Griffin: one-on-one with Blue Jays manager John Farrell
Jays' manager John Farrell came to town in the days immediately following the Bills' annual losing visit to the Rogers Centre. He took time out from his meetings with GM Alex Anthooulos to speak to The Star about his relationships with his new coaches, what shaped him as a manager, his timeout to finish his education and his views of Toronto from his playing and coaching days. Following is the complete conversation:
RICHARD GRIFFIN: It looks like you've assembled a really solid coaching staff of good baseball minds. Let's start with hitting. It sounded to me at the press conference that the home run method of scoring was not all that you wanted. You talk about manufacturing runs and, you know, Cito sat there and was pulling his hair out about that. Is there a way that the same guy that worked with Cito can work with you and work with the hitters and change that offensive culture in the clubhouse?
JOHN FARRELL: Yes there is. And I'm confident in saying that based on the conversations that Dwayne and I have had. Cito, I fully respect his approach to the game. Knowing the strength of this lineup was power, I think there's the ability to place another emphasis on scoring runs as well, particularly to not make a team so one-dimensional when low run games are being played or you're going up against opposing pitchers that either have above average stuff combined with above average command to be a little bit more diverse to capitalize on opportunities. That might be using the bunt a little bit more late in games, hitting and running, starting runners. I'd like to give our runners the ability to have the green light. Now that doesn't mean we're going to run with reckless abandon. That's picking our spots and being a little bit more unpredictable with an approach that was very obvious.
RG: Say it's the eighth inning, you're at home, leadoff guy gets on, you're down 2-1, a pitchers' battle, do you bunt?
JF: That's an option.
RG: Second hitter, middle of the order coming up?
JF: That's an option...depending on what guys have done leading up to that. If they've had good at-bats against the pitcher. What I want to do, what we want to create here is that we've got the ability to use different weapons. I know preparing against teams that are not afraid to use a first and third bunt at times late in games when it's a very difficult thing to defend against, it creates more for the opposition to have to contend with, things that they have to defend against as opposed to being strictly – and I want to be careful that what was done here previous was wrong. That's not what I'm saying here. But I think there are areas to become more efficient or more proficient, particularly in low-run games and one run games to be able to play for a run and put more pressure on the defence.
RG: We were in Phoenix this summer and one national writer came by to interview Dwayne Murphy and he turned to us on the field in front of the dugout and said, “Seems to me that Dwayne Murphy is trying to create a team of Dwayne Murphys.” If a guy played and believes in that style can you as a staff make that adjustment, can he make that adjustment to incorporate all that stuff that you want?
JF: When the emphasis is placed and the value is placed on other elements of an offence, yes you can. How we arrive at that, once we establish our goals and become more of a broader approach towards offence, we'll set out steps to accomplish that in spring training. It would be unfair for me to ask any player, it would be unfair for my coaching staff to ask any player to do something inside of a game if we haven't worked at it, if we haven't discussed the importance of it and what our vision is as an offence going forward. If the power is still a strength we are going to rely on that. We're not going to take a strength and diminish it and take away from it. But I think we can become more of a rounded approach, particularly in low run games that we'll eventually play in the post-season.
RG: At the World Series when Bautista got his Hank Aaron Award, he was very enthusiastic about Murph coming back. Did you speak to him as well as other players?
JF: Yes, yes. The one resounding piece of feedback that I got from different players was their relationship with Dwayne. Coming into this, this is not a rebuild situation coming in here. There were a lot of good things being done, a lot of good things taking place. It would be shortsighted on my part to come in and say there needs to be a complete change. There's too good of players here, there's too good of a group of coaches here that tapped into those abilities and built those relationships. That's what was valued and looked upon in those areas as “Let's continue to build with this.” So I didn't want to disrupt that.
RG: There is a feeling among fans and I'm not sure if you've heard the feedback, but Alex is very conservative and doesn't want to step up and say, “Hey, we're way ahead of the curve that we planned.” So basically, in the philosophy of this organization, it seems to be Year 2 of a rebuilding plan. I think you said something to that effect that you don't see it that way. Fans believe that this is not rebuilding, that this is a team that can compete. Are you of that mind?
