When the Red Sox hired Bobby Valentine as their manager 11 months ago, they took a risk that was akin to purchasing a lottery ticket.
There was at least some chance that Valentine’s considerable personality would spur a bruised team to success. But the odds were greater that an opinionated outsider would make a bad situation even worse.
A 93-loss season quickly led to another change. In John Farrell, the Red Sox are taking much less of a chance knowing the payoff will have to come in stages.
Tuesday at Fenway Park, Farrell was introduced as the 46th manager in franchise history. It was a family reunion of sorts, Farrell greeting a team that needed its former pitching coach to come back home after spending two seasons managing the Toronto Blue Jays.
“There’s some realization on my part that there’s work to be done here,” Farrell said. “There’s a lot of quality players that are currently here and yet the results, the win-loss record, doesn’t reflect that.
“It’s my job and my intent to find out what took place and how do we best address it and correct it.”
General manager Ben Cherington, only weeks into his tenure, agreed to the hiring of Valentine last year only after team president Larry Lucchino interceded. Cherington appeared relieved on Tuesday as he introduced Farrell, who is clearly his choice.
Farrell spent four years with the Sox as their pitching coach and established ties that withstood his time in Toronto.
“It’s important that I have a relationship with the manager that’s strong to the point that you can disagree and be candid with one another and walk away knowing that relationship is still intact,” Cherington said. “I have a better chance of making good decisions if that relationship allows for that kind of candid discussion and disagreement at times.
“I feel confident about that with John based on my existing relationship with him.”
Farrell thanked owners John Henry and Tom Werner — who were not present at the news conference — for their trust.
“They will get 100 percent every single day to put the best effort forward [and] to create an atmosphere that is not only professional, but winning,” he said.
A more emphatic message was waiting for the underachieving Red Sox players. Farrell spoke of the importance of management speaking with one voice and demanding accountability.
The Red Sox, who have missed the playoffs three years in a row, won’t have to go looking for their manager.
“I firmly believe that there’s an amount of professionalism that every player that comes to the big leagues and certainly that would come to the Red Sox here would have,” said Farrell. “That guides their preparation, their motivation.
“But most importantly, because I’ve been here before, there will be no taking for granted that relationships exist. I will work my butt off to earn their trust, earn their respect, and create an environment in that clubhouse that is just that, it’s a trusting one. It’ll be a learning one and, yes, it’ll be a competitive one and hopefully a very successful one at the same time.”
Prying Farrell away from Toronto was not easy. High-level negotiations took nine days to complete before the Red Sox agreed to give up shortstop Mike Aviles as compensation.
Lucchino said he wasn’t always sure the talks would be fruitful. Four other candidates were interviewed in the interim, with Padres special assistant Brad Ausmus, in particular, impressing the Sox.
“That’s why the suggestion that somehow we were making a mistake in bringing in other people to interview is, I think, unfounded,” Lucchino said. “There was a lot of uncertainty as to whether this thing could be done.”
Behind the scenes, former Red Sox manager Terry Francona played a peripheral role in Farrell’s return. He encouraged his longtime friend to pursue the job, giving what Farrell said was “almost his blessing” to the idea.
“Tito is pretty pumped up,” Farrell said with a wide smile.
Valentine was not hired until 32 days after the World Series last year. Farrell was hired three days before it started this year. The difference should allow the Sox to assemble a functional coaching staff and for Cherington and Farrell to work together in repairing a roster full of holes.
Farrell said one of the lessons he learned in Toronto was the need to speak forcefully about the players he wanted rather than always deferring to the GM.
“There’s a long list of to-dos,” he said.
The Red Sox have won only 76 of their last 189 games. Now they get a manager who was a modest 154-170 in two seasons with Toronto.
From afar, it does not look like a winning combination. But from within the walls of Fenway Park, it makes sense.
If injuries heal, performance and attitudes improve, and Farrell is indeed the person who can communicate with all involved, the Red Sox can reverse a five-year trend of decline.
“I think this has got an opportunity to be a fairly quick turnaround and get to the point of contending next year,” Farrell said.