Ben Cherington is the 11th general manager in Boston Red Sox history. He was originally hired by former Sox general manager and now Orioles GM, Dan Duquette in 1997. After spending time as an advanced scout for the Cleveland Indians, Duquette brought Cherington into the Red Sox system. Even though he seems new to many fans, he’s been with us since Nomar Garciaparra was a rookie.
In 2012 we will see if Cherington can steer this historic franchise back to a championship.
80+ years ago there were no general managers in Major League Baseball. Owners were responsible for player personnel decisions and owners took the onus of building a baseball team despite having little expertise. In those days owners left very little responsibility to anyone but themselves.
The business of baseball today it’s a completely different game. Believe it or not, the first official Red Sox general manager wasn’t appointed until the year Prohibition ended. Red Sox Hall of Famer Eddie Collins was the first GM in Boston’s history. Even though the Red Sox never won a World Series under Collins, he is credited for returning the Red Sox franchise back to form in the 1930s. He was a smart GM. Even in the 30’s, the Red Sox were using the same basic concepts used today — spend a lot of money to buy players and invest a lot of money into the farm system.
In the first year of Eddie Collins as general manager (’33), the Red Sox won a total of 63 games, finishing 2nd to last in the American League.
Collins would remain GM until his health failed him in the 40’s.
It was 1948 that another Red Sox Hall of Famer Joe Cronin would take over the role. In Cronin’s first year as general manager the Red Sox won 96 games and finished the a season tied for first place with the Cleveland Indians.
This led to the first-ever one-game playoff in the American League. The winner would go on to the playoffs and the loser would go home.
The Indians beat the Red Sox 8-3 carried by Indians’ third baseman Ken Keltner, who singled, doubled and hit a three-run homer sending the Red Sox to bitter heartbreak and ending their season in shock.
Cronin stayed with the Red Sox for 12 seasons until he became President of the American League. Many considered him a racist and he is blamed for the Red Sox deliberately not integrating at the same pace as other teams. The Red Sox were the last franchise to put a black player in uniform. When it finally happened, Cronin was already gone.
His successor was Bucky Harris and Harris was a lame duck GM who lasted just two pitiful years. In his first season with the team, the Red Sox won 75 games and began a long stretch of mediocrity.
1961 began the Dick O’Connell era which somewhat parallels US President Grover Cleveland in that he served two terms but with another GM (Pinky Higgins) in between. President Cleveland was in office four a term but Benjamin Harris had to sneak his way in there before Cleveland could get back in again for four more years. O’Connell’s run with Boston was kind of the same.
In 1961 the Red Sox win 76 games. Higgins took over in 1963 and the team won just 76 games again. Then 196O O’Connell was back in action and just one year before the ‘Impossible Dream’ team captivated Boston, the 1996 Red Sox won a mediocre 72 games.
O’Connell was the TSN executive of the year in 1967 in 1975.
At the time, Tom Yawkey was the Red Sox owner and when he died, it was the end of an era for O’Connell. The year was 1978.
Next on the docket was Executive Vice President/General Manager Haywood Sullivan.
Things started off well for Sullivan in ’78. The Boston Red Sox held a 14-game lead over rival New York Yankees. However, the lead collapsed and the Yankees worked their way back from a 14-game deficit. The Yankees tied for first place and forced a decisive one-game playoff. Sullivan’s first year as GM was the ‘Boston Massacre’ and Bucky ‘Bleepin’ Dent. The first year under new ownership started under a very heavy and dark cloud.
If you think 2011 was the worst collapse in Red Sox history, think again.
Sullivan would remain GM from 1977 until 1984 when he appointed Lou Gorman as the next Red Sox general manager. Besides the Boston Massacre, Sullivan is remembered for his failure to send contract offers to the Red Sox star free agents. Rick Burleson, Fred Lynn and Carlton Fisk all ended up leaving Boston because Sullivan failed to mail the offers before the official deadline in November of 1980. The other eyebrow-raising gaffe on Sullivan’s resume was when he used a second round pick to draft his own son, catcher Marc Sullivan. Sullivan went on to be a .186 hitter.
1984 was Lou Gorman’s first year on the job and the Red Sox ended up winning 86 games that year. Although a decent win total by today’s standards, it was still 18 games behind first-place Detroit who won 114 wins that season. No playoffs and a meh-ending to the start of the Gorman era.
Gorman lasted 10 years as Red Sox GM before being promoted out of the job in 1994. Like his predecessor Sullivan, Gorman is often remembered prominently for one of the worst trades in Red Six history. Gorman traded prospect Jeff Bagwell for Astros reliever Larry Anderson. After Bagwell went onto a Hall of Fame career, Gorman said “Who knew?”
