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Another bizarre Fenway chapter

Special to

Aug. 17
"See that (Fenway Park) sign up at the top of the park, above the press box?" one of the Red Sox prominent players said as he strolled into the batting cage late Thursday afternoon. "Everything above that is nice, normal. Everything below it is (---) up."

It all had ground to a halt, all the chaos, the chasms that had widened from the far reaches of the clubhouse to Jimy Williams' office to the upstairs on Yawkey Way that never seemed to comprehend the human condition downstairs.

Jimy Williams
Jimy Williams guided Boston to the postseason in two of his four full years as manager.
Tuesday night, when Carl Everett grabbed his crotch and spit at Seattle Mariners pitcher Jamie Moyer as he crossed home plate after hitting a home run, it brought no response from any level of management. There was no Whitey Herzog grabbing Garry Templeton and leading him to the clubhouse. Nothing. Jimy Williams had tried disciplining Everett, and Dan Duquette always took Everett's side; too tired to fight it, the gesture became the symbol of the Red Sox.

The Red Sox lost that game to the best team in baseball when closer Derek Lowe could not hold a ninth-inning lead, sending talk radio -- Rush Limbaugh, with Jimy playing the role of Bill Clinton -- into day-long shock. Then Wednesday afternoon, when players came into the clubhouse and found that Morgan Burkhart, who was hitting under .240 at Pawtucket, was batting sixth with Jose Offerman on the bench against one of the league's premier pitchers (Freddy Garcia), one veteran groused, "You have to see this one to believe it."

The Red Sox lost again that night, their sixth loss in seven games. Going back further, they had been swept at Fenway by the Angels. They were swept in Oakland, split in Baltimore, lost the first two games of this homestand to the Mariners. After this weekend, they embark on their most important three-week stretch of the season: at Anaheim, at Texas, at Cleveland, New York, Cleveland and, finally, a four-game series at Yankee Stadium. They were already looking up at the Yankees and A's, with the Angels a half-game farther from the Red Sox than the Red Sox were from Oakland.

"There comes a point where you can't wait any longer," said Duquette, who knows better than anyone that with a $110 million payroll, new ownership on the immediate horizon and a farm system that resembles the aftermath of Hurricane Bob, if this team doesn't make the postseason he could well be sitting in the back of the truck that the owners will back up to the offices. This season was acting owner John Harrington's grand finale for the Yawkey name that had never won a World Series, a season with unprecedented anticipation and expectation. And as the months wore on and their stars -- from Nomar Garciaparra to Pedro Martinez -- went onto the disabled list, the disappointments were played out on Williams' neck.

Red Sox fans never warmed to Williams, who was never comfortable in the spotlight that is New England passion. And with a full DL, a roster that never conceived of role players -- like the Yankees and Mariners, teams -- and no young pitching to complement the current AARP lot (in its eight years this regime has not developed one pitcher who's ever won nine games in one season in the majors), a strange phenomenon developed. The players were almost never blamed for any loss, only the manager.

"All season, there [has been] a sense that any one of us can rip Jimy any way we want anytime we want because the fans agree and the front office is vindicated," said one veteran.

In mid-August, when the Red Sox grabbed for their playoff money and sent out their postseason ticket application to season-ticket holders, they offered a letter from Duquette which praised the club -- mentioning 18 players by name -- but never mentioned the manager.

The bizarre lineups, the "manager's decision" answers, the refusal to even try to stop opponents' running games, the loyalty that was read as stubbornness and the cold war between Duquette and Williams -- it all ground them to a halt.

Fans clearly backed the general manager against a manager who seemed so distrustful of New Englanders. To his credit, Duquette's record in the baseball business is clear: the Boston Red Sox sell out every night and have record attendance, their local TV ratings are the highest in franchise history (one Yankee game on their cable network, NESN, was the highest-rated show in Boston one night, and that was before NESN went free on local systems), and interest dwarfs that of the Patriots, Celtics and Bruins combined.

But to the players who walk into the clubhouse every day, the dysfunction that is the Red Sox runs far deeper than Jimy Williams. Players learn to check the room every afternoon to see who's coming and who left. "There is no understanding of human relationships here," says a veteran. "To the players who have been here for awhile, the defining moment for this place came when Mike Stanley, the most respected man on the team, was left a message on his answering machine telling him he'd been released."

