Buckley: John Farrell should learn some lessons from Bill Belichick
“Well, what do you expect John Farrell to do?”
That question, and variations of it, represents the single biggest mistake people are making as they discuss the John Farrell-David Price-Dennis Eckersley public relations fiasco facing your first-place Red Sox. Anyone who poses this (rhetorical) question is basically just saying, hey, it’s the 21st century, and managers don’t have the kind of power they had back in the days of Leo Durocher, Dick Williams, Billy Martin, Earl Weaver and other fire-breathing skippers of days gone by.
But the Red Sox aren’t in this mess because of what Farrell is or is not saying. It’s because of what he is or is not, period. He can’t walk into a room and own it. Price, meanwhile, is emboldened to do and say what he pleases. The manager’s continued fumbling and inability to offer anything in the way of a team apology to Eckersley, which continued yesterday during an awkward radio interview on WEEI’s “Dale & Holley” program, only highlights the point.
Which brings me to Bill Belichick.
You think the Red Sox would be in this mess if they had Bill Belichick — OK, a Bill Belichick type — as their manager?
Before continuing, I know what you’re thinking: It’s unfair to compare NFL coaches and MLB managers. The very nature of pro football contracts gives coaches leverage over their personnel, to the point where the worst NFL coach you can name (Rich Kotite, Rex Ryan or, I guess, pretty much anyone else in Jets history) has more power than the very best baseball managers.
But it’s not contractual power that’s at issue. I’m talking about the kind of power gained through a powerful presence. And are we agreed that Bill Belichick has a presence that makes it very clear he’s in charge?
Let’s put aside the debate over whether Belichick is a “genius,” if he’s the greatest coach in NFL history and so on. I don’t happen to think Belichick is a genius, for the simple reason that the word “genius” is misused in sports discussions as a synonym for “the best.” And, yes, Belichick is the best coach. Best ever? Given how hard it is to be competitive year in, year out in today’s NFL .?.?. yes.
So let’s put Bill’s SAT scores aside for a moment and go back to presence. Belichick presents himself as a man you wouldn’t want to disappoint, regardless of your contract or your individual career stats. And the players who have disappointed him — Adalius Thomas, Wes Welker, Randy Moss, Jamie Collins — have been cast aside.
If Bill Belichick — OK, a Bill Belichick type — were managing the Red Sox, it’s reasonable to speculate that David Price wouldn’t have acted on the urge to verbally assault Eckersley on the team charter. Bill Belichick doesn’t like these kind of distractions.
At the beginning of this column I rolled out the obligatory disclaimer about how this is the 21st century, that guys like Leo Durocher, Dick Williams, etc., don’t happen anymore. But that doesn’t mean a manager can’t throw his weight around once in a while.
Hall of Fame-worthy Jim Leyland was the unquestioned boss of whatever team he managed right up until he retired in 2013. And it’s not like Leyland had acquired his bravado after 22 seasons of managing, including three pennants and a World Series championship. He always had it, as evidenced by the way he went after Barry Bonds during a spring training episode when the two were with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1991.
Bonds was already a star by then, one coming off his first MVP season. Leyland was entering his sixth season as manager of the Pirates, but he wasn’t yet regarded as a future Hall of Famer. Back then, he was a lanky, chain-smoking career minor leaguer and still on the ascendency in the managerial pecking order.
Yet he had no problem going after Bonds. And if a recent MLB Network bio of Leyland is any indication, Bonds has long since made things right with his former manager.
As far back as 2000, when Bill Belichick was in his first season coaching the Pats, Belichick comported himself as the man in charge. And aside from the occasional blackboard-scratching from Welker, you don’t hear a lot of sniping about Belichick from former players.
Maybe it’s too late for John Farrell. We can guess as to whether he’s “lost the clubhouse,” but we’ll need to wait for the first anonymous player to drop a dime to one of the beat writers.
And if it is too late? Maybe by next February, after the Pats have won their sixth Super Bowl, Belichick will be looking for a new challenge.