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

Oct 31, 2013, 12:41 AM EDT

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

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.

  1. perryt200 - Oct 31, 2013 at 12:59 AM

    I wish our government was as good at solving problems when they decide the answer is just throw a ton of money at it.

  2. joestemme - Oct 31, 2013 at 1:00 AM

    So, where are the fotos of the Hardball Talk “experts” who picked the Cards to win this? FIVE out of Six “experts”?

    Like I wrote then, start eating some crow and shoes, guys……..

  3. peterjohnjoseph - Oct 31, 2013 at 1:35 AM

    I think John Lackey deserves a spot on that list. In many ways this guys turnaround mirrored the teams. From the most hated player in town, to the man that got the biggest crowd reception for a pitcher in my memory. This guy is the epitome of redemption.

    • quintjs - Oct 31, 2013 at 7:29 AM

      That’s a great point peter. What I find most interesting and pleasing is that is isn’t like Lackey put up obscene numbers – 3.5 era. Basically he pitched the way people thought he could pitch and embraced him – he finally delivered what people expected. And I think that is the case with so much of the Red Sox team this year. There isn’t a lot of lofty numbers, Ortiz was the only one of the regulars who slugged over .500 , yes Buchholz and Koji had great years but for the most part guys just performed well across the board.

  4. Jack Marshall - Oct 31, 2013 at 1:36 AM

    Stop blaming Valentine for 2012. If anyone thinks Farrell would have won many more games with all the injuries and bad years Bobby V had to deal with, especially after the team threw in the towel with the trade to LA, please step up and explain how. I’m sure it would have been more pleasant and peaceful losing with Farrell at the helm, but nobody could have averted disaster with all those injuries. Be fair.

    • quintjs - Oct 31, 2013 at 2:47 AM

      Plenty of teams have had a lot of injuries and averted disaster, including the Red Sox in recent years. Valentine made it a disaster. The Red Sox were not a playoff calibar team in 2012 and injuries made sure of that. They should not have been a 69 win team either, and Valentine made sure of that.

    • hobocracker - Oct 31, 2013 at 6:02 AM

      Compare the 2012 Sox to the 2013 Yankees. Both teams were riddled with injuries. The Sox finished 69-93, and the Yanks finished 85-77. Can you guess what the difference is? It’s a manager who has a) skills, and b) control of the clubhouse. Valentine’s playoff series record stands at 3-2. That means he has led a team to the playoffs two times in 13 full seasons as a manager. Anyone who successfully executes their mission twice out of 13 times in any profession, whatever the circumstances may be, should not continue in that profession. I know if I failed at my job 11 out of 13 times, I would be imprisoned.

      There’s your explanation, Jack. Your argument was so poor that I did something I never have before: Speak nicely of a person in a Yankees uniform.

      • dan1111 - Oct 31, 2013 at 6:37 AM

        Terry Francona never led the Phillies to the playoffs in four seasons; in fact, they never even approached .500. Wow, he must have been a criminally bad manager who deserved prison. But then he managed for the Red Sox and Indians (somehow getting another job despite a 0% success rate) and led them to 6 playoff appearances and two World Series. WHAT???? Did he go to some sort of secret ninja manager school during 2001-2003?

        I agree that Valentine deserves some blame here, but…

      • asimonetti88 - Oct 31, 2013 at 11:08 AM

        Valentine has managed 3 different teams across 13 seasons. A bit different than Francona managing one team for four years. Small sample size vs. proven trend.

    • dan1111 - Oct 31, 2013 at 6:44 AM

      Normally I am not at all in the “blame the manager” crowd. But when everything goes wrong at once, at the same time that the manager appears to be visibly messing things up, it is fair that he gets quite a bit of blame.

    • metroplexsouthsider - Oct 31, 2013 at 10:16 AM

      At the same time, Boston fans owe the L.A. Dodgers a sloppy wet kiss for taking all those huge contacts off their hands last year. Without that, they likely don’t pursue Napoli (remember, before the hips issue, they were offering three years with serious money) or Victorino.

  5. thebadguyswon - Oct 31, 2013 at 1:38 AM

    Ha! You knew Craig would take a shot at Valentine before the night was over.

