Red Sox Win PR Battle (for Now)

By Matter

After a spirited and mildly successful late season stretch, the 2015 Boston Red Sox limped to the finish line yesterday in Cleveland, dropping two in the midst of a four-game losing skid to finish 78-84, the team’s third last-place finish in four years. Few tuned in on TV and with good reason; the real action occurred outside the white lines.

In these final weeks, manager John Farrell’s future was uncertain pending a clean bill of health following his ongoing cancer treatment and his club’s performance and recent front office house cleaning. Yet the club somewhat strangely announced Farrell would return (if healthy) last week following a speculative report by the well-respected Sean McAdam of Comcast Sports, which noted that the decision was made six weeks’ ago by new Sox President David Dombrowski. Meanwhile, interim manager and bench coach Torey Luvullo, who guided the Sox to a respectable 28-20 record during Farrell’s absence, suddenly became a hot property for open managerial slots in San Diego, Washington or other ports of call.

With these winds swirling about Dombrowski’s head, speculation ran rampant as to how the Sox would handle this extremely delicate situation involving Farrell. Would they definitively bring him back? Could they wait a few month’s to be sure about his health? Would they promote Luvullo to manager? Would Dombrowski bring in old pal Jim Leyland? Would ownership force Dombrowski to bring in much need “fresh blood” in the form of a younger guy?

In the background, but on a much less important plane (IMHO), Sox ownership was still reeling from its handling of popular NESN play-by-play man Don Orsillo, whose contract was not renewed after 15 years. That one leaked out in pretty ugly fashion in August when most fans rightfully had given up, but were still pretty ticked at ownership and the front office for poor off-season moves and the club’s continued second division performance. In short, the PR Hit on Orsillo was a bit unexpected, but hardly minor. In fact, I find it a bit surprising how negatively so many Sox fans reacted to his dismissal.

With Farrell’s heath uncertain and the clock ticking, Dombrowski and Sox ownership had its proverbial hands tied. Yesterday, they announced Farrell would return as manager and Lovullo as bench coach, ready to step if Farrell were not fit for the job.

If you subscribe to the theory that a player cannot lose his starting job to an injury, what about your manager and an unforgiving condition as Stage 1 lymphoma?

Why would Farrell NOT be allowed to return – if healthy? The answer is simple: the team’s performance during Farrell’s three-year tenure was rocky at best. With a huge payroll and bigger expectations, this team has routinely underachieved under Farrell.

At the risk of sounding callous and cold-hearted, I think the image-conscious Sox may have overplayed the PR card here. The goodwill they will create from now until Opening Day 2016 in bringing back Farrell could evaporate instantly if the Sox stumble out of the gate next April. What do they do then? Keep Farrell around to save face and look like they care more about one man instead of success of its 25 players, the entire organization and Red Sox Nation? Promote Luvullo, who took a two-year extension to stay instead of taking a manager job elsewhere? Try to hire that young gun who Miami, San Diego or Washington simply missed?

The only certainty in all of this is this: it’s hugely complicated. Perhaps it was their only move. Pardon the pun, their (Butch) Hobson’s Choice.

What would you have done if you were John Henry, David Dombrowski or part of the Red Sox PR team?