JF: I always believe that you're going to have the ability to compete and win every night you take the field. Whether or not that means there's a post-season berth to be had in 2011, we'll find that out as we go through next year. I never want to think that we're going in not planning to play into October. How realistic that is, I mean, let's face it there was 85 wins accrued last year and there was some areas and some individuals that didn't have their normal years. That doesn't mean that everyone's going to take another step forward. But I think when you look at the core group of players here, both on the mound and in the everyday lineup, this is an exciting group to go forward with and to build around and to compete with.
RG: Two years ago there was a pitching coach, Brad Arnsberg, who believed in power pitchers, spent a lot of time with Doc. It seemed from the outside that the solution was if you could throw 90, just throw harder. Bruce (Walton) comes in from the bullpen and his philosophy is if you can throw 90 throw softer. It seems to me that Walton's philosophy is easier for most pitchers to understand and to incorporate. You can't throw 10 m.p.h. harder but you can throw 10 m.p.h. slower. It seems that the pitchers on the staff responded and now are Bruce Walton fans. Which camp are you in and are you a change speeds and back off type guy and can you work with Bruce. You don't just jump in and have the same view of pitching...but you're in charge.
JF: I understand what you're maybe alluding to the fact that is he going to be allowed space to work. And unequivocally yes. There's multiple reasons for that. The development of pitchers as seen across the field is tangible and real. I firmly believe that pitching is a matter of disrupting hitters' timing and that comes with the change of speeds. The other component is that having been in a position before where inheriting a lot of staff you have the respect of those people and you give them the respect for the work that they've done, you give them room to work within that area. There will no doubt be conversation as there would be with Dwayne or Butter or any other coach on this staff. But having come from a pitching background I look forward to the conversations that we have about individual pitchers or pitching in general. To arrive at a point where we stress or work off the individual strengths of the pitcher and make him as successful as possible. There are multiple ways to go about it. There's not one exact way to form a pitching staff. If we had every guy that was high strikeout guys and high groundball guys well that would be the epitome, or the peak of putting together pitchers that are successful in this division, in this league. We're going to work off the strengths of the individual, maximize their abilities.
RG: In Boston it turns out, and you knew it when you got him, that you had a big-game guy in Josh Beckett. Two starring World Series and it's hard to go wrong on that. Do you have to identify somebody on this staff before this team can win, somebody like Beckett. Or do they have to step up and show that they are that guy, because Beckett during the season is one thing but in the playoffs, the post-season of '03, '07, he was stunning. You mentioned Romero, you mentioned Morrow at the press conference. There might be other guys in a couple of years. But does one guy have to step up.
JF: Well, using the Beckett comparison, he's had more opportunity in October to create that label for himself. We have to get to that point in October and provide that opportunity as a group. Once that opportunity is seized by the individuals, they'll begin to make their mark in the post-season. To sit here today and say that this person or that person has to do that – let's get there first and let that person relish the opportunity and make their mark on the post-season.
RG: Do you recall when you first thought you wanted to be a manager. I assume it was in that '01 to '06 period with the Indians, because the story is that you were considered for the Indians job before Eric Wedge got it, or around the same time. At that point when you first decided you wanted to be a manager, that was an ambition, do you think that now you have less ego, because you've accepted a coaching staff in which Torey Lovullo that's pretty much it as one of your guys. But back then, did you have more ego and now you've understood the game more.
JF: I'd like to think I am the same person today as the person that played this game back in the '80s and through the '90s. My experiences have clearly given me a clearer vision of the construction of a team, putting together a staff, recognizing the abilities of the individual, whether a coach or a player and working towards a common theme. The thread to all that is being very clear in your expectatons, being very clear in our goal and how we're going to get there. If the view of retaining coaches and accepting who they are is one of being different, then I don't know it any other way. Because I like to look at people and their abilities. They've earned the right to be there. I feel secure enough in my own skin to be able to collaborate with others to meet that goal. Being the farm director in Cleveland really brought that into light because the total number of people that you inherited, not knowing them or having a history with them in the past, but earning their respect by being consistent and being honest with them forged a lot of good relationships going forward.
