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Jays name Farrell as team's 12th manager

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The Canadian Press
10/26/2010 1:45:41 AM
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TORONTO -- Much like when he's trying to acquire players, Toronto Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos was willing to accept some risk in hiring a new manager to get someone with star potential.

In John Farrell he certainly believes he's found that man, a former big-league pitcher who has worked both as a farm director and pitching coach and whose only real question mark seems to be a lack of previous managerial experience.

The 48-year-old from Monmouth Beach, N.J., named the 12th manager in franchise history Monday afternoon, is an articulate speaker with a commanding presence and a winning background.

His challenge now is to leverage a strong and wide-ranging resume to take charge of an entire team, and match wits with four elite rival managers in the American League East.

"There were a lot of very qualified candidates out there, but what it came down to was who had the chance to be the best manager, long term," said Anthopoulos. "It was very difficult for me to go into this process and hire someone who I felt could be good but not great, it's not the way I operate, I don't think it's what we need in this division and to get where we need to get to.

"I had to hire someone that I felt had a chance to be great."

For a few years while Farrell has served as pitching coach for the Boston Red Sox, he has been considered an up-and-coming managing prospect, and has turned down a handful of other opportunities.

With some he didn't think he was "ready," while for others, the "situations didn't look as attractive as this in Toronto."

At times sounding like Anthopoulos, himself only on the job a year, Farrell spoke of the opportunity the Blue Jays have to build a sustainable winner, the resources at their disposal, and of recreating the atmosphere when he pitched before packed houses at the Rogers Centre.

He firmly believes the team, 85-77 in 2010, is on track to end a post-season drought stretching back to the club's second World Series title in 1993.

"The most important thing is how efficient we are as an organization, whether that's through scouting and player development, whether that's through preparing our major-league team to compete," said Farrell. "At the right time there's the ability to sign free agents to support or augment the roster that may be in place."

Farrell displayed some instant savvy by retaining third base coach Brian Butterfield, one of three other finalists for the manager's job, and pitching coach Bruce Walton, two moves that will instantly win him friends in the clubhouse.

Talks are also "ongoing" with hitting coach Dwayne Murphy, while the futures of other coaches are up in the air. Torey Lovullo, manager of Boston's triple-A club in Pawtucket, may join him on staff in Toronto.

Farrell will also sound some similar notes to the man he's replacing, the retired Cito Gaston, with his goal of steady lineups and clearly defined roles for all aboard.

But he varies in that he'd like to have a team that creates offence rather than one that always swings for the fences, and the presumption is Anthopoulos will supply him with the players to make that happen.

"There's probably two areas we could become more proficient at," Farrell said. "That's increasing our on-base percentage and being a little bit more active on the basepaths, with the caveat that we're not going to run recklessly or without abandon, but to seek every opportunity that we can to create those runs."

One thing that is clear, Farrell will not be outworked.

The son of a lobster fisherman, Farrell began working with his father at age six and "certainly didn't grow up with a silver spoon in my mouth."

"Everything you got you worked for," he continued. "The greatest gift I think we (his brother and four sisters) were given was a work ethic."

Farrell spent eight seasons pitching in the majors -- he won 14 games for the Cleveland Indians in 1988 -- before retiring after the 1996 season. He took over as assistant coach/pitching and recruiting co-ordinator at Oklahoma State University, spending five years in the role.

In 2001 he returned the Indians as director of player development, and spent 2002 working with Tony LaCava, now the Blue Jays assistant GM.

Farrell remained there -- helping mould young talent and overseeing the team's Latin America programs, two points of emphasis for the Blue Jays -- until joining the Red Sox in 2007 because of "a burning desire to compete night in, night out."

"I don't think the dugout or your playing days every really leave you, so that competitive spirit was always alive in me," he said. "When the team was in town I'd walk through the dugout or stand behind the cage, and I could always feel a level of comfort just walking through there. Then when the opportunity arose in Boston, to get back on the field with all the things involved there, from the familiarity with (manager Terry Francona), the city, the competitiveness, it was an opportunity I couldn't pass up, much like I view this one."

Farrell's view of how a clubhouse should work was shaped in Boston working with Francona, his former teammate on an '88 Indians team that also featured Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington and San Diego Padres skipper Bud Black.

He used the word respect frequently in regards to dealing with his players and would like to emulate the environment the Red Sox have where people "would go through a wall" for Francona.

One of his first acts will be to call and introduce himself to all his new players.

"I certainly want players to come in and feel that they are not only comfortable there, but that they can be themselves," he said. "My involvement, my presence or my walking through the clubhouse, I anticipate as being frequent.

"That was the culture where I just came from. To have an understanding of the player, to know them as a person as much as a performer, then you have a chance to connect with them on multiple levels. ...

"That's all about earning respect, and I know I've got to earn the respect of everybody on this roster and that begins immediately."

Farrell's hiring was the result of a long and exhaustive process that began in August with Anthopoulos and his staff combing through all 30 big-league clubs for potential candidates.

A list of about 40 men was whittled down to 18 interview candidates, with Farrell beating out fellow finalists Butterfield, DeMarlo Hale of the Red Sox and Indians first base coach Sandy Alomar Jr.

He had three interviews, one by phone, two in Toronto, and met staff from all facets of the organization before Anthopoulos extended him an offer Friday.

Among the many things that stuck out in the GM's mind was Farrell's understanding of how to "balance his skill set." It's among the reasons he isn't worried about the experience issue.

"I think that's part of where he gets that respect from his players -- his work ethic, his preparation, playing background certainly helps," said Anthopoulos. "You look at the diversity of the players he dealt with in Boston, in that market with the egos and especially with the jump that he made from a farm director to that level, the success he enjoyed and the way players respected him was telling to me."

Farrell joins Black as the only former pitchers managing in the big-leagues.

Pat Tabler, the Blue Jays TV analyst who both played with and worked for Farrell with Cleveland, feels the team made an excellent choice.

"Look at Buddy Black, he never had any managerial experience and he almost got the Padres in the playoffs this year," said Tabler. "I parallel what I'm seeing in Toronto with what's happening in San Diego. Buddy Black is a great manager and was a pitcher, too. I see the same thing happening, and that team was built on pitching and defence also."

Anthopoulos and Farrell (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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