So that is the Da Nang that Joe Kerrigan inherits. Oh, yes, with this addendum: Duquette told reporters that when he decided "to terminate the contract" of Williams after Wednesday night's game, he called Felipe Alou and tried to hire him for the 2001 and 2002 seasons, then turn over the reigns to Kerrigan. Now, Duquette had to throw a bone to the commissioner's office and assuage the large Hispanic delegation in the clubhouse that he at least tried to get the esteemed Alou, but the whole thing made Kerrigan another second choice (which happened when Whitey Herzog backed out and the Red Sox were left with Butch Hobson, then Jim Leyland declined and Williams got the job). It also left Lou Piniella standing at the batting cage scratching his head and bursting into laughter.

There are a lot of great qualities that Kerrigan takes with him into the tiny managerial office. But while he immediately whetted the fans' appetites by offering a set lineup and installing Ugueth Urbina as the closer, he knows he has to overcome the stigma of being the pitching coach in a room with 14 positional players he's never coached. Larry Rothschild, Marcel Lachemann and Ray Miller, former pitching coaches, could not, while George Bamberger did (Bob Lemon was a successful manager and had been a former positional player and pitcher when he took over the '78 Yankees).

Inside the walls of Bizarro Fenway, for all the irrational occurrences that they like to ascribe to a curse (sure beats the mirror, eh?), sometimes the illogical works. In 1988, John McNamara was fired during the All-Star break. They named Joe Morgan as interim manager, with the intention of hiring Joe Torre, then an Angels broadcaster. GM Lou Gorman stayed in touch with Torre, intent on hiring him as soon as the Red Sox lost a few games, but they went on a wild tear, Morgan Magic became the theme for the summer and the team won the AL East.

Kerrigan has to overcome the notion that Duquette's managers have all the individual power of minor-league hitting coaches, who get hired and fired like gas-station attendants. He has to rally a coaching staff that includes a couple of managerial hopefuls; in fact, some of hitting coach Rick Down's friends and former colleagues said Thursday that Down went to Boston believing that if Williams were fired, he'd get the job. With the set lineup, he has to deal with the feelings of Troy O'Leary and those who will sit and watch, just as he has to deal with Lowe's emotional demotion and Tim Wakefield's dislike for the role of middle reliever.

Kerrigan has to overcome the notion that Duquette's managers have all the individual power of minor-league hitting coaches.

And he has to overcome one other factor that Piniella and Torre consider large -- that Kerrigan is taking over a team for the last six weeks of a season in which the Red Sox are expected to be in the World Series, without previously managing a game in his life, or having the experience of a spring training to establish his style and timing. "Maybe it's easier than I think," says Piniella.

Smartly, Kerrigan addressed that, saying, "Everybody thinks he knows more about managing than the manager. That's the nature of the beast."

But then, Kerrigan is very smart. He has worked for good managers, and in Montreal he used to stand next to Alou and play every pitch of every game with him. He knows pitching, and he knows offense in that he knows how to address it. He is a workaholic. He is an East Coast guy who says, "I lived through the '64 Phillies, nothing could be worse than that." He brings energy and passion and an honest love of the game. He knows what it's like to have a talk-show caller's angst; he listens to WIP and Mike and the Mad Dog in the offseason.

He watched Pedro Martinez throw lights-out in a simulated game a half-hour after his media introduction, and saw Bret Saberhagen throw well enough to win. So when the Red Sox leave for the start of their three-week journey, they should have Martinez and Saberhagen and perhaps even Hipolito Pichardo. Garciaparra will have had more playing time, inching towards full recovery. Everett, who seemed like the happiest man around the park Thursday, now can prove to the media he despises that his "controversy" was Jimy's doing.

Things are too urgent to analyze why this organization cannot produce pitching or, for that matter, talent. Things are too desperate to ask why, for all the enthusiasm of their fans, this team has won one postseason series since the Reagan Administration. The Angels and the Indians and the Yankees will make them forget about the way Mike Stanley, Bryce Florie, Jeff Frye, Gerald Perry and others have been treated, and the players that most count -- from Garciaparra to Trot Nixon, Pedro to David Cone to Saberhagen -- care only about winning and have learned to block out all the nutty putty that coats the Yawkey Way walls.

Joe Kerrigan understands all this and understands the climate. Kerrigan has always been a man of conviction, and he has never been afraid to make decisions based on those convictions. He is a smart, good and honest man, and because he is not Jimy, he will be on honeymoon leave.

As long as he makes the playoffs ...

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 ESPN's Peter Gammons looks at Dan Duquette's decision to fire Jimy Williams.
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 Joe Kerrigan is named the new Red Sox manager.
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 Players comment on the unexpected firing of Jimy Williams.
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 Joe Kerrigan looks forward to the challenge of managing in Boston.
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 Joe Kerrigan thanks Jimy Williams for his years of friendship and for sharing his knowledge of the game.
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 Boston GM Dan Duquette feels a managerial change can help the team get back on track.
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