World Series - St Louis Cardinals v Boston Red Sox - Game Six

John Farrell, Shane Victorino and the Boston Red Sox: What a difference a year makes

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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.

MORE: Ortiz slugs way to World Series MVP

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.

MORE: Who came up big in possible Fenway finales?

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.

Murray Chass rightfully nails Major League Baseball on minority hiring

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When Murray Chass lays off his vendettas against the people he feels have wronged him, he’s still capable of making some sharp points. Particularly when he’s working in his old bailiwick of the business of baseball.

On Sunday he wrote a blog post about minority hiring in baseball. As in, the nearly complete lack of it, at least in front offices:

Manfred has talked a better job on minority hiring than he has performed. He has created a pipeline program through which members of minorities are supposed to be able to advance into major league front office positions. However, no role models seem to exist as inspiration for younger employees.

In Manfred’s 20 months as commissioner, clubs have hired or promoted 19 high-ranking executives. Eighteen of the 19 are white males. The lone minority is Al Avila, the Tigers’ general manager.

Chass reports that Rob Manfred and, in the past, Bud Selig have leaned on clubs to hire friends or trusted lieutenants but claim they have no power to tell clubs who to hire when it comes to minorities. It’s pretty dang good point.

Moving beyond Chass’ points, it’s worth observing that one way baseball could better populate the executive ranks would be to hire more minorities in entry-level positions. What a better way to become a friend and crony than to have, you know, been there a long time? The game has had a horrible track record in doing this, however, for one simple reason: it pays crap wages for all but the highest of executive positions, pushing away candidates for whom money is, in fact, an object to pursuing a dream in baseball which, by demographic necessity, favors the rich and thus favors whites. Earlier this year MLB launched a pipeline program aimed at getting more minority candidates into entry level MLB jobs. That’s a good start to addressing the problem, but it’s going to take years for that to bear fruit, assuming it ever does.

Back in June Kate Morrison and Russell A. Carleton of Baseball Prospectus wrote a four-part series regarding this very issue, and it’s well worth your time. Among the points made is one that, given his vendettas, Chass surprisingly didn’t make himself: sabermetrics is partially to blame! Go read Kate and Russell’s work on that, but the short version: front offices want MBA/STEM types now, not people with athletic backgrounds. People with those degrees have expensive educations and, in turn, cannot afford to take pennies to work in baseball when they can make far more in other industries, thereby continuing to favor the rich and the white.

I don’t think Rob Manfred or Bud Selig before him or the people who run major league baseball teams are bigots. I don’t think that baseball, as a whole, wants to keep minorities out of top jobs. Chass doesn’t make such a claim either and he, like I, noted the pipeline program.

But baseball is a business rife with cronyism and nepotism which leads those in power to hire friends and relatives, thereby keeping the executive class overwhelmingly male and white. Baseball has shown that, when it wants to, it can lean on teams to make certain hiring choices. Will it do the same to push for greater minority representation in management ranks? Or will it continue to throw up its hands up and say “hey, that’s on the clubs?”

Tim Tebow hits a homer in his first instructional league at bat

PORT ST. LUCIE, FL - SEPTEMBER 20: Tim Tebow #15 of the New York Mets hits a home run at an instructional league day at Tradition Field on September 20, 2016 in Port St. Lucie, Florida. (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
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Because of course he did.

It wasn’t just his first at bat, but it was his first pitch. It came off of John Kilichowski, an 11th round draft pick of the St. Louis Cardinals out of Vanderbilt.  The ball went out to left center, off the bat of the lefty Tebow.

Next time, meat, throw him a breaking ball.