If only for baseball reasons, John Farrell’s return to Toronto as Red Sox manager on Friday might inspire a collective shrug.
After all, in two seasons as Blue Jays manager he’d built an unimpressive 154-170 record, drawn criticism for lack of leadership from veteran Omar Vizquel, presided over repeated incidents of wild base running, had the pitching staff obliterated by arm problems, and failed to either detect Yunel Escobar’s eye-black slur or handle it assertively.
While disappointing on-field performance of the team could have been attributed to factors beyond his control, baseball fans had hardly developed an affinity with the man. No loss, in other words.
But the emotion attached to his return extends far beyond baseball reasoning, of course.
John Farrell, welcome back. You are likely to be booed, loudly and repeatedly, at Rogers Centre on Friday.
Farrell plunged a dagger into the underbelly of Canadian culture with the words used to describe his departure following the 2012 season.
He called managing the Red Sox his “dream job”, clearly and succinctly leaving the impression of someone who’d regarded the Blue Jays from the outset as a miserly stepping stone to something much greater. Twisting the knife, he described Boston as the “epicentre” of the sport, leaving Toronto out in the figurative Mojave, feeling only aftershocks.
Any Canadian who’s attended Fenway Park or even spent time in a Beantown sports bar might appreciate the sentiment, but the majority haven’t and his anticipated reception is antithetical to logic, in any case.
Amplifying the circumstances, Farrell returns on a Friday, typically when a strong beer-chugging element populates the upper reaches of Rogers Centre. The Blue Jays are anticipating average crowds of 40,000 this weekend and if the pattern holds, many will be Red Sox fans. Should be an interesting mix.
During the series with the Indians, Cleveland first baseman Nick Swisher got booed each time to the plate as a former member of the New York Yankees. That was baseball booing, fun booing, rooted in sport. Farrell’s case is different; he’s returned to an AL East rival and insulted a nation in the process!
Jays pitcher Darren Oliver, who’s from Texas, has lived part-time in Toronto long enough to understand. It’s not that he left … “It’s the way he left,” Oliver said on Thursday night, after the 10-8 win over Cleveland.
That is, akin to favouring Seattle over Vancouver as a better city, Dallas over Calgary as the superior oil & gas town, or New York for Toronto as a … no, wait, people get that one. So, Dunkin’ Donuts over Tim Hortons … McDonalds over Harveys … the stars & stripes over the maple leaf ... PBS over CBC.
Vince Carter has heard these same boos in Toronto, Roberto Alomar too. Likewise, they left for greener pastures south of the border, and that is just not done.
“Villain or the bad guy, whatever it might be, I can only say we’re looking forward to the challenge that lies ahead of us,” Farrell told Boston media on Thursday. “People are going to have their own opinions, and I respect that. It goes along with the heightened interest in the Blue Jays and a lot of the changes they’ve made. There’s a lot of excitement there. In this case, with how things unfolded, the unique set of circumstances that surround both the change in Toronto and here in Boston, I can fully appreciate that they might have those feelings.”
Punctuating the messy affair, it came out that Farrell had admitted to Blue Jays executives after the 2011 season, only one year into his three-year contract, that the Boston job was his ultimate goal. This, after the Jays had given Farrell his first shot at managing, hiring him from the Red Sox following five season as pitching coach for Terry Francona. At the time of that discussion with GM Alex Anthopolous, Francona was in the midst of being fired by the Red Sox.
As it happens, on Friday afternoon Farrell will inhabit the manager’s office in the visiting clubhouse, only one day after Fancona had used it.
“I’ll leave him something, but it won’t be a note,” Francona said curtly on Thursday, without elaborating.
Will the Blue Jays be distracted by the return of their former manager?
“Not at all, no one really cares,” said catcher J.P. Arencibia.
For allowing Farrell to leave before his contract had expired, the Blue Jays obtained Mike Aviles from the Red Sox and flipped him to Cleveland for relief pitcher Esmil Rogers who’s now in the Jays bullpen.
John Gibbons got the opportunity to return as Blue Jays manager after Farrell vacated, and had a little self-deprecating fun with the hypothetical question on Thursday.
Who might the Jays get in return for letting him leave?
“I don’t know … Albert Pujols?” he said.
Toronto fans might forgive Gibbons leaving for Southern California. But … Boston?