RG: That group, and I'll put parentheses around the timeframe that you were there, '01 to '06 and maybe a little earlier, the Indians seem to have produced an awful lot of managers and GMs and people who have gone on in important roles to other organizations. Can you just run through some of those guys. There's Neal (Huntington) with the Pirates...
JF: Neal became the GM in Pittsburgh. Kyle Stark is his farm director now. I'm just looking at where people have migrated to. Ross Atkins who was my assistant coming in, is now farm director and v-p in Cleveland. Mike Hazen was my assistant and went to Boston before I went there in the front office with Boston and now the farm director there. That was just in the office. Tim Bogar is now the third base coach in Boston. Luis Rivera was a minor-league manager at that point, elevated to the major-league staff in Cleveland. Tim Tolman is now the bench coach in Cleveland and gone on to be the third base coach in Washington before returning to Cleveland. Lee Kuntz was our minor-league coordinator and is now the head guy in Washington. We worked under a mandate that, in the role that I was in, it was my responsibility to seek ways to better their current situation. The development of people was a main thrust of (then-Indians GM) Mark Shapiro. And what it did was it broke down a lot of the natural barriers that could build in an organization. You worked towards providing feedback to individuals to help guide them to become better at their jobs and ultimately progress in their own careers. Much like players move from level to level, we were under the instruction that the people that were your responsibility, that you were in charge of, to do the same (as players).
RG: Is that six years (with the Indians) more important to where you sit right now than the four years as a pitching coach in Boston?
JF: Both have their true meaning. But in terms of dealing with a larger group of people and understanding the other side of the game, putting a team together, identifying staff members, being thrust into a position to have difficult conversations with guys that might have been reluctant otherwise, that was a tremendous learning tool for me. It was a position where you had to learn the needs of the individual and every person was different from the other. So whether it's someone coming from a different culture, a different economic background, you had to have compassion as far as what their challenges were to help those players overcome those challenges and realize his goal of being a big-league player or realizing we're going to develop this person to the hghest we can.
RG: So in a way it separates you from 29 other pitching coaches because – and we talked about it at the press conference – there's that built in feeling that pitching coaches don't go on to be managers. But that six years with the Indians separates you frm just being a pitching coach.
JF: I would hope so.
RG: You just brought it up and I was going to ask this later. There was a feeling that this clubhouse, and it was much needed, was becoming more diverse and there was a growing Latin feel and international flavour and the feeling was that there would be a Latin coach on your staff. A Spanish-speaking coach, first language. Can you still continue building in that direction without that person.
JF: Well before that “without” is an absolute, we're working towards a staff assistant, another position that would be created here, to not just serve as a liaison to the diversity in that clubhouse, but to have a person that is talented, that can contribute, but also meets some of the needs. Luis Rivera is a candidate for that position, to be quite frank with you. So, there is an inherent responsibility with this game . We are diverse in a number of ways. We want to be able to reflect that and meet the needs of those individuals. (THE RIVERA APPOINTMENT WAS ANNOUNCED THE NEXT DAY)
RG: Would that be an automatic if your bench coach (Don Wakamatsu) gets a managing job. I mean would that be just a natural progression and otherwise it's an additional.
JF: What would be a natural progression?
RG: To add that coach and maybe move Lovullo to the bench and have Rivera at first.
JF: That's one scenario, but we'll probably cross that bridge if that bridge opens up.
RG: But it's an understanding that you have that that clubhouse was going in that direction, or is going in that direction.
JF: That's an understanding. Yes.
RG: You had a lot to do with the Cleveland development in the Caribbean and scouting in that area. What does that diversity bring to an organization that otherwise they wouldn't have in terms of making it better? Caribbean scouting and increased diversity.
