John Farrell knows to put players 1st

BOSTON -- Before this season comes to an end, the only names you probably won't hear linked to the Boston Red Sox managerial job are Casey Stengel and Bill Belichick, one because he has been dead 37 years, the other because it's the wrong sport.

Two candidates already have taken themselves out of the running for a job that isn't officially open yet. Tony La Russa, who has a date lined up with Cooperstown, says he doesn't miss the dugout, and ESPN analyst Terry Francona says he doesn't miss -- well, "Tito" probably is saving those names for his book, but he did tell "The Michael Kay Show" on ESPN New York, "I'm not gonna suggest that I'm gonna come punch you in the nose, but I don't think it's gonna happen."

Meanwhile, the current occupant of the job continues to show up to work every day, putting on the uniform, making out the lineup card, posing for a picture with UMass football coach Charley Molnar, showing little inclination to acknowledge that if his hometown of Stamford, Conn., wants him to return as public safety director, he probably will be available. Bobby Valentine was spared being asked about his job status before Friday's game against the Toronto Blue Jays, although the ubiquitous Kay had posed the question to him on the air earlier in the day during his regularly scheduled radio appearance.

"Why wouldn't I want to be back?" Valentine said to Kay. "I signed up for this. This is my job and my life right now."

The assumption that when ownership says it intends to hit the reset button on this season, it's including the manager, is not yet universal. Not when Planet Bobby isn't on board yet, which should earn him some grudging admiration. Until his bosses tell him they're pulling the plug on him -- and he insists they haven't -- Valentine represents loyalty to the cause.

But while Valentine went about his daily tasks Friday, the visitors' dugout at Fenway Park was crammed with inquisitors eager to hear Toronto Blue Jays manager John Farrell dance around speculation that he could be returning to the place where he served Francona four years as pitching coach, this time in Tito's old job.

Farrell is in no position, of course, to declare his desire to do so, as he noted in reiterating that he is under contract to the Jays. "This is where my focus and commitment is," he said.

But circumstances have changed since last year, when the Red Sox made overtures to the Blue Jays for Farrell's services and were rebuffed, Toronto management going so far as drafting a new policy stipulating that under-contract employees cannot leave unless it is for a promotion. Farrell after 2011 was just one year into his deal with the Blue Jays, the team was adamant about not letting him go back to a division rival and the Jays could make outrageous compensation demands if the Red Sox insisted.

Now, however, if the Jays want to keep Farrell, they have to offer him a contract extension or expose him to being a lame-duck manager next season, not an ideal circumstance for anybody. That would seem to leave Farrell in a position of declaring continued allegiance to the Jays, and vice versa, or telling GM Alex Anthopoulos that he'd rather be in Boston. Maybe the Red Sox would have to surrender a prospect or two as compensation -- the Blue Jays will want something for having spent two years grooming Farrell for the Sox job -- but it's hard to fathom the Jays are in a position to command an A-lister.

Farrell has not lost any of the qualities that made him so attractive to the Sox in the first place. He is highly regarded by both ownership and the baseball operations staff -- he and VP Mike Hazen ran the Cleveland Indians' farm system together, as Farrell noted Friday. Furthermore, Farrell enjoyed a great working relationship with Boston's pitchers and commanded respect throughout the clubhouse, where he and Dustin Pedroia, for example, forged an enduring bond. There is nothing about this market that would come as a surprise; he knows all the major players, from Larry Lucchino to Gary Tuck to Glenn Ordway.

In the wreckage of this season, Farrell represents a link to a happier and far more successful time. He also left little doubt that he felt no need to separate himself from Francona's way of doing things, despite the way Francona was shown the door last October.

"He was a very successful manager," Farrell said. "He balanced a lot of things both inside and out. He did a very good job. History and the record speaks to that.

"Through it all, one thing Tito always talked about was be true to yourself, and as long as you can look yourself in the mirror and did what you felt was the right thing to do, and that being the players come first. And as long as you keep the players first in your decision-making and your thoughts toward them, inevitably you're probably guided in the right direction to the right thing."

Players first. That might not go over big with those conditioned to believe the players are all spoiled, entitled and underachieving, but it has been shown to work. Create the right environment, and they will respond. So help me Tito.