  6. thebadguyswon - Oct 31, 2013 at 1:43 AM

    Enough with the redemption bullshit narrative. The Sox laid down last year. They got bounce back years from several veterans and added some good free agents.

    They also had a HUGE payroll advantage which almost EVERY SINGLE WORLD SERIES winner does. (Something MLB hates to talk about).

    The Red Sox were the best team and they deserve it, but can we stop with the horseshit narratives?

    • dan1111 - Oct 31, 2013 at 6:40 AM

      Woah, you really hate narratives.

  7. connormyboy - Oct 31, 2013 at 2:39 AM

    Money can buy happiness,

    • jjpt4540 - Oct 31, 2013 at 9:02 AM

      Ask the Dodgers if their happy

      • patsandsox - Oct 31, 2013 at 10:47 AM

        Yes a great thank you needs to be given to the Dodgers for taking that a-hole Beckett and his contract as well as Crawford and his contract. I did miss Gonzalez but he was the price to get rid of those two whiners and slackers
        Thanks to you LA for helping the Red Sox win again!

  8. andreweac - Oct 31, 2013 at 2:44 AM


    That is all.

  9. jason9696 - Oct 31, 2013 at 4:23 AM

    I love the Sox but John Farrell was a turn coat the way he left the Jays. He mailed it in the last year in TO.

    • Mark - Oct 31, 2013 at 9:08 AM

      I wouldn’t call him a turn coat but he sure did make some questionable decisions in the post season. Fortunately Ortiz, Lackey & Lester played well enough that it didn’t matter.

  10. rfexpact - Oct 31, 2013 at 7:52 AM

    Congratulations, Boston. Well done!

  11. cur68 - Oct 31, 2013 at 7:59 AM

    Best team won. Congrats. Now pardon me while a cry the bitter tears of a division rival fan who had to watch his boys play these bums all season long. Dang it to heck.

    • stex52 - Oct 31, 2013 at 8:43 AM

      Hey Cur. Jays have a lot of talent. They just need to remember to use it next year. Your narrative should be that if you have the players, big things can happen.

      You could just use another starting pitcher or two.

      • cur68 - Oct 31, 2013 at 2:25 PM

        And the pixie dust of health to sprinkle on their delicate, easily bruised butts, too.

  12. nigelben - Oct 31, 2013 at 8:40 AM

    Its nice that Boston won the 2013 North American Baseball Championship, good for them

  13. babyfarkmcgeezax - Oct 31, 2013 at 8:50 AM

    It also helps being one of the handful of teams with an unfair advantage over everyone else, enabling them to make such a quick turnaround that would take years for most other teams to make (and even then, only if those teams were nearly flawless with decision making)

    • thebadguyswon - Oct 31, 2013 at 9:02 AM

      And yet MLB continues to ignore that. EVERY YEAR the champion is someone in the top half of MLB payrolls. Every year.

      You can make the playoffs with a smaller budget, but you’ll never have the depth on hand to win it all. Next year will be the exact same thing.

  14. 4Q - Oct 31, 2013 at 10:01 AM

    The only unhappy person in Boston sports on this Thursday morning is Shameless Shank Shaughnessy –

  15. rogerbrad - Oct 31, 2013 at 10:02 AM


    This shows the resilience of an American city. From a terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon to the winning of the World Series in the same year, I’m very proud to have been station at the Boston Shipyard in the early ’70’s. It was a great city then, it’s a great city now!!!

  16. metroplexsouthsider - Oct 31, 2013 at 10:17 AM

    At the same time, Boston fans owe the L.A. Dodgers a sloppy wet kiss for taking all those huge contacts off their hands last year. Without that, they likely don’t pursue Napoli (remember, before the hips issue, they were offering multiple years with serious money) or Victorino.

  17. humanexcrement - Oct 31, 2013 at 12:28 PM

    Well, that was fun.

  18. gostlcards5 - Oct 31, 2013 at 12:44 PM

    Congrats to the Red Sox and their fans. Great series to watch. Ortiz is an absolute stud. Lester was awesome as well.

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