The Sticky Wicket That Is John Farrell’s Cancer

With General Manager Ben Cherington on his way out and the team in last place again, it would be normal if Dave Dombrowski looked for a new manager for the Boston Red Sox. However, John Farrell’s recent cancer diagnosis makes things complicated. Lisa Carney explains the sticky wicket that is John Farrell’s cancer diagnosis.

Sports are a distraction from “real” life, and that’s a good thing. They have been there in times of war, natural disasters and even cataclysmic events that triggered national mourning. But every now and then the reality of sports that it’s human beings who bring them to life hits us square in the chops, and that’s not always a bad thing for us to experience.

The Red Sox’s disappointing season took a sad turn with manager John Farrell’s cancer diagnosis. Our hearts and prayers are with him and his loved ones as they take on the formidable journey ahead. Anyone who saw his poignant press conference knows he’s already started the hard part. 

Perspective is a word you hear a lot after an announcement like this. Terrifying news has a way of snapping us out of our superficial worries of the day. Remember the contrasting feelings felt for the Red Sox’s season on September 10, 2001 as opposed to September 12, 2001? If not, here’s a reminder:

September 10, 2001 – The antics of salty outfielder Carl Everett and his hapless manager Joe Kerrigan rule the local headlines. The Red Sox are in shambles, Nomar is pouty, the Yankees rub their überness in our face game after game after game.

September 11, 2001


September 12, 2001 – Nobody cares about the baseball drama anymore.

Of course, eventually the world fell back into the swing of things, and we were once again empowered to hate all things New York and to perceive our biggest autumnal threats were a lack of starting pitching and stalled playoff momentum. That is just how we move on from things.

So John Farrell has cancer. And his best friend, Terry Francona, put aside uniform differences to accompany him on his first treatment. That gesture brings three thoughts to mind: First, what an awesome friend and good person. Second, did they let Tito bring his spit cup into the treatment area? And third, did he spend some time counseling Farrell on surviving life? Not after cancer but on life after managing the Sox?

It sounds cold but the very real question lingers: If John Farrell hadn’t had hernia surgery, if his cancer wasn’t detected, would he have been shown the door in the latest office cleaning at 4 Yawkey Way? Goodbye, President of Ops. Goodbye, GM. It doesn’t seem likely that the manager would fare much better.

But John Farrell has cancer and it’s Jimmy Fund week. What’s a new President to do but mumble around the subject and say something like, “He needs to get through this thing right now.’’ 

But at this moment, Farrell’s record as Boston’s skipper doesn’t look good. Despite a World Series Championship complemented by a Manager of the Year Award, two years of suckitude have diminished the shine on the trophies. Fans were restless at the start of this season. The Red Sox playing the first half like they were auditioning for the Walking Dead created even more agitation in a fan base that wanted to see some fire from the dugout. Video replay be damned, find a way to get ejected. Fight for something!

Now John Farrell is fighting for his life, and if all goes well, he may be back at the helm come Spring Training. But if he’s not, it’s because ownership traversed the sticky wicket and made the tough choice. But would they have made the correct choice?

Farrell’s battle with cancer could end up telling us more about the man than his winning percentage ever could. He already impressed with his press conference where his concern for the guys who played subpar baseball for him was deeper than those he expressed for himself. That’s also called a team-first attitude.

Then in the days leading up to his first treatment, the NESN broadcast mentioned that he was watching the games on television, and it wasn’t to keep up with Don and Jerry’s banter; he was looking for ways to help his pitchers identify flaws in their mechanics. That sounds like a guy invested in his team succeeding.

John Farrell won’t be canned anytime soon, but make no mistake: The sting of this news will fade and then hard choices will be made. But is it really the wise thing to move on from a team-first guy invested in his players’ success, even in the face of his own mortality?

Godspeed, John Farrell. Stay Boston strong and know the Nation is with you!!!

Lisa Carney has also written about the rivalry that wasPedro Martinez and why diehard Red Sox fans are still watching.

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Follow us on Twitter @SoSHBaseball.

Check out Brandon Magee’s weekly Minor League Report and his look at Red Sox General Manager Ben Cherington’s tenure.

About Lisa Carney 19 Articles
Carney came to baseball consciousness in 1975, when her 4th grade math teacher used Fred Lynn’s stats to illustrate how we add large numbers. The 1975 World Series was the most beautiful thing that 9 year old had ever seen. However, Carney was raised by wolves, or Yankee fans as they may also be called, and in 1976, for 3 short games, she rooted for Lou Pinella and Thurman Munson. It was horrifying but sincerely illustrates the lengths a girl will go through to impress her Dad. Everything’s cool now and she roots whole heartedly for the right team. In 2010, her first novel, Cowboy in the City was published. Its fictional representation of working as a paramedic explains her lost faith in humans on the whole. She is ultimately grateful for her beloved Red Sox, who restore it just enough.

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