JF: One thing is we will look for the best players available, no matter where they come from. Not be restricted because of some bias that might be perceived. But, no, the players come from all walks, whether it's the Pacific Rim or whether it's Latin America, whether that's right here in North America. We're not going to back away from where those players come from and whatever the challenges are that they might present and equip ourselves as best we can to meet the challenges of a given player.
RG: When you get a player like Yunel Escobar coming from Atlanta and he has a reputation of being difficult and he comes here and the reputation changes to one of being easy to manage do you understand that as far as what you've dealt with young Latins. You talked about how you need to understand the culture, you need to understand the difficulty of showing up and not speaking the language. Do you understand how that perception can change of the same player.
JF: I think first of all, I don't know from his days in Atlanta. I can't speak to some of the challenges that he might have faced over there. I can say this, that all players have needs. Whether that's culturally or physically or mentally, there's going to be needs that emerge in this group and I think it's in our best interest and in the best interest of the players. I think the biggest thing is that we keep the player first and foremost in our approach, in our decision-making and in our recommendations and by doing that nine times out of 10 and possibly more, we'll make the right decision.
RG: When you were growing up – and I drove by Monmouth Beach on my way to Asbury Park during the World Series. I had a car and went and wrote a column on the boardwalk at Asbury Park. I drove by the sign that said Monmouth Beach – Don't get off Here.
JF: (laughs) You've been in God's country, that's all I know.
RG: Were you a Springsteen guy?
JF: Absolutely. Still am.
RG: It was an epiphany for me to go down and write the column in a bar facing the beach. It was great.
JF: You didn't sit in front of the Stone Pony, did you?
RG: Yeah I did. I took a picture and had it as my screensaver for a while until my daughter's' picture showed up and I couldn't keep the Stone Pony. But it was good. I parked right there. It was fabulous . I just needed to know if you were Bon Jovi or Springsteen.
JF: No, no, no. Springsteen.
RG: Perfect. That's all good. When you finished as a player and went back to Oklahoma St. did you think that was it for major league and pro baseball or were you using it as a stepping stone? Or did you just need to stay in the game somehow?
JF: I knew that even in the last couple of years of playing I could remember vividly having conversations with Bud Black out in the outfield. This was probaby in '89 or '90. I always knew that I wanted to stay in the game, but at the same time when my playing days were done and having three young sons, I couldn't set an example for them by saying you need to get a college education when I didn't have one of my own. So for four straight months I flew every weekend from Westlake (Ohio) to Oklahoma City to finish my degree. At that time I still didn't know what I wanted to get into. I knew I wanted to stay in the game, but I didn't know what path to go in. So it bought me some time. It accomplished a goal and by doing that the opportunity to go back to Oklahoma St. and coach emerged. I had no idea it was going to. Coming out of playing, it may have been one of the best situations I could have put myself in. Because I'd learn to coach, I'd learn to organize, I'd learn to deal wth parents, deal with agents, even at the college level. So I was wearing a bunch of different hats. To me it was almost a training ground to move into the player development role because, again, you had to juggle so many different aspects of the game that it was a very good stepping stone.
RG: I've been in baseball for 38 years and I know I've learned a lot from watching my sons play baseball growing up. Stuff that I knew but just didn't care about. Watching your boys play, did you learn anything that sort of was a revelation?
JF: I knew I couldn't sit in the stands and watch them. I had to get the hell up and go and stand in the outfield behind the fence and stay out there and watch them just to not be a distraction. It gave me room to pace and deal with my own anxieties watching them. In watching them, it taught me some patience. The instinct might be to force the issue because whether they're not accomplishing something in the timeframe where you think they should, but it tells you to take a step back and be a little bit more understanding than what your instincts might be telling you.
RG: How old were you when you got married.
RG: So the John Farrell before getting married and the John Farrell after getting married and having children, how different was the 22 and younger John Farrell? Were you sort of edgy and wilder or were you always serious and focussed?