The Red Sox did go to the 1986 World Series under Lou Gorman’s watch and even though he is derided for the trade of Bagwell, Gorman did make trades that favored the Red Sox including his wonderful swap of Calvin Schiraldi and Al Nipper for Chicago Cubs closer Lee Smith.
When Gorman was promoted in the organization in one again opened the GM job and then-Red Sox owner John Harrington decided to appoint up and coming execute Dan Duquette into the Red Sox general manager role.
Duquette’s first year as a GM was 1994 and we all remember what happened in 1994 — a lot of nothing. 1994 was a strike-shortened season and the Red Sox would go on to 54 wins and 61 losses. Interestingly enough, Duquette was considered responsible for architecturing the Montreal Expos ’94 season. Many considered the Expos to be a World Series contender in 1994 but the strike ruined that and the ‘Duke’ had to watch it all from Boston where his first season ended with a sub-.500 record.
Duquette was a good GM in Boston but was criticized sharply by the Boston media. He did not handle the media well at all and had really bad fall-outs with Mo Vaughn and Roger Clemens.
Early on he was a farm system guru but increasingly became obsessed with finding the last big piece to the puzzle with veteran players. He helped close out the racism era in Boston which took 30+ years to do so as the ghost of Joe Cronin’s direction still chased through Yawkey Way. Responsible for drafting Kevin Youkilis and guys like Freddy Sanchez and Manny Delcarmen, Duquette had some hits in the Minor League drafts, but overall the farm system ended up being relatively barren on his watch. He stole Pedro Martinez from the Expos in a deal for Carl Pavano and Tony Armas. He stole Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek from Seattle for Heathcliff Slocumb and signed Manny Ramirez to a monster contract.
Back in 1996, Duquette declared Clemens was in the twilight of his career. He then signed Steve Avery to a huge deal after Clemens left and Avery sucked. He also signed Jose Offerman to a big deal and save Offerman’s bat in the first year of the deal, he too sucked.
Duquette signed Tim Wakefield in 1995 and Wake is still here. Oddly, he signed Mike Maddux in 1995 as well and now Maddux is interviewing for the Red Sox manager gig. Duquette laid the groundwork for Theo Epstein and players that Duquette brought in (Pedro, Lowe, Varitek, Damon and Manny) were big parts of the ’04 championship. People often bag on Duquette but history remembers him as a positive influence despite the handing of Clemens and the like.
When John Henry and Co. purchased the Boston Red Sox the first order of business was to fire Duquette. The Red Sox did not have an up-and-coming star to replace Duquette and filled the general manager role with in-house guy Mike Port. Port’s first season as general manager was in 2002 and the team won 93 games finishing 10 1/2 back of the first place New York Yankees and six games behind Wild Card-winning Anaheim Angels. Good win total, but no postseason.
It was one and done for Port as the Red Sox went out to get their GM of the future. The Red Sox thought they had lured Billy Beane from Oakland. Instead, Beane decided to stay out West so that he could eventually be played by Brad Pitt in a Hollywood movie. Instead of the Red Sox making a splash with Beane they decided to name Theo Epstein as the youngest general manager in baseball history at age 28. It was a bold move by the new owners.
2003 was Epstein’s first season as general manager and the Red Sox would go on to win 95 games that season clinching the AL Wild Card and after being the Oakland A’s in dramatic fashion in the ALDS, the Red Sox were set to face the New York Yankees in the ALCS. Epstein’s first season as general manager ended in Game 7 on the gut-punching homerun by Aaron Boone off longtime Red Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield. It seemed like once again a new regime would be marred by more pain and suffering for the franchise.
It was now 86 years and counting since the Red Sox had won a championship.
Thankfully, things got better quickly for Epstein and the Red Sox. With Boston winning two World Series (’04 and ’07) under Epstein’s reign, he will forever be considered the best in Red Sox history. (Unless someone comes along and winds three or four in quick fashion)
Today, we have the Duquette-hired, Epstein-inspired newest wonderlic Cherington taking over the franchise. Larry Lucchino is still in the picture (in fact he was kind of the GM during the whole Theo power struggle in ’05) and now Cherington must navigate his way into the future after an head-scratching conclusion to 2011. Some call it a collapse, but the 2011 Red Sox season was really more of a giant tire with a slow leak that went flat as September ended. The ending is raw so it hurts more now but 2011 was nowhere as catastrophic as 1948, 1978 or 2003.
The first year for new Red Sox GMs has not fared well as history has shown us. Cronin, Sullivan and Epstein all lost playoff games in a painfully dramatic manner. The rest of the new GMs failed to make the playoffs in their first year.
If history tells us anything it’s that Cherington’s 2012 will either end without postseason baseball or he will be bounced from the playoffs in a devastating and historic fashion.
This is what has happens when the Red Sox change General Managers.