Griffin: Jays' Farrell learned important lessons from Terry Francona
DUNEDIN, FLA.-At the Jays' road game on Friday in which they faced the Astros at a location somewhere in the middle of this state, the Jays' usual pre-game media session with the manager was delayed because John Farrell and his Houston counterpart, Brad Mills were standing together in short right field gabbing about old times they shared as coaches with the Red Sox under since-departed manager Terry Francona. It was nice.
It's not just Farrell and Mills that have benefitted from their years with the fired Francona in Boston. Another confrere, third-base coach Dale Sveum went on to coach with the Brewers and has now landed the manager's job with the Cubs under former Sox GM Theo Epstein. In fact most of Francona's coaching staff over the past three winters have each interviewed for managerial positions throughout baseball. It's a factory.
“I'm sure each guy that you mentioned probably picked up something a little bit different in combination with their own personal experiences and career path,” Farrell said when asked if there was a common lesson learned from Francona.
“I'm going to pick up things differently from Tito than Millsie would., I mean they go back to University of Arizona days together. That was probably the right hand knowing exactly what the left hand was doing and thinking. But we share a lot of the same values in how the game is played, what we like in players. We were fortunate to be in a very successful and winning environment.”
Mills and Francona were teammates with the Arizona Wildcats where Francona was the Golden Spikes winner as the best amateur player in America in 1979. They became teammates again in Montreal and when Francona got his first major-league job as manager of a bad Phillies team, he brought Mills onto his coaching staff. The former third baseman then followed his friend to Boston. Farrell's four-year experience on Francona's staff as pitching coach from 2007-11, thus would be far shorter and far different.
“You take some of those experiences, including the traits of Tito, the way he dealt with people, the way he handled issues that arise, his approach to dealing with people and defusing a situaton before it became a bigger issue in the clubhouse,” Farrell said. “Those are some things we learned from him along the way and yet we're going to deal with things the way our instincts and our personalities lead us to that point. The common thread is our overall approach to the game.”
In major-league baseball, it's not just Francona that has spun off major-league managers with regularity. With the Angels, Mike Scioscia, who himself was spun off from Tommy Lasorda, the Anaheim manager has sent Ron Roenicke to the Brewers, Joe Maddon to the Rays and Bud Black to the Padres. John Farrell is not so insecure as to avoid surrounding himself with quality coaches that themselves have a chance to manage in the majors someday, guys like Torey Lovullo, Brian Butterfield, Don Wakamatsu and Luis Rivera.
“I think it's a prudent approach to surround yourself with the best qualified people,” Farrell shrugged. “Certainly the players are first and foremost, but as far as the ability to teach and communicate from a staff standpoint, you don't go get your friends, you get the best people available.
“Hopefully in the situation that you're currently working in that creates opportiunities for others to go elsewhere and start their own managerial career. That's what I've been fortunate enough to experience. Hopefully that happens with guys on our staff as well. You want to champion their cause in some way and yet celebrate when they get their opportunity to lead their own team.”
Meanwhile, after the Red Sox collpase late in the 2011 season, Francona was bounced for alleged disciplinary reasons wthin the clubhouse. Farrell was delighted to see his former boss on an earlier spring visit by the all-sports network, ESPN, Francona's current employer. They spent most of that day together, on and off camera.
“It was great to see him,” Farrell said. “I know he's still got a burning desire to get back in the dugout and I'm sure that will happen at some point, but it's always a fun conversation, I know that.”