JF: Always driven. Always not thinking that anything was insurmountable. Not being afraid of letting this game take me wherever it was going to take me having come from a town where you decided not to turn off at and then to Stillwater, Oklahoma was culture shock. But it was the game that was taking me there. That was the vehicle and that's been the vehicle that my family has been fortunate to ride in that has been very rewarding, very challenging. I've seen a lot of different sides of the game and thankfully my wife and my kids have been there every step of the way.
RG: The Red Sox clubhouse went though a period of years where it was, like, nuts. You bring midgets in, you bring this, you bring that. You're obviously not going to copy that clubhouse but you can learn from that. It was unique because there were characters there like a very small, closed environment and Tito (Francona) let's guys be themselves. I mean, you don't imitate but what do you learn from that?
JF: You learn that the clubhouse can be an extension of your personality and I think that the team will evolve in a certain way, to a certain extent. I think it's important for the players to know that they can come in here and be themselves, that they are not going to feel like someone is looking over their shloulder.My presence in that clubhouse will be daily. I think it's important to be seen, to be a part of it to be involved, whether that's in a serious way, whether that's in a joking way. I think it's important that players see all sides of you. That you're genuine. Not that you always have to be loud or be restrictive because of what you say, but they have to know that you're real. They have to know that you have their best interests at heart and at times that's going to require conversations that they might not like, but what's in the best interests of us as a team.
RG: We haven't seen the sense of humour side which I assume there is a large part of...
JF: So I'm boring and Stoic?
RG: Pretty much. At spring training will they see that side? Will that come out?
JF: Sure it will. I'm going to have to gain a comfort level with myself in that clubhouse. My first goal for that atmosphere, I have to earn their respect. I know that intuitively. I know that instinctually. There are going to be times when that lighter side, that personality will come out. You can ask any coach that either I've been coaching with or former teammate, yeah there's a side that likes to have fun. I define fun in the game of baseball as executing and winning. That's the most fun for me.
RG: Will that comfort level be helped by the fact of Butter and Murph and Bruce returning. Is that part of helping you.
JF: By the coaches that have returned for the reasons that we stated earlier, the less obstacles and the less challenges you encounter to establish the identity that this team will ultimately become. I think it gives us the ability to start further down the line than people with a totally clean slate.
RG: You mentioned that there's going to be a January mini-camp.
JF: I think it provides a natural opportunity to not only interact with the players that will be involved in that camp, but to bring the coaching staff together for the first time to begin to plan out spring training, for each to understand one another's department, to understand what the needs are going to be to accomplish everthing that we need at spring training. What that also provides is that anything that comes out of those meetings that we will have during that time, there's another four or five weeks to make any adjustments, so once that daily schedule is set we know that we can communicate from one page, one voice that this team understands what our goals and expectatons are and how we go about accomplishing it.
RG: For the spring training daily schedule, is Torey going to do that, or Butter. Have you decided yet.
JFR: Right now it's likely to be Don. Knowing that Butter has done it here before, those duties will be more clearly defined here in the next couple of dasy, but then again, setting the agenda in January gives us the opportunity to finalize any approach going forward. That would be the responsibility of the bench coach.
RG: In your time in baseball as a player and a pitching coach, which managers have you taken the most from in terms of...or is it all you in terms of observe and modify.
JF: I'm influenced by the experiences that I have encountered myself as a player and coach. As a player, Doc Edwards was a father figure to me. He made me feel comfortable. He was someone that believed in me. If you looked at my record in Triple-A, you might say you know what, he's a guy that doesn't deserve a major-league opportunity, but he was one that provided it and I made the most of it. To see how Tito dealt with a lot of unique situations in Boston and how he believed in players and wouldn't get off players because they went through periods of adversity or struggles, the confidence that he had was shown to those players and they would run through a wall for him.
RG: Why does Manny (Ramirez) like you so much or is he just desperate for a job?
JF: You know, I don't know. Maybe that's a question better suited for Manny.
