What we have upon us hereabouts once again is another autumn of our discontent. Elsewhere, the music of Baseball’s Octoberfest plays on joyously. But here in Mudville, it has dissipated into a dirge.
It’s a song we’ve heard before, of course. But making it the more unpleasant this time, the merry frolics still roll on down the road in the Bronx and that was about the last thing expected in this season of much-exaggerated great expectations. Well, at least for the moment, they’ve still got it and we don’t and you can’t take that away from them, old Sport.
Quibble as you please, but no matter the result of the AL semi-finals, the Yankees have the immense satisfaction of having their season last at least two weeks longer than the Red Sox season did and here, where we calibrate the measure of our baseball seasons by such dumb stuff, that is important. Nor will it end there, with the bitterness and recrimination we’re dealing with here. But then around here we do tend to look for ways to make ourselves more miserable, a legacy of our Puritan past, no doubt.
There’s only one solution. Fire the manager. It’s a strategy oft tried, and if only occasionally true, it brings with it a certain satisfaction, however perverse. Give the ingrate the boot; that is the answer. There’s always a convenient excuse for such rank incivility. He never should have started Galehouse, or taken out Willoughby, or left in Martinez, as the case may be. Revenge is sweet.
Nor does it matter that by any reasonable analysis of managerial succession in Sox history, the tactic doesn’t lead to meaningful improvement at least three quarters of the time. Change for its own sake is the apparent end in itself. Like most of his failed predecessors, Farrell had to go because people simply tired of him. His time had run out. Nothing short of another championship would have spared him. The clock had struck.
You can always tell when the willing suspension of disbelief accorded the Red Sox manager has run its course. Or, as the estimable Dan Shaughnessy of the Globe succinctly observes, “It never ends well here in Boston.”
The new boy, whoever he may turn out to be, will be the 47th manager of the Red Sox in their 117 years of trying our patience. If he’s halfway equal to the task, he’ll begin by studying the comings and goings of those who’ve occupied that catbird seat before him. And a colorful if not always lucky lot they have been.
Believe it or not, ten Red Sox Managers are in Baseball’s Hall of Fame. But only one – arguably just Dick Williams – got there even in part because of what he accomplished managing the Red Sox. The other nine are Brothers Barrow, Chance, Collins, Cronin, Duffy, Harris, Herman, McCarthy, and Cy Young, no less, who got conned into managing for six games in 1907. Most of them proved just indifferent managers and a couple were downright lousy, thus making it to Cooperstown despite their Red Sox association.
An ominous omen reared early when Chick Stahl, briefly in charge in 1906, committed suicide just as the team was reporting for ’07. It’s believed that poor Stahl’s problems were personal and unrelated to baseball, although some Red Sox historians have expressed doubts. Five years later, Chick’s kid brother Jake piloted the fabulous 1912 Sox, led by Smoky Joe Wood, to what might have been their finest season. But he lasted only another half season before walking away from the game for good.
Managers leaving of their own volition, mainly out of disgust, have been common. Frank Chance, ex-Cub immortal, split after just one year. But dead-broke Bob Quinn’s 1920’s teams were routinely awful. Bill Carrigan, among their greatest skippers, quit on them twice. Ed Barrow quit in disgust after failing to thwart Harry Frazee from selling Babe Ruth. No fool, Barrow promptly joined Babe in New York where he became the principal architect of the Yankees fabled dynasty. Old, sick, and heavily burdened by alcohol, Joe McCarthy escaped in 1950 just before the ax would have fallen, having failed to bring to Boston the managerial magic he’d long waged in New York.
There have been many Sox managers who were simply crushed by the experience. That could certainly be said of Lou Boudreau, Billy Jurges, Billy Herman, and John McNamara, all reduced to tears when cashiered. Johnny Pesky and Joe Morgan, two of the team’s all-time most loyal and best-liked employees, were needlessly hurt when they became ensnared in Fenway’s legendarily byzantine machinations.
Pesky was a major victim of the devious Mike Higgins, and Jurges was another Higgins victim. Higgins, of course, remains in a class by himself, at the very bottom of this heap.
Other managerial casualties have been just plain sad. Over-matched, Darrell Johnson essentially fell apart. A decent fellow, Grady Little, remains an object of scorn a generation later. Whatever his flaws, the Bobby Valentine interlude should not have gotten so far out of control. Blame can be traced to the internecine front-office conflict that endures era after era. The old ball yard has always been a rough patch.
Lastly, there are the two cases that should be termed “inscrutable.” Nearly a half-century later, Tom Yawkey’s nasty and never-explained change of heart on Dick Williams, who in 1967 brilliantly orchestrated the most important season in his team’s history, remains ridiculous. So, too, remains the equally petty and mindless decision of John Henry and his corporate second-guessers to dump Tito Francona, the curse-buster. Like Williams before him, Francona goes on proving how dumb his dismissal was by excelling elsewhere.
They’ve fired, both on flimsy grounds, two of the three best managers they ever had. It’s quite a distinction these Red Sox can boast. As good an explanation as you’ll get comes from Tito Francona who, when asked recently to reflect on his experience in Boston, observed:
“I do think for whatever reason that place is a little crazy.”