than-spectacular seasons managing the Blue Jays, there were questions on whether Farrell could be a successful manager.
"That's understandable," Farrell said with a laugh.
But when asked how personally satisfying it was to answer his critics, Farrell quickly turned the conversation right back to his players.
"Again, any time those questions come up about how successful you've been, it always comes down to the players," Farrell said. "And we have a very deep and talented team. And we've been able to put guys in position to succeed, and what's as important as David Ortiz or Jacoby [Ellsbury] or Dustin being our mainstays are the guys that have accepted their roles. They've been key contributors. I think that's why we've had so many different guys contribute, rather than relying on three to five guys."
In mid-November, there might be a day when Farrell is forced to talk about his personal accomplishments. He is a leading candidate to win the American League's Manager of the Year Award, something no Sox skipper has done since Jimy Williams in 1999.
Is that type of thing uncomfortable for Farrell to talk about or think about?
"It is," said Farrell. "I honestly don't pay attention to it because …"
If Farrell completed his thought, he would say that makes him uncomfortable because it doesn't have anything to do with "the game that night."
Now three seasons into his managerial career, Farrell is willing to talk about some ways he's evolved, including his increased comfort with relating to his position players.
"I think it's so important to be consistent. When you establish roles or you establish an expectation, it's making sure that we stay accountable to that," Farrell said. "Because if that's our guiding light, we can't stray from it and still expect to get there."
"And part of that is more comfort on my part on interacting with position players. It's easy for me with a pitcher, from my own past. But from a position player's standpoint on just communicating with them on the lineup, when they're going to be in the lineup the next day, or in the case of Mike Carp and Jonny Gomes, being consistent when they're being used and not every time has it happened, but at least they can think along with me.
"That's probably the biggest thing [that's evolved] -- it's the interaction with position players and understanding that mindset and being respectful to what their needs are, as opposed to just pitching background."
The Red Sox ultimately made the decision to hire Farrell after a big sitdown over takeout Chinese food at the home of Red Sox president/CEO Larry Lucchino.
What does Lucchino think of the job Farrell has done in his first year?
"Extraordinary," Lucchino said. "I don't think of him as a first-year guy. He's a regular, popular guy. He's Gary Cooper with a high IQ."
And Cherington, who spent too much of his first season as general manager putting out Valentine's brush fires with controversy, has reveled in watching Farrell go to work.
"John's done a terrific job," Cherington said. "Again, he talked so much in the winter and Spring Training on keeping the focus on the field, being prepared, doing this together. Those are easy things to say, harder to pull off, and he did pull it off. He's got coaches who respect him, players who respect him and he led this from the first day in Spring Training. He deserves a tremendous amount of credit, and I feel fortunate to be able to work with him."
After passing every test during the season, Farrell now gets ready for his maiden voyage in managing a team through a postseason run.
"The best way I can anticipate it is the sense of urgency picks up a notch," Farrell said. "The game is still going to move at a pretty quick pace. It does now. But the significance certainly grows. I'm really looking forward to seeing how our guys perform on that stage."
Back in 2007, when the Red Sox won the World Series, and in '08, when they advanced all the way to Game 7 of the AL Championship Series, Farrell was right next to Terry Francona in the dugout.
Of course, Farrell absorbed October lessons from the man most people describe as the most successful manager in Red Sox history.
"His demeanor -- even though on the inside, it might not have been the same -- his thoughts, his demeanor on the outside, were very consistent," Farrell said.
In the coming days, Farrell's coaches and players will look at him in those urgent situations and see what his emotions are.
"In those tough moments, all eyes turn to you," said Farrell. "What do they feel in you? What do they feel the emotion in you? I think it's important to remain -- again, going back to that word -- consistent."