RG: If I had been down the street on Sunday, I might have been able to ask him. He was there in '07, obviously. Did you play with him in Cleveland, also.
JF: The only crossover we had in uniform was '95. I came up in September after spending the year at Triple-A. He was the Minor-League-Player-of-the-Year in '91, I believe, so as a 19-year-old, I believe that would have been his age at the time, when he came up and was given an award in September, that was my first interaction with him. We've been in the same uniform. We've been in the same clubhouse , the same dugout for a couple of years in Boston. A tremendous righthanded hitter.
RG: When you were a player in the American League and came to Toronto, what would you do after games, where would you go, where'd you hang out?
JF: I was always a guy that typically would go back to the hotel. We stayed downtown on the waterfront here, either in the Westin or the Sheraton, so it was a walk back from the ballpark. I kind of remember, I was actually on the team before the SkyDome was built, in Exhibition Stadium. It always seemed like a trip away from the hotel was to go up to Yorkville and have lunch before going to the ballpark. So that semed to be like a city within a city, not knowing it fully as a 24-year-old or 25-year old before I got to the big leagues. This has always been a very intriguing place to come to as a visiting player. Clean city, obviously very diverse and what's taken place here the last four years coming in as a coach is almost mind-boggling.
RG: Are you going to find a place walking distance and then just back and forth.
JF: I will. Because even coming in as a visiting coach, we stayed at the Park Hyatt and I would walk to the ballpark every day. I think to get a feel of the city is important. Living downtown is something I did in Boston as well. Convenience is one, but I think it's important to get the pulse and beat of where you work.
RG: The reputation you had in Boston as a pitching coach was, and it came out as you were getting this job, was that you were much sought after by teams and that your future was as a manager somewhere. Why Alex? Why Paul? Why Toronto? Why here? When it seems like you could have picked your own spot?
JF: That might be where we differ. I don't know if I could have picked...I never had that impression, personally. I never woke every day plotting my next move. That never occupied any of my time. There were opportunities in the past to interview that were declined because, one, I didn't think I was ready; two, there was a provision in my contract of a mutual agreement with the Red Sox and myself that wasn't the right time. Here and now? Getting to know Alex and getting to know the vision that he has. Understanding what is on the field here currently and the resources that are behind this movement. The fact that it's the American League East when some people might think it's a daunting challenge, I think that it's even a greater attraction. There were a number of factors that came into play that made it feel this is the right place, this is the right time. It's a great city. I mentioned it at the press conference, when this opened up in the early '90s, this was the place to be. Yes, the players have changed, the results have changed over the past ferw years. But it's also an insight as to what could be here and that is another appealing factor in all this.
RG: If you had taken a job in '03 when your name first came up as a manager...
RG: In Cleveland.
JF: You know something that I don't.
RG: That's what I read. I read Peter Gammons. We read all those Boston guys. That's where we find out our Jays stuff. But you said you didn't think you were ready. If you had taken that would that have been a mistake. If you had taken a job back then as opposed to now, would that have been a mistake in your mind as you sit here?
JF: I don't know how that would have turned out. I like to think I'm a fairly quick study. I don't know that you're ever fully ready for the next set of challenges. I feel like I'm more prepared now than I was even three years ago. But there's going to be some things come up this year that either I don't anticipate or situations that might emerge that I haven't found myself in before. But I feel a little bit more prepared going through the cycle in the dugout four years in Boston with Tito and Theo preparing for that puts me in a position to say with more conviction and confidence that this is the right place.
RG: The April schedule. Coming out of the blocks there's a couple of home games then there's like a long, tough road schedule, then by the end of April if you're maybe 5-6-7 games under .500 how are you going to react when you're critiqued in the media?
JF: I will react as I would coming into the ballaprk every day. One of the elemnts that I mentioned to you before of being honest, of being credible of being consistent. So as those players walk in they know what to expect as well. I know that being in this seat critique is going to take place. That's part of it. That doesn't cause me to shy away or push away. It's still about preparing day-in and day-out to win tonight and make adjustments when needed.