BOSTON — In October 2012 John Farrell had just finished a 79-83 season managing the Toronto Blue Jays. Which was worse than his first year as Blue Jays manager. There were rumblings that the Red Sox might want to hire him to replace Bobby Valentine and most Blue Jays fans were OK with that. He hadn’t shown them anything, they felt, and they could probably do better.
In October 2012 Shane Victorino had just posted his worst offensive season in six years. And he finished it up in Los Angeles of all places, having been traded to the Dodgers in midseason. It was the Phillies’ way of telling him “no, we don’t need you anymore and we’d rather not even have to pretend to be interested in your services when you hit free agency this offseason.” With several outfielders on the free agent market it seemed that Victorino would have to scrounge for a job, let alone a decent free agent deal. Some folks even suggested that he may be done as an effective major leaguer.
In October 2012 the Boston Red Sox had just finished one of the most nightmarish years in their history. Indeed, it had extended back 13 months to their 2011 collapse, in which the Sox had snatched ignominy from the jaws of victory, and lasted all 2012 long. Bobby Valentine was hired, lost control of his team from almost the get-go, and then “led” the Red Sox to a 69-93 record and a last place finish.
What a difference a year makes.
Wednesday night, as he accepted his World Series MVP trophy, David Ortiz said that, as the year began, he didn’t necessarily think that the Red Sox could win a World Series championship. But that started to change once Farrell returned to the Red Sox (he was the pitching coach from 2007 to 2010), Ortiz said. Always a prickly personality, if David Ortiz says you got his attention, you’ve truly made an impression. And Farrell certainly had an impact. A team that couldn’t stay out of the headlines for all of the wrong reasons in 2011 and 2012 went about their business quietly and confidently in 2013. You have to give credit for that to John Farrell.
You have to give Boston general manager Ben Cherington credit for Victorino. Not many people thought a three-year, $39 million gamble on Victorino was a good one. Indeed, it was widely mocked. Part of the mocking was because, in most people’s minds, Victorino was a center fielder who had lost his center fielder’s skills. Signing him to play right field — which he played spectacularly — ended up being a master stroke. Victorino hit .294/.351/.451 and stole 21 bases as well. And while injuries and fatigue sapped him somewhat down the stretch, he drove in seven runs with two swings of the bat — a Grand Slam in the ALCS and a bases-clearing double in Game 6 of the World Series — that iced the Sox’ pennant and World Series title.
And this Sox team? Yes, they technically went from last place to first in the space of a year, but it’s not the sort of team we normally praise as a worst-to-first team. That’s usually reserved for teams which have had long histories of futility and then wildly surpassed expectations. No one expected the Sox to win the World Series as the season began, but most thought they’d be respectable. And most knew that with the brains in their front office and the resources at their disposal, the Sox wouldn’t be down for long.
But in some ways their accomplishment was even more improbable than that of your typical worst-to-first team. There was rot and negativity and shame in Boston a year ago. There were players who could be excused for looking a year ahead to free agency. People who, if they were betting the smart money, would never have bet on this team to flush out all of the toxins of 13 bad months, regroup and put forth an effort as dominant as the one they showed throughout this past year.
A year passed, but time doesn’t always heal all wounds, and even when it does, it doesn’t usually do it so quickly. But John Farrell, Ben Cherington, Shane Victorino and several others put in the energy that fought back the entropy. And because of it they will spend the next year as World Series Champions.